Punctuation Shaker

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"Note to would-be adventure authors: When making up names, note that the apostrophe is not some sort of universal stand-in for vowels. Stop doing that."
Shamus Young, Chainmail Bikini #1
"Few names in Fantasyland are considered complete unless they are interrupted by an apostrophe."
Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

One of the easiest ways to give an exotic or alien spin to words intended to have originated from an exotic language is to sprinkle it liberally with unexpected punctuation marks. Most often, this is done with apostrophes, perhaps because it appears in such a wide variety of purposes in various real languages (See Real Life section below) that one might figure something would have to fit in a pinch.

This trope may not apply when punctuation or tongue-clicks are a natural part of the language the story is written in; linguistics may even treat them as unique letters in their own right. Most commonly, though, no actual purpose for these marks ever crystallizes; they serve merely as a form of visual seasoning that may not ever be acknowledged in actual pronunciation.

After the apostrophe, the second most common punctuation mark is the diaeresis/umlaut (two different diacritics but both indicated by ẗwö döẗs övër ä lëẗẗër). In real life, the umlaut is used to indicate a difference in pronunciation (for example in German: fallen "to fall", fällen "to fell"), and a diaeresis is used to indicate that two vowels are pronounced separately or a silent vowel is pronounced (for example naïve). Its use in fantasy was probably popularized by J.R.R. Tolkien (like MANY fantasy devices), who used it a lot. (He used circumflexes, macrons, and acute and grave accents even more.) However, Tolkien was a linguistics professor and these came from actual grammatical and orthographic rules within his over half a dozen complete invented languages and so served a real purpose. Often cropping up when foreign words were translated from their original script in Westron.

See also Heävy Mëtal Ümlaut and Law of Alien Names.

Ex'ämples öf Punc'tuätio'n Sh'akër in'cludë:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • The Riofaldian language in Cannon God Exaxxion is like this, probably to disguise the fact that many Riofaldian characters & machines are inexplicably named after various Earth things. Scieżka (Polish for path) becomes Shes'Ka, Anvil becomes An'Viru, Kaiser becomes Kas'Ar, & so on.
    • "Anviru" is how "Anvil" is spelled in (phonetic) Japanese.
  • D.Gray-man has the Black Order's gatekeeper, whose name is Ares Teena = dloe = gynosan = P = ruporson = gear = Amadeus 5th.
    • This is a common way to separate foreign names in Japanese.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In the DC universe, the names of Martian characters and locales: J'onn J'onzz, Ma'alefa'ak, K'ymm, H'ronmeer, L'Zoril', Zo'ok, Ma'aleca'andra.
    • That last one looks like an apostrophised tribute to Malacandra, the name of Mars in C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy.
  • Wonder Woman used to have a supporting character named Nubia, who was the only Black Amazon. Her name has since been changed to Nu'bia, which is so much better.
  • Parodied in The Sensational Spider-Man with an ancient beast known as the Che-k'n Kau.
  • The real name of Judge Dredd's enemy, Judge Death, is apparently Sidney D'Eath; this is an aversion, however, because D'Eath is a real surname. It's a contraction of "de Eath" that rhymes with "teeth", and most folks who bear it hate to hear people pronounce it "Death".
  • There's a minor Flash villain known as the Kilg%re (an alien technovirus). Nominally, the percent sign should be pronounced as a burst of static.
  • Sugar Shock has a character named L'lihdra.
  • Marvel Comics has the Shi'ar Empire. The Shi'ar named the M'Kraan Crystal, which is generally accepted to be 'EM-kron', with few exceptions.


