What's with apostrophes in alien names?

I’m not sure where it started first, but it seems to be all over the place. Names of alien people/planets/objects frequently have an apostrophe between syllables or immediately following the first letter. Is it meant to be phonetic or something, like maybe there’s no proper spelling in English for those names, or do people just think it looks more exotic? It wouldn’t be so bad if it was a few names here and there, but it’s used a lot.

Look, without the apostrophe in Na’vi, it would have been too obvious that Cameron just named an entire race after their color, okay?

I think it started when someone made up Klingon. And then the dark elves in EverQuest 1 had to have apostrophes in their names or they lost cred. It’s all been downhill since.

It is there to appease Rand Om Apos’trophe, god of fantasy names.

Seriously, I think it’s there to make the name appear more exotic. They use it to force strange stresses into pronunciations or to put two difficult sounds together like G’kar.

The apostrophes clearly are substituting for the “impossible to pronounce with the human tongue” parts of the name. So it IS correct usage.

Because a diaeresis isn’t cool enough.

Actually that’s a usage I forgot: Forcing two sounds to be pronounced separately.

I thought they were supposed to represent this:

But oftentimes this does not seem to be the case, and apostrophes seem to be injected into these names like so much gratuitous lexical bling. :P

I always took them for a kind of pause, a bit like a space. It basically lets you know it’s one word but still has the pause in pronunciation.


I always assumed the apostrophes represented what they do in the real world: either glottal stops or a clicking sound, depending on the language.

But then again, I might be giving fantasy/sci-fi writers too much credit.

Edit - Which is what Union Carbide & Lee Johnson said right before me. shakes fist

Also of note in Wikipedia is the Use In Transliterations section of the apostrophe page. That section also mentions the glottal stop.

Basically, in traditional written English, exotic foreign words sometimes ended up with apostophes in them. So, apostrophes = exotic. Happens a lot from Arabic I think, and the west has a nice long tradition of exotifying the heck out of those guys.

Aww Zylon you posted something that made laugh! Stop it, or I’ll think you aren’t really a grumpy old sociopath.

I d’ont kn’ow.

I think the click-consonant (represented by “!”) needs to catch on more in fantasy and sci-fi to balance things out. About the only sci-fi that used them was Alien Nation.

Would “Drizzt Do!Urden” been as popular a character and name?

Also The Mote in God’s Eye, though there “click” was just written out.

Ýêåħ, Ï ďöñ’ŧ ķňōŵ ėīţĥęř.

  • Āļåñ

Wasn’t it an Old Man Murray that had the quote “Nothing says high fantasy more than an arbitrarily spaced apostrophe”?

  • Alan