Animal naming conventions

Deryn_Rys's picture
March 10, 2011 - 5:08pm
I've been working on several guidebooks detailing animals and creatures for the frontier, and I found myself at a quandry about naming creatures for the books. This has always been one thing that's always given me problems. I can come up with descriptions and information about things without too much trouble but when it comes to naming a new creature I get a headache trying to come up with names.

One common practice seems to be to just add the planet's name in front of a real world animal (such as Thesian bulldog) which would immediately put an image of what the creature should look like and assumes that the theory of Parallel Evolution is a fact , or that terran animals have somehow been brought to the Frontier and have adapted to whatever worlds they have been transported to.

Another practice is just to name a creature based on one of its traits, or some exaggerated feature that the creature possesses. Then there are those people who have a little scientific knowledge who might try to name a creature loosely based on its scientific classification.

So the question is how do you name the creatures that you come up with for your adventures? Because I am stuck for names.

(Maybe someone could come up with a really good science fiction animal name generator, or maybe even just a glossary of common prefixes or suffixes maybe with definitions that could be put together to form cool sounding names)

"Hey guys I wonder what this does"-Famous last words
"Hey guys, I think it's friendly." -Famous last words
"You go on ahead, I'll catch up." -Famous last words
"Did you here that?" -Famous last words

Anonymous's picture
w00t (not verified)
March 10, 2011 - 7:35pm
It depends on if you want it to be alien sounding, or have sounds that represent location or race. For example, on a planet called Vox, I used the local dialect "ne" which means fish to create a ne'vox.


Here's an example from the Creature Factory discussing an alligator.

NAMING YOUR CREATURE: A simply way to name creatures is using their native terrain and some action word. In the Step 1 example you could have easily used “muckcrawler”, “swampstalker” or “marshdweller” in place of alligator or in the case of a desert environment, “sandcrawler”, “digdugger” or “sandstalker”. On newly discovered worlds creatures tend to have these types of names derived from the explorers or the settlers.

jedion357's picture
March 10, 2011 - 8:50pm
Well I think about what I want the basic pattern of evolution to have been on a planet and develop a template that tells me the basic pattern of creatures on that world- for instance on earth the basic pattern of mammals is 4 legs, fur, bi-latterally symetrical, live birth and nurse young but for Lacos I established this:

Zoology: fish are typically eel like, limited avain life, dominate terrestrial animal forms- mammal like with a hide with short thin hair though most appear hairless from the distance. unique features of Laco Zoology is that most are blind with highly developed tremor or sonic capabilities and possiblie the controversial psychic capabilities.

I typically added Lacosian before each creature on the assumption that humans exploring Laco would have the exact same problem you have described and use a lot of typically familiar terms

for instance the Lacosian Anaconda Eel has an attack that includes constriction but lives in water like an eel.

Also once I create a creature I will typically specify that there are 6 or 17 other species of that creature- like bears once you have stats for one you just tweek them for other varieties.
By specifying that there are other species of the same creature it subtly suggests to other referees that they could tweek those stats or make changes as they need for an adventure by simply adding Polar, freshwater, saltwater, desert, forest etc to the animal in question and a small change in size or capabilities and you have anther creature.

Also you'll have creatures that have alien names but if that name is unpronouncable because its in vrusk then it will be translated to Pangal and read like "dustcrawler"

One of my pet peeves is the D&D monster manual feel of creature catalogs in Sci-fi (though you could easily pull a 1/2 dozens creatures out of earth's zoology and they'd read like that but the point is that if you went wandering the woods of north america and encountered a half dozen animals you'd easily be able to identify a pattern to them; even with a frog and a vole there is a pattern of similarity)
So with the pet peeve about monster manual catalogs I suppose I'd find odd namings that dont show some sort of pattern might trigger that peeve

So if you were to have alien names then I'd say you should establish what the vocal patterns of the language are that they came from. For instance with vrusk character names its fairly typical to see a lot of consonants (mostly K's) few if any vowels (most are replaced with an ' ). Then have at it. Mix and match your established vocal pattern with the occassional sound that actually breaks that pattern.
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

Deryn_Rys's picture
March 10, 2011 - 10:30pm
Basically for the Animal guides that I'm working on I will generally have examples of several animal types for each planet (1 fish, 1 Avian, 1-2 amphibian or reptile, 1-3 mammals, and maybe 1-5 specials). But I'm trying to avoid the "monster" feel for these creatures. Monster types will appear in future supplements but for now I want to focus on just animals.

