I am working on a story. I just want to know, is there any easy way to make readers differentiate male and female (alien) characters by reading their names.

According to my story those aliens are like humans.

Suggestion regarding naming, differentiating and what all should be noted while naming aliens is preferred and any links regarding my question is requested to be mentioned.

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    $\begingroup$ Any issue with using common suffixes like most human societies do (e.g. Georg vs Georgina)? $\endgroup$ – Buldelu Feb 18 '18 at 11:56
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    $\begingroup$ According to Wikipedia, some of the most common Chinese given names are Fāng, Jìng, Jūn, Lì, Lěi, Mǐn, Nà, Qiáng, Wěi, and Xiùyīng. Can you say which are masculine are which are feminine? Is it even possible to guess with at least 90% accuracy whether a Chinese person is male or female given only their name? (Spoiler: no, in general it's not possible. Chinese given names are adjectives, and Chinese does not have grammatical gender. One can guess that a person named Lì "Beautiful" is probably female, but Mǐn "Clever" gives no hint.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 18 '18 at 12:54

This is inextricably linked with the alien's language in addition to their physiology. We can tell you some human solutions to the problem.

  • the most widely used cannot help you: we know which names are female and which are male. "Ann" or "Robert". Some authors assign explicitly human names to their characters, sometimes stating that the "real" names would be awkward or unpronounceable ("a squawking of radio-frequencies that we'll dub 'Richard'"). Otherwise, alien names aren't likely to be familiar to a reader to the point of being able to tell their gender.

  • use a reasonably consistent naming scheme (in my native language, Italian, most female names end with the female vowel a, most male names end with the male vowel o. There are very few exceptions, apart from foreign names. In other languages, females have matronimics like Sigursdottir or Potapova and males have patronimics such as Bjornsson or Stepanov). You go with that and let the reader figure it out, perhaps with some help ("Akve-lo-tan, the lo infix to the female ending signifying she was of a Noble House..." - from then on, the advertent reader will look out not only for the name ending but for any clueful infix - the third time that a warrior is named something like Kor-ak-sen he'll be led to believe that ak means "warrior"; this might be used for a plot twist later on. I personally dislike those).

In worldbuilding, you may avail yourself of sexual dimorphism. Male and female of the species can be different enough (e.g. the gukuy in Eric Flint's Mother of Demons) that any description will immediately pick it up.

Or it might be implied that the difference is so subtle (or so important) that the character just has to be introduced with his gender ("the male, Yurra").

When writing, you may also:

  • surround the first occurrence of a character's name with suitable pronouns.
  • introduce the characters using sexually dimorphic terms - governor and governess.

Then there is the problem of actual alien gender. Are they male and female? Do they have one gender and stick to it? Many Earth life forms do not, and morph from male to female or vice versa, and sometimes back, in response to age or other stimuli. In such cases you might adopt some system such as calling a character "she-Richard" or "it-Elizabeth".


Your question is a part of the general problem of constructing an alien language. Doing so and making it understandable to the casual reader is incredibly difficult, so make sure that your rules add flavor to the story without becoming essential plot points. Long ago, I read a bad thriller where part of the mystery was that "Charlie" (IIRC) referred to a woman, not a man. I guess the writer felt terribly clever about that ...

  • To expand on the comment by Buldelu, have all male names end on one vowel and all female names end on another vowel.
  • Instead of ending on a vowel, make male and female names all contain a distinct syllable or one of a short list of syllables in some position. This would be similar to patronymics in Russian middle names or Icelandic surnames.

This is an alien culture. Why do they necessarily subscribe to a gender binary? I think gendering the language of aliens to fit a male/female dichotomy limits you too much! Some other options:

Your aliens' dominant language and culture has one/no gender. This is what I'm doing with my proto-world language. This language doesn't overtly mark gender, like English; but you could take it further. You could eliminate the necessity for differentiated gender pronouns. You could completely untie grammatical or cultural gender norms from biology.

Your aliens' dominant language and culture has three, four or more genders. This is difficult to imagine without first looking at some real-life languages with more than three grammatical genders. Latin has three, namely masculine, feminine and neuter, but some other common grammatical gender systems include "common vs. neuter," "animate vs. inanimate," "rational vs. non-rational," and so forth. You could easily create a system (it's been done many many times) with lots of genders: just off the top of my head, it doesn't even have to include masculine or feminine, it could be "sentient vs. animate non-sentient vs. inanimate vs. countable vs. incountable," etc.

This was a bit of a digression from naming, but hopefully it was valuable nonetheless.


I'd go with don't.

While getting this information from the name is convenient you are still expecting the reader to comprehend an alien language. Admittedly to a very minimal degree in a very specific way but it is still a bad idea unless the language is somehow story relevant otherwise. Generally you want the alien language to be "alien" to the reader and not understanding it at all to have no cost. Many readers will filter out any of your cool language stuff, so relying on it to convey anything is to be avoided.

Relying on readers to understand things you do but many of them actually don't can lead to a story that is clear to you but incomprehensible to others. An alien naming convention is very unlikely to get that much out of hand but still...

Generally if the gender is relevant you should tell it directly and then help the reader remember it by using gender specific pronouns or titles. If it would be awkward to directly remind reader of the gender, the reader probably doesn't need to know it. The gender either has a noticeable effect on what happens or it doesn't. So it should be either easy or unnecessary to remind the reader.

One thing to keep in mind : English and many other languages have gender specific pronouns. Native speakers of these languages have a natural and understandable tendency to think that not knowing the gender of somebody is awkward because they might use the incorrect pronoun.

But this does not really apply to fictional characters. Unless the gender is relevant to the story having the reader guess wrong is fine. Sometimes when it is relevant you want the reader to initially guess wrong. Sometimes you want the characters to guess wrong. So you should spend a minute or two to think about why you want gender to be clear, in case it doesn't actually matter.


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