Fanfic[edit | hide]

  • My Immortal has a few, including Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way and B'loody Mary Smith, who's supposed to be Hermione (!)
  • Similarly, in Light and Dark - The Adventures of Dark Yagami, Dark Yagami becomes Du'Arq (or Da'urq, Du'raq, or so forth, depending on how the author is spelling it at the moment). And later, there's his sister Sayu becoming "Sa~Yu" as Queen of the Shinigami.
  • In Cat-Tales, a DEMON recruit named Greg Brady is granted a "prestigious second apostrophe," changing his name to Gr'oriBr'di. (Those less favored by Ra's al Ghul only get one.)
  • Averted in With Strings Attached, as only a few names have apostrophes, and these indicate that two letters should be pronounced separately. For example, Arda'is is pronounced “ahr-DAY-iss” rather than “AHR-daze”, Fi'ar is “fee-AHR” rather than “Fire”, C'hou is “cuh-HOW” instead of anything else, Ta'akan is “tah-AK-an” rather than “Takan”, and As'taris is “azz-TAH-riss” rather than “ast-AH-riss”.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Averted in Na'vi, from Avatar - the apostrophes represent glottal stops.
    • Similarly, the letter 'x' does not indicate a tongue-swallowing consonantal cluster, but that the preceding stop is an ejective, not an egressive.
    • Likewise, the Na'vi language has the letter Ä as separate from a regular A, pronounced differently (rather than just a fancy way to spell a word with an A in it).
    • However, the words found in the Activist's Survival Guide throw this (and most of the other rules of Na'vi word structure) out the window entirely, with superfluous and/or illegal apostrophes and letters sprinkled everywhere.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Banned and the Banished series is made of this trope. Every name of a race or magic thingy is the standard English with an apostrophe randomly dropped him. (For instance, the first book is called "Wit'ch Fire")
  • Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen has names like: T'lan Imass, K'Chain Che'Malle, Onos T'oolan...
    • May be justified in the case of the Imass by T'lan being a corruption / abbreviation of Tellann. As for the rest of them, though...
    • The series states that the T' bit means 'broken', so mortal Imass are Tlan, which their undead counterparts are T'lan. Similarly, Onos Toolan and Onos T'oolan
    • Also of note are the related types of demons, the Kenryll'ah, and the Ken'yllrah. Apparently one of these is the nobility of their race, while the other are the peasants. Or something like that.
  • In Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series of novels, dragon-riders' names are apostrophized, as an honorific, when they become bonded with a dragon. Since dragon-rider is usually a hereditary post, their parents give them names meant to be apostrophized easily—Fallarnon and Famanoran, for example, becoming F'lar and F'nor.
    • In one instance, a boy named Jaxom is accidentally bonded to a dragon hatchling; he's exempted from the custom, partly because nobody can figure out where to put the apostrophe and leave something pronounceable.
    • Also, the dragonrider L'tol changes his name back to Lytol when his dragon is killed.
    • Random trivia: The intent of the tradition is to make the name easy to remember/pronounce when shouted.
    • Strangely enough, female riders' names are left as they are. It could be that eliding the already-short female names would be redundant (Moreta, Leri, Mirrim, Lessa, etc), or simply because most females don't have such a constant need to be marked as "special."
      • Or that since the gold riders (female riders of green dragons having fallen out of use fairly early on) are not primarily fighting dragons, either filling a secondary/support role in combat or not fighting at all, the abbreviation of their names for combat usage wasn't considered necessary.
      • Or that the preservation of the names in their full form was considered a mark of respect, since female riders only bonded to queen dragons. It is mentioned that dragons only remember the names of humans they particularly respect.
      • Or the women aren't allowed to use the honorific. It is a patriarchy, after all.
  • Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle uses apostrophes and umlauts: Ra'zac, Gil'ead, Uru'baen, Zar'roc, Alagaësia, amongst others. Usually randomly peppered throughout names with no rhyme or reason.
    • In "Alagaësia" it could be there legitimately to show that it is "Alaga-ehsia" instead of "Alagaysia." However, the pronunciation guide lists it as "Alagaysia."
    • The pronunciation guide says that the apostrophes are added to words that would mean more or less the same thing without them; they're pronounced as an elongation of an adjacent syllable, and are added as a mark of respect or significance.
    • One elf is named Blödhgarm, the pronounciation of which ("BLAWD-garm") doesn't seem very different from if it had just been spelled Blodhgarm.
  • Diana Wynne Jones's The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, essentially a parodic list of fantasy clichés, explains that, since the typical Rules of Magic say you gain power over someone from knowing his or her True Name, replacing half your name with apostrophes is a wise precaution.