With each animal I'm including a bit of information on its ecology as well as one or two interesting facts about how they interact with the major race if any sharing their world. I'm also going to have templates that will allow Referees to create all manner of animals.

The problem I run into is not so the creation of the animals, its really just trying to find interesting names for creatures. I am allowing myself the cheat of using terren names for some creatures because the Humans in my Star Frontiers universe are decended from the Humans that survived the Last War on Earth (A Gamma World referrence for those who haven't played Gamma World) but when I get to creatures that have no earthly equivalent I get stuck on a name and get frustrated (which is why the damn Animal guide is taking so long).

I do have an article of naming conventions for Gamma World but I always hated the tongue in cheek way they named things in Gamma World so I don't want to use it. Which is why I'm asking for the Community's input.  
"Hey guys I wonder what this does"-Famous last words
"Hey guys, I think it's friendly." -Famous last words
"You go on ahead, I'll catch up." -Famous last words
"Did you here that?" -Famous last words

rattraveller's picture
March 13, 2011 - 11:53am
Jedion357 You need to becareful on how you describe your basic pattern. The one you gave:
 for instance on earth the basic pattern of mammals is 4 legs, fur, bi-latterally symetrical, live birth and nurse young

means that humans, apes, monkeys, bats, whales, dolphins, certain species of cats and dogs and any visiting Yazirians are not mammals

 better to have gone with: the basic pattern of mammals native to Earth are 4 limbs, fur and/or hair, bi-latterally symetrical, live birth and nurse young
Sounds like a great job but where did you say we had to go?

Gargoyle2k7's picture
March 26, 2011 - 11:49pm
As far as naming alien creatures goes, I personally use two methods.  First is the descriptive method, where I describe the major features of the creature in its name - "chameleon snake" is a serpentine reptile that changes its colors to camouflage itself; "Groth siren" is a creature with a sonic ability that attracts prey from Groth.  The second method is to create alien sounding names using the Everchanging Book of Names.  I've plugged in several hundred alien creature names from Star Frontiers, Star Wars, Star Trek, and various novels, and had it spit out thousands of names.  Many of these are awful, but there are a lot of good ones.  I then match up these names to what seem like yazirian, vrusk, dralasite or other races, and then apply the name to a creature.  I can send you the chapter I wrote for EBoN, and if you have the program you can do this yourself.  If you don't have EBoN, it's free, though if you want to use all of its features he'd wants 10 Euros (the creator is from Finland). 
Long live the Frontier!

thespiritcoyote's picture
March 29, 2011 - 10:14pm
Undecided... studies...Money mouth

On earth the basic pattern of mammals is 4 legs, endo-skeletal,  fur, bi-latteral symmetry, heterosexual, live birth, and mammary gland nursing. (
+/- a couple-fews of adjusted features?)
(monotremes have two feature varients, humans have three.)

On the Dralasite Homeworld the basic pattern of protzoanimus is 6 pseudo-pods, non-skeletal, cilia, radially-morphic symmetry, hermaphroditic binary fission, and amniotic nursing.
(I like the giant one-celled amoebas, even if it does cause my sensibilities to balk at the illogical conundrums they present, someone has to be really different, enigmatic even. and these CoolBaaaad Bacterium are just kewl enough to pull it off!Cool)

On the Vrusk Homeworld the basic pattern of arachniius is 5 leg-pairs divided on a 4 segmented thorax , endo-skeletal, chitin,  bi-latteral symmetry, heterosexual, ovoviviparous, staged morphic maturation.
(vrusk might top the number of variation factors from the base-line, but that dosn't bother me, they are almost as enigmatic as the Dralasites.)

On the Yazirian Exodus-world the basic pattern of transplanted-mammals is 4 leg-pairs, endo-skeletal, thick-hair, bi-latteral symmetry, heterosexual, live birth, and gland secreted nursing.
Yazirian perhaps a bit more like monotreme monkeys)
I think you need a few more explicit catagories to diversify from here. but keeping the catagories filler text loose is good.
Wink If I understand the intent, you are not attempting to be taxonomically acurate to a specific species-genus-subtype, but theoretically logical in a given framework. With this you get a basic discriptive template, which can be modified with a few lines and a stat block for a particular type, and sub-varients can be made from there.

