13
$\begingroup$

An interesting aspect of world-building I haven't felt very exposed to is what the native race(s) of a planet would call their own world. On Earth, we call it Earth, after the stuff beneath our feet. Imagining a planet whose dominant species "grew up" there like ours has on Earth, what are some ways in which they might refer to their home?

The best ones I can think of are "terra firma" names like Earth -- whatever the word for earth, ground, soil, rock, grass, water, etc. is in the alien language -- or variations on "home." Would one of these be common among species in different galaxies? Or can you think of a pattern that might be more common?

$\endgroup$

closed as primarily opinion-based by Azuaron, L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica, Aify, sphennings, Rob Watts Jun 23 '17 at 17:02

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How we should figure out a name in alien language? You can make up anything you want because it's in alien language, and it may always means "home" or "grass", "root", "stone", or whatever their sacred thing is. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Jun 22 '17 at 18:00
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "Terra" specifically refers to "dry ground" or "dry soil", i.e., the part of the planet that we inhabit. An ocean-dwelling species might refer to their planet as "ocean" in their native language, an air- or tree-dwelling species might use "air", "wind", "sky", or "tree". $\endgroup$ – Chris M. Jun 22 '17 at 18:03
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ midgard literally translates to middle yard or middle world, which comes from the idea that it lies between the realm of the gods and the realm of the dead and between the realm of fire and the realm of ice. Sometimes manheimr which translates to the "home of men". $\endgroup$ – John Jun 22 '17 at 21:22
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ We only know how humans have named Earth. That gives us a N of 1 which is statistically useless. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Jun 22 '17 at 21:59
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I think that the most likely pattern is their analogy of "earth", in the sense of "the very common thing upon we stand, and where our food grows". The reason is that the planet gets a name long before the inhabitants have a concept for "planet". $\endgroup$ – Burki Jun 23 '17 at 11:11
21
$\begingroup$

A good way to look at this answer is see how we have referred to our planet. Here are just some suggestions.

You are correct that we call it Earth, and it seems that most other languages currently call it something similar. In many languages, the planet is referred to as Soil, or Ball of Earth, but that indicates that this is a fairly new thing to call our planet, seeing as the previous consensus was that our world was not at all a sphere.

For example, The Chinese call the earth Di Qiu, which translates into "Ground Sphere", but used to refer to the world as Tian Xia, which translates to "Under the Sky".

Now, let's look at the Romans. We don't know what the Romans called Earth, but we do know that the other planets in the solar system were named after Roman gods. They are called such because the Romans are pioneers in astronomy and they ended up getting to name those planets. Romans also had a goddess, Terra, who is the goddess of the earth.

Many polytheistic religions have an Earth Mother and a Sky Father, and should they have discovered the existence of planets, may also name the Earth after their own Earth Mother deity.

Another way to look at it is how countries are named. Countries like Afghanistan Belgium are named after their people: land of the Afghans, land of the Belgae. If your alien race is connected enough to identify themselves as a single group, it is entirely possible to see the planet be named after the species, like Humania. Similarly, it could be named after a feature of the planet, like how Japan is refered to as "The land of the Rising Sun".

Similarly, if the world is taken by an alien civilization, it might be named by them. Countries like Canada comes to mind, where a name was derived from broken communication between two people

I know it's a little all over the place, but I hope this will give you some insight.

$\endgroup$
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ "They are called such because the Romans are pioneers in astronomy and they ended up getting to name those planets." I'm quite sure that it has less to do with Roman prowess in astronomy - especially compared with Babylonians and Greeks - and more that Latin was go-to language for many centuries for educated people. $\endgroup$ – Maciej Piechotka Jun 23 '17 at 2:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Terra in italian means earth, so I guess they called it earth as well. Besides that, I never heard of Terra goodness before... $\endgroup$ – Fez Vrasta Jun 23 '17 at 7:28
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I’ts a tenacious myth that someone in the past considered the earth to be flat. In fact, no one did. Eratosthenes already calculated the size of the Earth’s circumference very close around 240 BC. When Columbus had so much trouble getting support for sailing to India, it was because he assumed a much smaller Earth and was actually wrong when he thought to have reached India. See here. $\endgroup$ – Holger Jun 23 '17 at 8:48
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Holger Well, someone probably did, but the consensus among educated people was that the earth is round. $\endgroup$ – user31389 Jun 23 '17 at 11:36
  • $\begingroup$ I appreciate that the answer is a little all over the place -- I think having a smattering of a few rough categories for home planet name etymology makes sense, just like countries on Earth. $\endgroup$ – ArrowCase Jun 23 '17 at 16:17
10
$\begingroup$

I can think of others, it depend on their orientation to their environment, but I imagine the local word for Earth, land, (perhaps sea or water for ocean oriented beings) would be the most common.

Others could be "God's Realm", the "Kingdom", "Our Gift", "Our Home", references to an ownership abstraction. Imagine that for most purposes we own our houses, farms and animals; but we also recognize our Kings own the entire kingdom, including us and our property. Add one more level of abstraction, and God owns it all, and the Kings; i.e. a King of Kings. So the planet is God's property, or house, or farm, or something similar.

Yet others can be focused on position: Humans were once convinced that Earth was the center of the universe, and could easily have begun referring to Earth as The Focus, The Center, The Primary. Even The Reason, as in the reason the universe exists because everything revolves around it, and therefore serves it.