    • She also mocks this trope pretty comprehensively in Dark Lord of Derkholm (which itself parodies a lot of fantasy clichés).
  • R. A. Salvatore regrets doing this so often in his early Forgotten Realms books. Now he tends to conveniently leave them out when he can. This isn't possible with the main character of the series, as this would make his last name "Dourden."
    • Except he could just write it as "Do Urden", which is how it ends being pronounced by most readers anyway.
  • In the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, every word in the Old Tongue has at least one apostrophe. A notable example is the Big Bad, Shai'tan (obviously Satan with an apostrophe).
    • Shaitan is the Muslim/Arabic term for Satan (well it's one transliteration of شيطان; spellings like Shaytan are also valid).
      • And the t used is not the one usually transliterated as t. Yes, Arabic has 2 t's, along with 2 s's, 2 d's, and 3 th's. This one, pronounced with the tongue behind the alveolar ridge, is usually transliterated with a dot under the t. Since most keyboards can't easily form that, people tend to replace the dot with a preceding apostrophe.
  • R'lyeh and other things related to the Great Old Ones in H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos
  • Grand Admiral Thrawn from the Star Wars Expanded Universe had a full name of "Mitth'raw'nuruodo". Other Chiss have similarly long, punctuated names, and similarly they tend to shorten them, making it easier for humans.
    • Timothy Zahn, Thrawn's creator, absolutely loves this, both in his Star Wars Expanded Universe books (Jorus C'baoth, Jorj Car'das, Borsk Fey'lya, Shada D'ukal, plenty of others) and his original works.
    • Apostrophes are common in the names of Twi'lek characters in the expanded universe. Bib Fortuna, for instance, used to be Bibfort'una, Una being his clan name, later stripped from him. Wedge Antilles, upon arrival on their homeworld, finds himself called Wedgean'tilles, which meant "slayer of stars", because as Wedge'antilles his name meant something like "so foul a rancor would be sick".
    • Mando'a uses it as an interlexemic glue not unlike the English hyphen:
      • dar (no longer) + jetii (Jedi) = dar'jetii (Sith, lit. ex-Jedi)
      • jetii + kad (sword) = jetii'kad (lightsaber)
      • vorer (accept) + entye (debt) = vor'e (thank you, or more accurately, I accept your debt)
      • vod (sibling) + /ika (diminutive) = vod'ika (younger sibling)
  • The Discworld novel The Colour of Magic features dragonriders with exclamation marks in the middle of their names, in a sequence parodying McCaffrey. Justified (eventually) when the narration finally tells us it represents the same sort of sound it does in African languages.
    • Also played with in Guards! Guards!, when one character is shown avoiding swearing: "'D* mn!', Carrot said, a difficult linguistic feat."
  • In Appendix E to The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien explains that, while the acute and circumflex marks that litter some of his names are there for sound linguistic reasons and have standard meanings, which one he used depended (mostly) on how "alien" he wanted the names to look: Elvish languages get to use the acute accent (é) but everyone else has to use the circumflex accent (ê). He used the letter K to similar effect, since in most of his languages it's redundant because C is always hard.
  • In names like Feänor from the Silmarillion, this is justified, to show English-speakers that the E and A are separate vowels. The dots were left away in the German translation, however, since in german, ä would be pronounced differently.
  • In the second Young Wizards book, Deep Wizardry, a number of the characters are whales and as such have names meant to mimic the cadences of whalesong. When Kit and Nita transform into whales, their names are given similar treatment, and are referred to as K!t and H'Neeeet.
  • Averted with Emperor 'Zakath in The Belgariad. In The Malloreon it's revealed that the apostrophe indicates Kal (king and god) but he avoided outright styling himself Kal Zakath until the Physical God Kal Torak was dead. In the end after Character Development reduces his ego he becomes simply Zakath.
    • Played strait with Ce'Nedra and her mother Ce'Vanne however.
  • In the non-canon Star Trek novel series Star Trek: New Frontier, The Captain's given name was M'k'n'zy of Calhoun. He changed it to Mackenzie Calhoun because no one at Starfleet Academy could pronounce it right. His family includes a Dn'dai and a Gr'zy as well.
  • In Star Trek: Titan, we have the character of K'chak'!'op. The "!" represents a click created (in humans, anyway) by smacking the tongue against the roof of the mouth, as in several real languages. The entire name is an approximation anyway, of the clicks and pops that K'chak'!'op's people use to communicate. Her real name is basically "click/puff of air'click/tongue to roof of mouth click/pop". No wonder the human characters tend to use the nickname "Chaka".
  • Gene Roddenberry's novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture gives us the Vulcan word T'hy'la. The first apostrophe is to indicate that the 't' and 'h' do not combine into the 'th' phoneme. The meaning of the second is debateable.
  • One character in Borgel by Daniel Pinkwater spells his name with an asterisk, in an overlap with The Unpronounceable.