For naming, I am for the Planet/System, Region(probably an explorers name), followed by whetever someone thought it looked like.

White-Light Kik'Kitzii Butterfly
Was named after the Vrusk entomologist Kik'Kitzii T'mfi specializing in human ecosystems, after he sucessfully mated a Human Monarch Butterfly with a Vrusk Tzitzu'keiri (a nocturnal butterfly-like varient in Vruskan ecology).

~Science pursues simple exact catgorization, of the complicated exactitudes of nature's tumbles.~
Somone was famous for that, but I don't remeber to whom the attribution belongs. Clarke? Sagan? Who Knows? For game purposes, I'll atribute it to some Philsophical homogeneity Dralasage with an earned holoplaq of accreditation in Universal Xenobiology.Cool
Oh humans!! Innocent We discover a galactic community filled with multiple species of aliens, and the first thing we think about is "how can we have sex with them?".
~ anymoose, somewhere on the net...

if you square a square it becomes a cube...
if you square a cube does it become an octoid?

Deryn_Rys's picture
April 1, 2011 - 7:30pm
Though I do understand the concept of defining certain general characteristics for species on a planet, I also see the example of Life in all its myriad forms on our earth. Each species on earth may share certain traits but they come in a multitude of shapes and sizes. So limiting oneself to a general list of traits would kind of limit the possibilities of the types of creatures that could dazzle the players in my opinion.

I think that creating creatures should serve the story first and foremost, and present a challenge to the players in some cases or in others can be used as window dressing, as a help for the characters, or as a way to drain away tension in a game that has become too dark and depressing.

And while I understand the dislike for a Monster Manual approach, almost any compendium of creatures becomes that because it is the easiest format to make creatures accessable to a Referee. From my experience with Alternity's system guides most often a GM would read through the system data once or twice when he first got the book, but mostly he would just flip to the creature description he needed for the adventure.

I found all the different ideas for creature naming rather useful, and will probably use a mix of naming techniques depending on the creature. Now maybe I can get the Animal guide moving forward again because there alot of unnamed animals breathing down my neck, and some of them are dangerous.
"Hey guys I wonder what this does"-Famous last words
"Hey guys, I think it's friendly." -Famous last words
"You go on ahead, I'll catch up." -Famous last words
"Did you here that?" -Famous last words

thespiritcoyote's picture
April 1, 2011 - 9:25pm
The idea with the examples, (hoping that I was understanding what jedion357 and tattraveller were mentioning) were just to represent one 'kingdom/family' type grouping, from which the core four might represent one aspect of.
I figured there would be a few other groups, each containing a pleathora of specific types, but so that in that varity it dose not come across as too inconsistant.
I think, (not to speak for others but it seemed,) that the idea was intended to be in the spirit of a mostly unexplored planet, so that there would be guidelines to reflect the characteristics intended to be common there, without filling it all up with no room for a Referee/Administrator to place the details suited to thier game.
I kind of like that approch myself, if I understood what was suggested there correctly.

I supose that I would be more partial to a more complete 'monster manual' style list if it was a mostly explored high-population core-world, and a few pages with a more rudimentary set of archetype groupings containing a few notable examples when on a newly explored planet.

Don't think a sector-wide multi-system bestiary would be worth as much to me. I'd end up needing to seperate all those creatures to the planet information folders, and not use the larger encyclopedia.
Pets and common space-pests might be in a larger compilation like that, but too much of that seems a bit cheesy to me, like with the movie 'Ice Pirates'.

Gargoyle and Jedion's explanation of naming the creatures sounds about the same as mine. Unless you bother to con-lang for an entire race, faking alien words gets a bit too silly after a few dozen, keeping it simple and peppering odd phonetics sparingly is better.
I like the Ne'Vox, pretty kewl, are they tasty with tartar-sauce??
Oh humans!! Innocent We discover a galactic community filled with multiple species of aliens, and the first thing we think about is "how can we have sex with them?".
~ anymoose, somewhere on the net...

if you square a square it becomes a cube...
if you square a cube does it become an octoid?