Finally, your planet may be given a proper name or named after a human role, based on a mythology of stories that anthropomorphize it, how it came to be, and its family. Like Gaia. So your planet could plausibly be called The Littlest Sister or the Great Mother; or just "Edwina:"

Here is my Earth based creation story. The gods were Sol, husband of Venus, the most beautiful of stars. They had children that were amorphous spirits, the youngest and littlest sister they named Edwina. Edwina was rebellious, and she so wanted to be a mother like Venus that she became pregnant, and had a child out of wedlock with Mars, that she named Seth. This angered Sol so much he killed Mars, the bloody body is still out there as a warning. But Sol still loved Edwina so much he could not bring himself to destroy her, and Venus begged Sol for Edwina's life. So instead Sol turned Edwina and Seth into planets with life, and now Edwina is the great mother of us all, she still cradles her infant Seth [the Moon], and she is watched over and warmed by the love of her father and mother to this day.

$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

It starkly depends if you're talking about the name of a planet, or if you're talking about words are used for the home of a species or basically anyone.

Further I am going to assume the latter as the answer to the former is as simple as: Someone made the name up based on what they first thought about.


So, what names will a group of people (even aliens have peoples) choose for their home world?

The only generalisation that can be made is that most often a word meaning home or something radiating safety, protection or comfort seems to build the root of the eventual term/concept.

E.g. let's look closer at a semi-randomly chosen language, like Icelandic:

The Icelandic equivalent to the English 'world' is 'Heimurinn'. It stems from the word heimur which in turn seems to have roots in either heimr and heimaz.

Looking at other languages like German for similar sounding words, we find the words Heim and Heimat which both refer to the same concept as the English home.

Looking at the German word for world though, we find Welt which doesn't sound anything like the previous heimurinn we found only a few hundred kilometers away from German.

Welt in turn stems from the Old German word weralt which is a compound of the words for wer (En.: man) and alt(En.: time, age, old) - so to say: Home of Man(kind), which gets back to the concept of safety, protection and comfort.

$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

In many languages, the name for Earth is basically "land", more in the literal sense of dry land (instead of a political division, like "country"). Even now in English, Earth is both a term for soil, and the name of the planet we live on. Same in Spanish: tierra, Earth, land, and soil.

Long before people knew the Earth was a sphere, many people basically thought that the entire universe was basically divided into three parts: land, sky, and ocean. (Stars and space, what we think of today as most of the universe, were though to be much smaller than they actually are, and were part of the sky, which was a dome).

It was only later they put it together that the "sky" was actually much bigger, and in fact an optical illusion-- it actually isn't a blue dome, even though it appears to be. Also, the water and land aren't co-equal parts; the water, though expansive, is a relatively shallow cover over some parts of a large rocky planet.

Even though we learned all of this, we still kept the same basic name that we had long before this understanding. We live on the land, the soil-- the Earth.

So look at another language, Finnish, a non-Indo European language. Earth, the globe, is maapallo, which is made up of two words: maa, earth, land, soil, and pallo, ball or globe. So the Finnish word for the planet Earth can be translated as "land-globe" or "soil-ball".

I would say that aliens probably name their planet on whatever material they live on. A dolphin like species would probably call their homeworld "water" or "ocean". Beings that evolved on a gas giant would probably call their home the gas-liquid that they live on.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Tervetuloa Lika Palloon. $\endgroup$ – amI Jun 22 '17 at 22:04
3
$\begingroup$

One possible analogy for this is the names that Native American tribes invented to refer to themselves as a people. From an objective standpoint, these have a few advantages over the Earth/Terra forms that you refer to in your question.

The Indo-European language family has shared roots, hence the cognates "Earth" (English/German) and "Terra" (Spanish/Italian/French). It's difficult, if not impossible, to trace the origin of these terms to their original semantic meaning. Native American languages, on the other hand, are much more varied (they do not have shared roots) and arise from somewhat independent cultures, giving us a much larger sample size as well as greater confidence in their semantic originality.

It would be neat to compare Native American names for the world, but all I have on hand is a few of their names for themselves -- not from a very reliable source, but I've heard the same thing from a few different places so it's at least a believable urban legend. Most of them are simple: variations on their word for "[the] people". A few of them add adjectives ("white clay people" and "people of the desert").

For a brand-new civilization on a random planet, there probably isn't sufficiently advanced technology or philosophy for them to contextualize themselves in terms of other planets or people. So the simplest solution here is that they call themselves "the people" and they call their planet "the place." As time goes on and they start to think of other stars/planets as places and not just sky-decorations, the old terms will become idiomatic and new terms or variants will be invented to handle the discoveries.

EDIT: Here is a more complete and more trustworthy list of Native American tribe names in their native language. It's a much more interesting list -- using this as a base, it would make a lot of sense for civilizations to name their planet e.g. "place of the sand" or "place of the white rivers."

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The English word earth (< Proto-Germanic *erþâ) and the Latin word terra (< Proto-Indo-European *ters- "dry") are not cognates. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 23 '17 at 0:11
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP No, plainly not. I didn't mean that they are. But Terra/Tierra/Terre are, as are Earth/Erde. $\endgroup$ – Isaac Lyman Jun 23 '17 at 0:23

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.