"I am Pak Nfbnm* ," the little man said.
"* ?"
"Exactly."

    • A similar gag is used in Chess With A Dragon:

"They're called Rh/attes."
"Rats?"
"No, Rh/attes. The / is silent."

  • The Saga of Seven Suns by Kevin J Anderson makes use of apostrophes in the names of its principal alien race, the Ildirans. In this case, though, it is at least partly justified in that the parts of the name after the apostrophe denote the individual's rank in the species' caste system. It does make some of these names extremely difficult to pronounce, though (Zan'nh, Bron'n)...
  • Averted in Larry Niven's Ringworld, in which a city's name is normally written down as "Zignamuclickclick".
  • Also averted in Larry Niven's and Jerry Pournelle's Mote In God's Eye, where the alien assigned to study a particular human is designed Fyunch(click).
  • Played straight with the Kzinti language in the Known Space 'verse, and probably parodied in that one script is composed entirely of commas, apostrophes, colons and semicolons.
  • Used heavily by Mercedes Lackey in her Heralds of Valdemar books. Several peoples, including the Kaled'a'in (and the related Shin'a'in) have languages full of apostrophes as glottal stops.
  • Jaqen H'gar in A Song of Ice and Fire.
  • All the Sithi in Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn.
  • In a tale truncated in The Film of the Book of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Vl'hurg and G'gugvant races were provoked into ages of ruinous war by an off-hand remark drifting from light-years away, which ended in a peaceful joint enterprise into the tragic maw of a small dog. Because the sequence was cut down and inserted into the closing credits, the world may never know how these ancient civilizations were pronounced.
    • The names were said in the radio series though, and were pronounced "Vla-hurg" and "Ga-gug-vant."
  • Tamora Pierce, in her Circle of Magic books, has the Fantasy Counterpart Culture, the Traders, who are the Tsaw'ha in their language.
    • (Arguably justified since it's not gratuitous or mysterious—you need the apostrophe to separate the W and H into two distinct sounds instead of the "hw" sound you'd get in English. Also, it's the only time she does it.)
  • Snow Crash has a character named Da5id. The name is probably pronounced the same as "David", since in Roman numerals a V is equivalent to a 5.
  • David Brin's Uplift universe includes alien species with names like "J'8lek", "Mrgh'4luargi", and "Le'4-2vo".
    • Possibly justified, as while it is probably mostly there for flavor, and actual pronunciations are not always given, there are a LOT of sounds in the various galactic languages that are hard to transliterate.
  • The second printing of one Vernor Vinge short story begins with an author's note explaining that it was written immediately after taking a linguistics course, and that the @ and % symbols in the aliens' names correspond to phonemes humans can almost produce. Vinge apologizes for this.
  • James Robertson hangs a lampshade on this in The Testament of Gideon Mack. One of the characters is complaining about the cod Scots dialect in an old book:

"Look at the language he puts in Ephie's mouth. All derived from some ghastly genteel concept of what the guid Scots tongue should look like on the printed page. Those apostrophes all over the place, as if someone's slammed the book shut on a plague of corn lice."

