Why are there so many apostrophes in scifi and fantasy names?

Illustration for article titled Why are there so many apostrophes in scifi and fantasy names?

Grammarian Mignon Fogarty takes a look at one of fiction's enduring mysteries: How did all of those apostrophes find their way into the names of aliens, distant lands, and future peoples?


Over at Grammar Girl, Fogarty looks at the influence of writers like Anne McCaffrey andRoger Zelanzy, as well as the possible impact of real-world names, such as Irish surnames and Hawai`i with its ʻokina.

She also has some advice for those who are annoyed by wanton apostrophes:

If you find an apostrophe (or two!) in character names annoying, you may appreciate this little joke: I first heard about it on the Writing Excuses podcast (audio link) in an April Fool’s episode, but it originated on a Live Journal post in Issendai’s Superhero Training Journal in which the Evil Overlady proclaims that apostrophes are to be pronounced “boing.” Therefore, it’s not pronounced F’lar, but rather “F-boing-lar.” So next time you see an annoying apostrophized name, just insert a “boing” for your own amusement.

She does note that she neglected to include the role of H.P. Lovecraft on apostrophes in names, so until I hear otherwise, I'm blaming the Great Old Ones.

Apostrophes in Science Fiction and Fantasy Names [Quick and Dirty Tips]


Among the conlanging (language invention) community, unnecessary apostrophes are a common newbie mistake. I often suggest that apostrophes should only be used to represent a glottal stop (the momentary closure of the glottis, as between the two syllables of "Uh-oh"), which is a common use in real romanizations.

There are other legitimate uses, but often they're unnecessary (we really, just really don't need apostrophes to mark contractions and clitics), or can usually avoided (Chinese pinyin romanization occassionally uses them to disambiguate words that could be syllabified differently, like Xi'an (two syllables) vs xian (one syllable), but there are ways to avoid those ambiguities).

Anyway, it's not that all apostrophes in sci-fi and fantasy names/words are bad, just the ones that have no purpose other than "flavor" or "alienness".