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This name is particularly common in SFF, the most recent example being the character of Galen Erso in Rogue One.

Now, Galen of Pergamon, clearly the most prominent real-world usage, was a famous early Greek physician, which accounts for its consideration as a name for the doctor on Star Trek: Voyager.

But a quick browse of the Wikipedia disambiguation page on the name Galen corroborates that the name is overwhelmingly popular in SFF:

Galen, a technomage in the Babylon 5 universe (SF)

Galen DeMarco, a character in the world of Judge Dredd (SF)

Gal'en Kord, a character in the Transformers universe (SF)

Galen Tyrol, a character in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica TV series (SF)

Galen Doc Adams, a character of the lead cast of Gunsmoke, a long running radio and subsequent TV series.

Galen, the assistant of Dr. Zaius in the 1968 film Planet of the Apes and subsequent TV series (SF)

Professor Richard Galen, a character in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Chase" (SF)

Galen Marek, a character in the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed project (SF)

Galen, a character in the TV Series Roar (Fantasy)

Dr. Galén, a character in a play The White Disease by Karel Čapek and in its movie adaptation Skeleton on Horseback

Dr. Galen Erso, a character in the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (SF)

Plus, already mentioned:

Dr. Galen, in-universe proposed name for the doctor on Star Trek: Voyager.

Additionally, noted by others:

Galen the Skill master from Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice (Fantasy)

Parth Galen, a green lawn near the Falls of Rauros on the River Anduin, where the Fellowship of the Ring was broken in the LOTR universe (Fantasy)

Ser Galen, a Komarran terrorist from the Brothers in Arms from Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series (SF)

What gives.

What is the relationship among the many uses of the name "Galen" in sci-fi?

(Sorry, I'm not going to answer this in poetry)

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    Galen the Skill master from Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice (Fantasy)
    – gowenfawr
    Feb 24, 2017 at 16:03
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    In Middle-earth, there was also Parth Galen, a green lawn near the Falls of Rauros on the River Anduin. It was there that the Fellowship of the Ring was broken, and where Boromir fell. Feb 24, 2017 at 16:16
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    Also Galen, Quark's cousin in ST:DS9.
    – AStopher
    Feb 24, 2017 at 20:24
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    Ser Galen a Komarran terrorist from Brothers in Arms from Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series. Feb 24, 2017 at 21:18
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    Maybe you're right. I don't know. No-one has yet presented any evidence either way. If I tell you that red cars usually travel together, observational bias will cause you to notice groups of red cars more than single red cars. You think that "Galen" is unusually common, therefore you find evidence to back up your belief. Maybe your belief is based in fact, maybe it's based on coincidence. Someone would need to pull together a histogram of all names in science fiction to be able to answer whether your assumption is true or not, and that is beyond me.
    – CJ Dennis
    Feb 25, 2017 at 4:26

3 Answers 3

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Galen is the modern form of the Greek name Γαληνος (Galenos), meaning "calm" from Greek γαληνη (galene). It was borne by a 2nd-century BC Greco-Roman physician who contributed to anatomy and medicine. In modern times the name is occasionally given in his honour.

The connotations of this name with the medical profession have made it a popular choice for fictional doctors. Popularity of the name Galen reached a peak in the US in 1949 which would make it well known for fiction writers in later decades.

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    Literally typing out this answer, you beat me to it XD Feb 24, 2017 at 16:10
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    Sorry DisturbedNeo - could you not answer anyway and add a little nugget in that makes yours a better answer? I might withdraw anyway as PopMachine sort of answers his own question in his post. No doubt someone will pithily point this out.
    – Kerr Avon
    Feb 24, 2017 at 16:16
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    Ah, the only other thing I was gonna mention was that the description of "Calm" does tend to apply to characters with that name, with some notable exceptions (Mostly looking at Galen Marek, aka 'Starkiller'). So it's fine. Have an upvote. Feb 24, 2017 at 16:18
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    Well, we know it originated with the Greek doctor, but that doesn't really offer much in the way of explanation as to why it proliferated SFF so heavily. We have two examples where is was used as inspiration in a medical context (Voyager, and the Czech play which I didn't count as SFF). Everything else? Feb 24, 2017 at 16:34
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    Do we know the timeline on the Sci-Fi names in the question? I would guess that early ones were doctors, and later ones could have just as easily been inspired by the early ones as by the actual doctor.
    – DCShannon
    Feb 24, 2017 at 20:26
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From a linguistical and writing perspective, Galen is almost the perfect name for a sci-fi or fantasy character for combining the following features:

  • It is not bear any linguistic hallmarks that lead to association with a real-world language or culture for most readers. Contrast with Galenos (Greek and the original name), Calenus (Latin), Galnert (Germanic), Galnael (Hebrew) or Gu Leng (Chinese). This renders the name exotic.

  • The name is not very popular nowadays, making it unlikely that it loses its exoticness on account of the audience knowing somebody contemporary with that name.

  • The exoticness does not feel forced or tropy – after all, it’s also a real name.

  • The name is short. This makes it easy to remember and avoids the dilemma of shortening it in universe: Shortening it is more realistic but also a potential source of confusion for the audience.

  • The existing historical figure (and the previous uses in sci-fi and fantasy) make it easy to remember.

  • The historical association is not too strong as the name is not that unique (helped by its shortness). Contrast with Pythagoras, Vitruvius, Dschenghis, or Hatshepsut (to pick some historical names that haven’t caught on as given names, at least in the anglosphere). This way, it doesn’t primarily feel like an historical allusion.

  • It’s easy to pronounce.

  • There are only few potential alternatives to pronouncing it from English writing: /ɡeɪ'lən/, /'ɡɑlən/, and /'ɡɛlən/, all of which I would consider much more unlikely than the correct /'ɡeɪlən/. Same goes for the (less important) opposite direction, where only Geylen and similar come to mind. “Only a few potential alternatives” is quite good, given how messed up English orthography is.

  • Nobody can accuse you of stealing the name thanks to the historical Galen and it being rarely used as a given name.

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I believe I remember Ronald D. Moore explaining Galen Tyrol's name as a "long-running in-reference amongst sci-fi writers," ie. it started to be a thing, and now it's a thing, with no other reason than that; each writer adds it as a nod to the ones that came before.

You could also point out the large number of uses of Steppenwolf's Magic Carpet Ride in sci-fi, for the same reason.

It's been a thing for so long at this point that I named my dog Galen fifteen years ago, after this trope.

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    If you can provide a reference, this would be the start of a great answer! Jun 26, 2017 at 14:40

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