  • In the Posleen War Series, the Posleen that get Character Development use apostrophes in their names. The language of the species is loaded with them, as well.
  • In the Otherland series, one of the main characters is named !Xabbu. The ! represents a postalveolar click, which isn't uncommon in African languages.
  • Into the Looking Glass uses both the ! for a tongue-click, and the @ for something humans can't even pronounce. The usual problems with this trope are avoided by writing the words as each character pronounces them and having most characters mispronounce them. (For instance, the species named N!t!ch is usually mispronounced as, and consequently written as, "Nitch.")
  • Lampshaded in the Star Trek novel Doctor's Orders, by Diane Duane. The first Federation survey team sent to a certain planet reported that one of the three sentient species there was called the ;At, but forgot to explain how the semicolon should be pronounced. At the beginning of the book, the Enterprise crew generally pronounce it as a click; later on, Uhura says that it's probably more of a glottal stop.
  • In Piers Anthony's Xanth books, any given demon's name is the name of the world/planet which is their territory, with some mathematical notation mixed in - for example, X(A/N)^TH. Precisely what notation is used appears to be some kind of indicator of status.
  • Shows up sometimes in the Dragaera series, generally for ancient names that are unpronounceable by most in-series. For example, there's a healer named Hwdfr'jaanci in Orca, Sethra Lavode's servant Dri'Chazik a Tukknaro Dzur (generally known as Chaz or Tukko), and an evil god called Tri'nagore. In the last case, and possibly the others, the apostrophe seems to function as it would in a contraction, as the god's full name is Tristangrascalaticrunagore.
  • The Stormlight Archive has a character named Numuhukumakiaki'aialunamor, or Rock for short. His name seems to resemble very long Hawaiian words,[1] so the apostrophe probably represents a glottal stop.
  • J. H. Brennan, of Grail Quest fame, also wrote a series of gamebooks starring a barbarian named Fire*Wolf.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Why so many Jaffa in Stargate SG-1 have apostrophized names is a bit of a mystery: Would it really affect the pronunciation to transliterate their names as "Tealk" and "Braytak"?
    • It's possible that the apostrophe in Jaffa names denotes the break between given name and family name. For example, the son of Teal'c is Rya'c.
    • Doctor Who writer Russell T. Davies is alleged to have used SG-1's "monopoly" on apostrophe names as a reason for vetoing one on his own show.
    • The main antagonist race (for the first six or seven seasons) were called Goa'uld. How this was pronounced varied, usually depending on who was talking. A few common versions were [ˈgoʊ̭.uːld], [ˈguːə.uːld] and for a few human characters: [guːld].
      • For the record, Goa'uld and Jaffa almost always pronounce it "Go-A-oold." One suspects O'Neill's pronunciation as "Goold" is at least partly due to a lack of respect for them (mangling enemies' names was something of a pastime of his).
