Apostrophes in Science Fiction and Fantasy Names

In honor of International Apostrophe Day, we're going to talk about the odd case of apostrophes in science fiction and fantasy character names (and why you sometimes see an apostrophe in "Hawai'i").

Mignon Fogarty
5-minute read
Episode #379

Apostrophe McCaffreyIn honor of International Apostrophe Day, August 16, today we’re going to talk about apostrophes in science fiction and fantasy names. Why do authors think apostrophes make characters seem exotic? Who started it? And why do some people find it annoying?

Who Started Using Apostrophes in Sci-Fi and Fantasy Names?

Apostrophes in science fiction and fantasy names are often attributed to Anne McCaffrey, whose popular Dragonriders of Pern series included character names such as F’lar. Dragonflight, the first book in the series was published in 1968, but appeared in short story form in Analog science fiction magazine in late 1967. Although McCaffrey may have been extraordinarily influential in popularizing this use of the apostrophe, I did find a few earlier examples.

Only a month before McCaffrey’s first short story came out, Star Trek aired an episode with Vulcan women named T’Pau and T’Pring. Dune, which was published two years earlier, in 1965, included the name Muad’Dib, which applies to both a creature and a constellation; and in 1955, Detective Comics had a character whose first and last name had an apostrophe: J’onn J’onnz, who was also known as Martian Manhunter and was a member of the fictional Justice League of America.

Even though McCaffrey wasn’t the first author to use apostrophes to give her characters an exotic feel, the popularity of her books did seem to boost the idea. A few years later, in 1969, Roger Zelazny (another popular author who probably helped solidify the trend) wrote about a race of people called the Pei’ans and a place called D’donori.

[Note: Commenters have pointed out and I have confirmed that H.P. Lovecraft used apostrophes in names much earlier. The earliest character name I found with an apostrophe was Pth’thya-l’ya in his 1936 novella The Shadow over Innsmouth. The earliest general name I found with an apostrophe was the city R'yleh in his short story The Call of Cthullhu. If you know of an earlier example of a fictional science fiction or fantasy name with an apostrophe (not a "real" name such as O'Brien or d'Artangnan), please let me know.]

What does this have to do with O'Briens and D'Angelos?


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.

You May Also Like...