What’s In A Name?

Alien Talking“So you come from the planet Dirt?”

That’s one of the questions the aliens ask Adam Cain, the main character of The Human Chronicles Saga, when they learn he comes from a planet called ‘Earth.’ Just as the auto-correct on your phone tends to screw up what you’re typing, the alien translation device in this instance saw the word ‘earth’ as dirt, soil, ground, etc. You can see how this could happen.

Which is the subject of this post: Lack of context when communicating with aliens. Which is something I do all the time (communicate with aliens). What about you?

Yes, to others, we’ve named our home world dirt. Simple, basic and to the point; however, I have to admit we were NOT very creative with the name. Sure, Gia, Terra and a few others may sound more exotic, but that’s only to modern English-speaking ears. In Latin, Terra is Earth. So the impression a name conveys is often in the eye — and the ear — of the beholder. Still, why not Solar-3 … or even Fantasia?

And a little off subject, I have another gripe: The common house Fly. We went and named something a FLY! We take an insect with a couple of wings that buzzes around in the air … and we call it a ‘fly.’ Well, duh! So using this logic, a fish should be called a ‘swim,’ a cheetah a ‘run,’ and a grasshopper a ‘jump.’ C’mon, people, we can do better than this! The aliens are expecting a little more creativity out of us.

I mention the above because as a science fiction writer, I get to have fun with things like this. In my stories, I often examine some of the absurdities of language and how outsiders (aliens) would interpret certain words and phrases we take for granted. For instance, the common word ‘bullshit,’ when translated literally has absolutely no correlation to the colloquial use of the phrase. In my books, this really throws the aliens for a loop, especially since we Humans tend to use the word quite often. And not to be too vulgar, but one of my Human characters responds to some new information he’s just received by saying, “No shit?” Just let that roll around in your brain for a moment, with you in the place of the alien. This is really fun stuff for an author!

And I can also bring this subject back down to Earth — literally. As an English-speaking American from California, I’ve often wondered what goes through  the minds of my Spanish-speaking friends when they hear or read words such as Los Gatos — which is the name of a city in Northern California. Do they see this as The Cats, as in “I’m going to The Cats today to visit some friends?” Here’s another: Buena Vista (Beautiful View). Or Vista del Lago (Lake View). They each sound much more exotic in Spanish than they do in translation, and there are literally tens of thousands of other examples, in all languages.

So one person’s dirt is another’s home planet. It all depends on your point of view.

How we communicate with alien races, and how our common objects and points-of-reference can vary, is a big part of my stories, and something which I hope makes them more interesting  — and humorous — to read. I wish more sci-fi writers took these things into account. Common references such as these tend to Humanize the story.

And a few other quick notes.

I always capitalize ‘Human’ in my books, just as you capitalize Vulcans, Klingons and Martians. Why shouldn’t we also received the prestige of a capital letter? Also, some of my alien species are named for the planets they come from (Juireans, Sileans), yet in many cases they have names other than a variation of their planet-of-origin. For instance, one of the main enemies of the Humans are the Kracori … who just happen to come from the planet Elision. I would re-think this if we went around calling ourselves Earthlings, but we don’t. So there.

This reveals some of the crazy thought process that goes into creating my fictional worlds….

T.R. (Tom) Harris

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