      • It does seem intentional. Goa'uld, Jaffa, and sciency types who'd be inclined to get it right (such as Daniel and Carter) pronounce it "go-a-uld". Most aliens do as well. Others such as military (O'Neill and Hammond and Landry and most guest stars) will say "goold". This is very consistent, from the first use of the term all the way to their rare mentions in Stargate Atlantis nowadays.
        • This is occasionally played for comedy as there are a few times when Daniel says "goould," though one was a reminder to Jack that he shouldn't trust the bad guys and at least one of them was to a goa'uld System Lord as a purposeful measure of disrespect.
        • On the contrary, I've noticed that Daniel is one of the worst offenders when it comes to saying Goold instead of Go-a-uld (at least for the first two seasons). Theory: Michael Shanks has trouble pronouncing the sort of dipthong necessary to pronounce it correctly. Evidence: Sha'uri, Daniel's wife, had her name changed to Sha-re for the series because he couldn't pronounce Sha'uri.
      • Which still doesn't make sense for how it's written. If it's intended to have two glottal stops, it should be spelled "Go'a'uld", which would (as in Hawaiian) indicate three separate vowel sounds. "Goa'uld" looks like it's meant to indicate that the OA is a diphthong and the U a second sound, thus "gwa-oold". But that isn't how it's actually pronounced.
        • It's a glide, it's just not the glide you're expecting. Think of it as "Gowa'uld", and then suppose that the (highly imaginary) phonotactics and orthography of Goa'uld make that unnecessary because -oa- always sounds that way.
        • Why should it be spelled "Go'a'uld"? Do all the aliens actually speak Hawaiian? It seems more likely that the apostrophes stand in for some Goa'uld letter that's semantic rather than phonetic. Perhaps, like with "Tok'ra", it's just their standard way of indicating a compound word.
    • Plain old regular humans from Earth get this treatment too—aliens call us the Tau'ri.
      • A bit more justified, as it at least denotes a syllable break.
    • There's also the zat'nik'tel Stun Guns, pronounced "zat-nick-a-tell" with the second apostrophe representing an entire syllable. Fortunately, they're usually just abbreviated to "zat-guns" or "zats".
    • There is also the Tok'ra, but in their case, the apostrophe actually denotes the point at which two words have been joined together to form one: "tok," meaning "against," and "Ra," the name of the Supreme System Lord.
  • The Taelons from Earth: Final Conflict used apostrophes in every name for everything (Da'an, Ma'el, Zo'or). The show did some real-world Lampshade Hanging, by naming their official website's online shop "The Sto'or".
    • Justified in that their names aren't pronounced Daan, Mael or Zoor. They actually have a glottal stop were the apostrophe is when pronounced.
  • In Farscape, Crichton writes up the name T'raltixx for the benefit of his shipmates, despite the fact that (a) no one else on the ship reads English, and (b) no one this side of the Galactic Core would write it like that. Of course, his mind was being affected at the time.

