First off, my question is not this question. I am asking about a creature resembling a human and not a bug. Also, I put this question on World-Building SE and it was recommended I post it here, but if the question is still off-topic or confusing, comment and I can fix it.

I have an elf/fairy-like creature in my book called faeries, and I don't know what to call them in large groups. When I'm narrating, the word "people" sounds a bit strange to me since I associate "people" with "humans," but the faeries look and act on the basic level that a human does (with the added presence of magic).

Am I overthinking the use of "people" or should I use another term?

(I would/only use "people" when not saying "everyone," "faeries," or another broad term)

  • 1
    Is your story centered on these fairies, possibly even narrated from their perspective? Do humans and faeries appear in the same scenes, where the use of "people" could be ambiguous?
    – Llewellyn
    Commented Nov 29, 2020 at 12:01
  • Linguistically correct would be "fays", or "fairies", or "fair folk" - but you need to provide some specific examples so we can better understand the context.
    – Alexander
    Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 21:44
  • I've read books like The Cruel Prince by Holly Black in which there are Faerie characters, and I believe the plural would be Fae or Folk or even simply Faeries. Commented May 24, 2021 at 13:15

3 Answers 3


Hey folks:

I believe traditionally faeries were collectively referred to as "folk." Collectively "faerie folk" and you could probably use the gender-neutral "folks" in conversation. They are also called the fey, which can also be used for a strange person. I've even seen "the fey folk."

Otherwise I don't thing people is a bad term, as long as you are equating them as equal beings to humans. There is "little people" or "little folk" but this can have unintended double meanings like you're concerned about with people. There's nothing wrong with just calling them elves. Sidhe is the Irish term. These terms are often applied more specifically to human-like/sized.


There are thousands of small tribes on Earth who call themselves by names that translate to "The People". Thus their tribal names claim that only members of their own tribe are people, and all other members of the species Homo sapiens are not people.

A significant minority of those tribes have warlike cultures, where men are expected to gain wealth and prestige by stealing from other tribes and killing members of other tribes. Those tribes are, or at the present usually were, enemies of all other humans, except for anyother groups which were their allies. And calling their tribe "The People" certainly helps spread the idea that members of other tribes don't have rights to be respected.

To me "people" means a group of intelligent beings, no matter whether they belong to one species or a million different species, and no matter if they are all biological or some cybernetic.

On Earth there are millions of species of lifeforms, plants, animals, and other lifeforms, and at least one species whose members consider themselves to be intelligent beings and people.

In prehistoric times there were a number of other species of hominids which seemed to be intelligent beings and people as well as can be told from the fossil record. Those included, but were not limited to humans, defined as members of the genus Homo, of which Homo sapiens is the only surviving species.

Among the thousands of mammal species existing today, there are a few with large brains which exhibit sufficient intelligence that it is legitimate to wonder whether their intelligence ranges overlaps with that of Homo sapiens and whether they should be counted as people. They include at least four species of apes, at least three species of probiscideans, and many species of cetaceans.

And in my opinion, as long as there seems to be even the slightest possibility that members of those species should be considered people, they should be treated like people with the right to live. Better safe than sorry.

But at the present time it is legal to hunt and kill members of some of those species in some legal jurisdictions.

So I don't approve of the idea that only members of the species Homo sapiens should be called people, because of the possibility that members of other species existing on Earth today might also be people. And I don't like works of fiction that limit the word "people" to members of the species Homo sapiens because it helps to spread the idea that no other beings on Earth have rights that should be respected.

And what happens if a space ship from an advanced alien civilization lands on Earth? What if some humans react in disgust to their strange alien appearance and attack them? It would be very easy for angered members of a more advanced civilization to find ways to destroy all life on Earth. Even if their spaceship is not equipped with dedicated weapons, the spaceship itself with the enormous power it controls could very easily be used as a weapon to devastate an entire planet.

There are real life stories about people who believe they encountered aliens from outer space and say that their first reaction was to attack them. If real aliens ever land on Earth, a similar reaction could result in the total extermination of all humans.

And yet despite that obvious danger, as far as I know there is not a single jurisdiciton on Earth which has made a law specificaly saying that any beings which look like they came from other space should be treated as people and that attacking them is forbidden.

So I strongly oppose the practice of using the word "people" as a synonoum for "members of the species Homo sapiens", and to the widespread belief that only members of the species Homo sapiens are people with rights, a belief that can only be reinforced by the practice of using the word "people" as a synonoum for "members of the species Homo sapiens".

So I think that all writers of science fiction and fantasy stories should make a point of having all the good characters use the word 'people" to include members of all the species of intelligent beings in the story, and have only evil, misguided, and bigoted characters restrict the word "people" to members of their own species.


Overall it kind of varies. Note that even though you are writing a fictional world with a semblance of reality, your fictional world will not resemble reality for the simple reason that it has to be understood by the people reading this. This is something any writer has to deal with. For example, in a lot of stories the characters aren't really speaking English, but they are rendered as such so the audience can follow along. E.g., in Lord of the Rings the characters are not speaking English, they're mostly speaking different dialects of Westron and Sindarin with a bit of Black Speech and Khuzdul thrown in.

This goes far beyond language and goes into the terms people use and the way they think. Andrej Sapkowski talked a lot about this, pointing out that it makes no sense for people to even talking about royalty in terms of "kings", "czars", "kaisers", or "emperors" in a fantasy world as the word for King in most Eastern European languages (krol or some variant thereof) is a reference to Charlemagne (Karol Wielki in Polish). Similarly, both "czar" and "kaiser" are references to Julius Caesar, whose name in turn refers to a historical event that gave his family it's name (according to Pliny the Elder it was due to the progenitor of the family being born by caeserian section, "caes-" meaning "to cut" in Latin). The term "emperor" even has a very specific meaning, it comes from the Latin "imperator", which was a military title in ancient Rome bestowed upon a victorious general upon their return (roughly analogous to "war hero" in present parlance). This term mutated into a term used for royalty because of - you guessed it - Julius Caesar. In a world without Charlemagne or Caesar and the historical events surrounding their rise to power, it makes no sense that people in a loosely medieval fantasy world would use terminology or ideas characteristic of medieval Europe because their histories are utterly different, but we use it anyway because using the term "king" or "emperor" makes it clear to the audience what we mean.

Returning to your question of faeries, it depends on the context of your story. If your story is fairy-centric and involved few if no humans, especially as viewpoint characters, "people" is probably fine. Every culture on Earth has a term they use to refer to themselves, for ease of communication if nothing else. If you really want to hammer home that these beings have a language slightly different from humans, "folk" as suggested by @DWKraus is a good alternative.

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