So I'm writing a science fiction story, with more fantasy that actual science. When I say "sci-fi" I really mean space opera. There are intergalactic companies, entire planets dedicated to slaver miners, empires that stretch across solar systems, urban and rural communities that span between extreme poverty and insane magic. In some places species are mixed evenly; in others, certain species dominate the population.

I have written out many original species with their own cultures, appearances, histories, etc. I also wanted to include more common fantasy species like elves, dwarves, orcs, and fae, and I've already thought of different variations of each and their own histories. I tried to switch things up with their names, so I'm calling elves "alfsven," shortened to alfs usually. Dwarves are dwyver, orcs are orcu.


I have two main varations of alfs in my story—Llvorexians and N'Varkians. Both races were originally called the Freynovan alfs, but after an unknown catastrophe destroyed their home planet, the Freynovan alfs they took refuge on a nearby planet. That planet was already inhabited however, and the two species went to war. The Freynovan alfs that stayed and fought above ground are known as N'Varkian alfs, and those that fled into underground tunnels are known as the Llvorexians.

The Llvorexian alfs were blinded over centuries of subterranean slavery, and even after they were freed, they were hairless, blind, and had extremely thin, pale, almost translucent skin. The N'Varkian alfs, after slaving away above ground for the same amount of time as the Llvorexians, now have dark, bluish skin and thick curly hair.

The mystery on the destruction of the planet and attacking species is deliberate. This also happened quite far in the past, in the 6000s. The current story takes place in the 17,000s. Many species can live for 1,000-8,000 years, which is why I placed the times in such a way. This is also an alternate universe, meaning there never was nor will be humans.

As you can tell, they don't look like the typical elves one would expect. They still have all the magical capabilities and pointy ears. Personally I have no problem calling them alfs, but I was just wondering if I sounded prestigious or something. Is this just unnecessarily confusing and weird? Do I sound like some weird white mom naming her kids when I say alfsven instead of just elves?

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    Why do the characters have to be called Alfs/Dwyver/Orcu. Just call them random things like "Hanags" and "Jitus".Naming them things close to the original makes them seem like a purposeful breaking of a trope, which is a trope within itself. Commented Jun 16, 2020 at 9:35
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    @sfvn Welcome to SE Writing. You should write your story the way you want to. You don't need anyone's permission or approval. SE Writing's community rules are designed to encourage non-personal questions that will be useful to many people rather than just the person asking. To get a critiques of your writing, see writing.stackexchange.com/questions/904/…
    – rolfedh
    Commented Jun 16, 2020 at 10:36
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    There is the essence of a good topic here, but it lacks a real question. Could you maybe rephrase this to make it clearer what you want answered? If that question can be genericized to a broader scope than just your story, that's even better (but feel free to use your story as an example).
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Jun 16, 2020 at 13:43

3 Answers 3


In SE we try to avoid opinion-based questions, but it is sometimes hard to avoid, so I will give my opinion

Personally, I find it quite irritating when an author calls a cat a Cawt, when it is described as a cat, is recognizable as a cat, even with a thin veneer of disguise (such as your dark elves), and I know it is a cat, and I know the author knows it is a cat... It breaks the narrative flow each time I re-read the contrived word, and for that matter so does using long weird, unpronounceable, names à la CJ Cherryh ... ie: the Cawts are in reality Llliyungataryg from planet Diiy'kh'utuvvva



[Warning: This answer contains links to TVTropes; you may find you lose several hours browsing after clicking them!]

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

The names you use should communicate something to your readers.

Do you want to emphasise the similarities to elves, dwarves, etc from other stories? Then just use those words. Bear in mind that readers will not be put out if these aren't carbon copies of Tolkien's races, because providing a new take on existing races is a well-established trope in its own right (TVTropes calls it "Our Monsters Are Different"), and can be very successful (consider the vampires in Twilight vs the vampires in Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Do you want to emphasise the differences and avoid comparison with elves, even if you've used them as inspiration? Then use a completely new word, but beware of "Calling a rabbit a smeerp" - i.e. make sure they really are different, not just re-badged.

Do you want to make the name feel realistic in-universe? That might be an excuse to rename them, if "alfven" is the correct Elvish word for "elf" - but bear in mind that most of your book is in English, so you need to decide when to use these in-universe names. For instance, you might call them elves in narration, but sprinkle words of their own language into their speech:

In the council hall of the elves, the messenger stood up to speak:
"The news I bring should be of concern to all alfven ..."

Meanwhile, a dwarf might talk about "the elves", implying that they are using the Dwarvish colloquial word, translated to English for the reader's benefit.

Or you might decide that the "real" names are kept only for in-universe texts, like excerpts from imaginary reference works between chapters, which used sparingly can be a way to bring colour and background information.


When you draw from outside the original world of your story, there are both gains and costs. What you gain is the entire set of pre-existing knowledge and associations readers have with whatever the thing is. What you lose is some of the sense that your book exists in a real, independent world, that is not parasitic on the real one (or on someone else's fantasy world).

The situation you're describing is mostly con, very little pro. Your creatures are not elves as we think of them, so the allusions and context are not necessarily helpful. But the name is recognizable, so you still pay the cost of loss of suspension of disbelief.

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