Friday, November 24, 2023

Some Observations on Science Fiction Names

I think there is a lineage of science fiction name coining that whose progenitor is Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars stories but that passes through early to mid-20th Century pulpier sci-fi like the works of Edmond Hamilton and Jack Vance to the galaxy far, far away of the Star Wars Universe.

In his Mars stories Burroughs went for relatively short (mostly 1-2 syllable), two part, phonetically simple names. Though they don't mostly sound that way to modern ears, I suspect Burroughs was after what he thought of as an "Oriental" feel. They also wind up being very simple for English speaking readers to pronounce. Examples: Kantos Kan, Gan Had, Ras Thuvas, Sab Than, Sojat Yam.

Burroughs uses a not hugely different style in many of his Planetary Romances.

Edmond Hamilton was clearly influenced by Burroughs in a number of ways and the naming practices in several of his works are similar, though they are a bit more phoentically diverse and have more consonant blends. Here are some names from his Captain Future series:  Sus Urgal, Re Elam, Thuro Thuun, Rok Olor, Si Twih, Brai Balt

Typically, he doesn't always try to be so "exotic." Sometimes he seems to be trying to convey future developments of English names. This tact he shares with other writers of the 1940s-1960s, including the various creators of the members of the Legion of Super-Heroes in DC Comics: Irma Ardeen, Rok Krinn, Garth Ranzz, Tinya Wazzo.

Jack Vance tends to take this latter approach in some of his science fiction, too, though his names are more often multisyllabic and have a first-name last name pattern with each name sometimes made up of more than one element. Still, they have a similar vibe I think to the Hamilton and Legion names. These are from the first two Demon Princes novels:  Miro Hetzel, Conwit Clent, Lens Larque, Sion Trumble, Kokor Hekkus, Kirth Gersen.

Star Wars names aren't the product of one individual, though later writers have obviously tried to fit the standards of the original trilogy. There are more straight up English names in Star Wars and of course some pseudo-Japanese ones, but a number could easily have been characters in Captain Future stories, like these: Ric Ole, Sio Bibble, Pondo Baba, Plo Kloon, Nien Nunb, Mace Windu, Sy Snootles.


Dick McGee said...

Having just re-read Demon Princes, one thing that stood out to me was how Vance used rather more prosaic names for many characters native to Old Terra, including Kirth Gerson's alias as Henry Lucas, Emma Tinzy, Willem Ledinger, and Vogel Filschner. There's still some more "exotic" evolutions (Jheral Tinzy, for ex) but the naming patterns feel more Earthly than (say) Alusz Iphegenia or Karkarsis Asm do - despite the former being an obvious drift from Alice and Ipehgenia being a mythological name that still serves for both personal and surname today.

Adam Reith (of the planet of Adventure/Tschai novels) has an almost aggressively "normal" name by Vancian standards, which helps him stand out among the rest of the cast who've never even heard of Earth.

He's also quite fond of using titles to identify characters, both formal ("Interrogator So-and-so") and descriptive (Cugel the Clever, the Mad Poet Navarth).

Dariel said...

Robert Silverberg went in a rather different direction, specially in his Majipoor books and stories. Majipoori names are often polysyllabic and have a melodious feel. He used simpler names for most major characters though.

Examples from Lord Valentine's Castle: Shanamir, Carabella, Zalzan Kavol, Stasilaine, Tunigorn, Malibor, Lisamon Hultin, Gitamorn Suul, Dilifon, Narrameer, Prankipin, Spurifon, Confalume, Prestimion.

Personally I like combining ERB's method, which established consistent patterns (or at least for Barsoom he did) like children being given elements of their parents' names, with the naming styles of Silverberg and Tanith Lee.

Deuce said...

ERB almost for sure started the trend, as with so many things in SF and fantasy. BTW, Hamilton was an even bigger fan of A. Merritt.

Not sure who started the 'apostrophe' thing. I know Moorcock likes to use it. I will definitely say that I find it less aesthetically pleasing than the ERB style.

Dick McGee said...

The "borrow elements of the parents' names" thing is heavily inspired by real-life cultures, with Scandinavian names like Finna Ingasdottir and Hengist Haraldsson being good examples.