Crichton: A brand new car! No! It's T'raltixx. Tee apostrophe arr aye ell, tee eye, double-x! T'raltixx.

    • Farscape also features, in a Season 1 episode, an alien named M'Lee (Emily), and Br'Nee (Bernie).
  • Babylon 5 is not immune to this. Aside from the species named Pak'ma'ra and the Shadow home world of Z'ha'dum, especially the Narn seem to like apostrophes: G'Kar, G'Quan, Ta'Lon, Kha'Ri, et al.
    • In the case of the Narns, the apostrophe seems to represent the joining of a compound word - for example, Na'Toth's father's name is Shak'Toth. Also, the Pak'ma'ra homeworld is called Pak'ma, which suggests a similar function.
    • Word of God states that Z'ha'dum is a Minbari compound word meaning something like "death of future."
  • Several names in both Klingon and Vulcan in Star Trek: T'Pol, K'Ehleyr, etc. These are justified for Klingons, as the apostrophe actually represents a letter of their alphabet and is pronounced as a glottal stop.
    • Explained (although not quite justified) for Vulcans in non-canon books: the "T'" prefix is used for "bonded" (marriage bond) females.
    • However, that doesn't excuse the completely unnecessary apostrophes in "Ba'ku" and "Son'a" in Star Trek 9.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine introduced apostrophized names for male Vulcans as well, including V'Las and Chu'lak.
      • Note that the latter name without the apostrophe would be Chulak, which is a planet in Stargate SG-1
    • Not to mention M'Ress from the Animated Adaptation.
    • B'Elanna from Voyager isn't pronounced with the stop, unless everyone's just saying it wrong.
      • Neither are the stops in "B'Etor" or "K'Ehlyr", in fact. Perhaps it's a rule of Klingon language, that the glottal stop is silent when a word begins with consonant-apostrophe-E?
        • No. It's just that the transliterations used for the series don't always conform to the rules laid down by the inventors (for one, a Klingon syllable can't start with two consonants).
    • The Vulcan Language appears to use apostrophes and hyphens to attach prefixes and suffixes to root words, and to make compound words. The "T'" prefix to mean "bonded" would be consistant with the word T'hy'la, but that would expand the definition outside of marriage bonds. The discrepancy can possibly be explained by T'hy'la being an archaic word.
    • What about V'Ger?
      • That's different—the apostrophe actually does stand for missing letters. It's short for Voyager.
      • Averted in Alan Dean Foster's Novelization, which spells it "Vejur".
  • Parodied in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when the researching Scoobies identify the monster of the week as a M'Fashnik demon but are unsure of the correct pronunciation.
  • While interviewing JJ Abrams about Star Trek, Stephen Colbert is visited by his Romulan counterpart, S't'e'fan Kh'lber't, who takes the time to clarify that he spells his name with a "kh" and five apostrophes.
  • A Bit of Fry and Laurie had a character named Derek Nippl-e. "Nippl-e" is pronounced as the sound of a pencil eraser being dropped onto a desktop from a height of a few inches.
  • D'Anna Biers is the only character in Battlestar Galactica with an apostrophe name. The apostrophe indicates a glottal stop but it is somewhat subtle , causing some viewers to hear her name as Diana or Deanna.


Radio Drama[edit | hide]

  • The Big Finish Doctor Who stories feature a villain named "the Kro'ka", in whose name the apostrophe seems to represent a subtle glottal stop. There's also an alien companion whose nayme is C'rizz. It's pronounced like "Carys", a legitimate Welsh name it's sometimes (understandably) misspelled as. He's also got a deceased girlfriend named L'da, in whose name the apostrophe represents the bit where there's sort of a pause or maybe a schwa to make up for the effects of her species' tragic vowel deficiency.[2]


Tabletop RPG[edit | hide]

