We refer to beings from Betazed as betazoids, from Vulcan as vulcans, from Romulus as romulans, etc... Why are we referred to consistently as humans and not earthlings or earthans?

  • 26
    In Futurama R. Nixon's head refers to all humans often as "fellow Earthicans".
    – XQYZ
    Jul 25, 2011 at 14:29
  • 8
    Actually, I think the "proper" term would be "Terrans."
    – Toby
    Jul 27, 2011 at 14:10
  • 4
    Well, in DS9's mirror universe, the human 'Empire' was defeated and now humans were called "Terrans" (and a sneer usually accompanied the term)
    – David
    Jul 27, 2011 at 15:14
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    And let's not forget the Ferengi that refer to us as hew-mon. Feb 23, 2012 at 7:06
  • 5
    If Maine conquered the world, would they call us all "Mainiacs"? Mar 8, 2012 at 22:17

4 Answers 4


We don't refer to the Klingons as "Kronos-eons" or "Kronoslings" either. So I guess it is like not refering to the Dutch as "Netherlanders" - the name of the race was chosen independently of the name of the planet (country) they came from.

It is probably also to distinguish us from the other sentient inhabitants:

  • Human
  • Voth and
  • Humpback whales

The Universal Translator is really the root cause of this confusion. The languages for these various cultures may simply lack a specific secondary word to describe beings from that culture. For example, we Humans will describe ourselves as belonging to a planet or country. (Earthling, Martian, so on.) It is conceivable that not all alien cultures will follow the same structure.

A culture that lacks gods, for example, may lack a word to distinguish between those gods and 'normal' people. Or, a culture with particularly cruel gods might deem themselves unworthy of a collective title. Still other cultures may not hold tradition with as much value and have self-selected a title that is easier to remember and which requires no knowledge of their history to understand.

Cultures that lack this noun, would lack any species designation beyond a scientific one. They may simply say, in their own tongue, "Of a location", like how the Bajorans say they are "of Bajor." And indeed, that's what the suffix "an" means. Including the 'an' in Human.

Additionally, not all languages have compatible sounds for the human ear/mouth. While not true of Vulcan, and probably also therefore Romulan, the language of Betazoid is a bit of a mystery. And even in Vulcan, the correct name of the people is altered to match the mythological god by the Universal Translator to make it easier for humans to remember.

Much of how the UT would need to work would require this kind of tokenization of proper names. Many practices are named for people, like pasteurization. Imagine a practice unknown to humanity, and named for a person in a tongue that exists in an audio range beyond human hearing.


It's a matter of language. If the alien is speaking English, then surely he would use the established term "human" for our race. If not, then either it's translated or left as gibberish

If left as gibberish, we don't know what was said. If translated, it's the translator's choice between the alternatives (whether to go for literal or figurative translations). If you go for the former you may have words like earthling, but that kind of translation is usually not considered good.


Korax mentined Earthers in "The Trouble with "Tribbles" and Spock was called an Earther in "Yesteryear".

The name of a planet, region, country or other geographic or galactographic area is a toponym. The name of an ethnic group is an ethnonym. The name of a language is a glossonym.

On Earth there is no rule that the connected toponym, ethnonym, and glossonym of a region have to be related or sound similar.

For example, in the English language the toponym Ireland and the ethnonym Irish are connected but the glossonym of Gaelic is often preferred to the alternate one of Irish.

Many countries and ethnic groups do not have glossonyms.

China is called Zhongguo, the main ethnic group is called Han, and the official language is called Potonghua, or Guoyu, or Huayu.

The frame story of Star Trek could be that actual record tapes of starship experiences were sent back in time to the 20th century and broadcast and thus we see and hear exactly what actually will happen.

Or the frame story of Star Trek might be that information about starship adventures was sent back in time to the 20th century and was used to write the scripts for star trek episodes which were then filmed the same way regular tv scripts were filmed with actors and sets etc. In that process a lot of future English or alien languages might have been translated into 20th century English for the benefit of the 20th century audience.

Thus explaining the use of Humans instead of Earthlings or Terrans.

I remember a science fiction novel where the character Panjarmeeklotutmurph was from the planet Jusaleminopratipup but his ethnonym was the mercifully short Atakit.

In star trek alien ethnonyms based on their planetary toponyms are probably more common than they would be in real life, so it is no big deal that Humans from Earth and Klingons from Kronos (I can't remember the other spelling) are exceptions to that rule. There should have been more exceptions.

  • 1
    True, China is called 中国 Zhōngguó, but it’s also called 华 Huá (which combines with 中 zhōng ‘middle’ to give yet another name, 中华 Zhōnghuá ‘China’). 国 guó itself is just ‘land/country’, and most country names end in that (美国/英国 Měiguó/Yīngguó ‘USA/England’). So keeping in mind that languages can either be 语 (language), 话 huà (speech), or 文 wén (writing), it’s not so strange that Chinese is 中文 Zhōngwén, 汉语 Hànyǔ, 国语 Guóyǔ, 华语 Huáyǔ, 中国话 Zhōngguóhuà, etc. With all those names, it also makes sense that the official language is just 普通话 Pǔtōnghuà ‘Common Speech’. May 20, 2015 at 21:28

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