  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Literary/roleplaying example: Drizzt Do'Urden (full name Drizzt Daermon N'a'shezbaernon) from the Forgotten Realms setting. Ever consider that Drizzt's name sounds like a bug hitting a bug-zapper?
      • R.A. Salvatore, his creator, apparently pronounces it "Drits" (yes, with the "t" sound before the "s" sound)
    • Demon Prince Graz'zt
    • It's sometimes suggested that the apostrophes are often clicks and other insectoid sounds that would be absurd to write in, much like Sssssnaketalk..
      • In Dark Sun thri'kreen, an insectoid race, tend to have names like Myk'tyl'klk and the like, though this is justified in that they're sentient insects and their entire language sounds like that. Bugs have no need for puny vowels.
      • Nezumi in Oriental Adventures also have apostrophed names, and the apostrophes mark chitters, chirps, and clicks.
      • Spelljammer winks at everything now and then, so there's a race of arachnids called "K’r’r’r".
    • Mystara has a lot of those - Nikt’oo (riding turtle), Kla’a-Tah (large sapient turtle)
  • Averted in Pathfinder, where due to the trope's overprevelance in fantasy, the editors allow writers only one name with an apostrophe in their career.
  • The Tau in Warhammer 40,000 use apostrophe-compounds. The first word in every Tau name consists of their caste and their rank, separated by an apostrophe; for example, a Tau whose name begins with Shas'la is a low-ranking member of the Fire (warrior) caste, while a Tau whose name begins with Aun'vre is a mid-ranking member of the Ethereal (ruling) caste. Other Tau words containing apostrophes also seem to be compound words (e.g. mont'yr and mont'ka, both of which relate to the battlefield).
    • The very term "Tau" is actually "T'au"
      • Actually, the race are the Tau; they come from the planet T'au.
  • In Tribe 8, you're not going to find many Z'bri names without apostrophes.
  • The Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay sourcebook Tome of Corruption goes into details about Daemonic Names. Essentially they are a string of randomly generated letter groups, which the DM is then encouraged to split up with apostrophes to make it look more daemonic.
  • In a truly bizarre example: Rifts has a race of aliens in its Three Galaxies setting called the K!ozn. The book explains that it's pronounced kot-zin. This may or may not have been meant as a parody.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Final Fantasy XI, everything related to the Zilart race has an apostrophe somewhere in there: Tu'Lia, The Sanctuary of Zi'Tah, Al'Taieu, Archduke Kam'lanaut, etc. And let's not get started on places like Pso'Xja.
    • Moreover, the world itself is "Vana'diel", pronounced with a noticable break.
  • World of Warcraft does this a fair amount. One notable example is the phoenix god Al'ar, who uses a Punctuation Shaker to slightly disguise his Meaningful Name.
    • Many of which were taken from the earlier Warcraft games, which tended to give them to evil characters such as Gul'dan, Ner'zhul, and Kel'thuzad.
    • Blizzard seems to like this; StarCraft had the Xel'Naga.
    • All two headed ogres have this pattern (Cho'Gall). Each name is for a head, so Cho'Gall has one head named Cho and another named Gall.
  • Battle for Wesnoth has quite a few.
  • Bungie Software is infamous for this, with such examples as the W'rkncacnter in Pathways into Darkness, S'pht'kr (from Lh'owon) in Marathon, and Y'gar 'Pewtrunoee (a Sangheili) in Halo.
    • Don't forget Marathon Dr'Ate'R
  • Parodied in the City of Heroes MMO, where the Positron Task Force includes a quest for "The Book of T'Jer'imikanu". Positron refers to it as "the Book of T'Gerima... T'Geruni... the magic book".
    • Played straight with the Mu descendant NPCs that work for Arachnos, the ones that have names all have "Mu'-" as the prefix.
    • Played straight some more with the Rikti, a lot of whom have apostrophes in their names.
  • Dragon names in Bioware RPGs (Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights) often have these, and/or ones that are just really hard to say. Ohhhh yes. N'am'es w'ith apo'st'ro'p'hes ev'er'y sec'on'd le'tt'er.
      • Ma'fel'no'sei'kedeh'naar aka "Guardian White Dragon" in Chapter 3 and Vix'thra in Hordes of the Underdark. It's possible that some dragons have a real name and a "name non-dragons can pronounce properly".
    • They're not dragons, but an alien race, the quarians, in Mass Effect have names like this—Tali'Zorah, Kal'Reegar, and such. They seem to signify what a space is to human names though, the name after the apostrophe being their family/clan name.
  • Two of the four ancients in Eternal Darkness have 'em: Xel'lotath and Chattur'gha. Also, the city of Ehn'gha.
  • Escape Velocity Nova had a malicious and delibrate abuse of this trope. The development team chose a brutally apostrophe laden name scheme for one of the major galactic powers. The result is a eye straining, migraine inducing experience when attempting to locate specific worlds.
  • Longnames on the MMORPG Furcadia.
  • Incubation's enemy monsters are the mutated Scay'Ger, with names like Ray'Ther, Ee'Ther, Dec'Ther, Squee'Coo, Tr'Yn, and Al'Coo.
  • In the English version of Dragon Quest IX, one of the bosses is called "Master of Nu'un". This has no in-game explanation, since there is no such thing as "Nu'un" in the game's plot. He's merely a counterpart to Jack of Alltrades.
    • Actually, there is an in-game explanation on the second page of his monster log entry. It seems he did it for the pun. Both his names are puns on the old saying, "Jack of all trades, but a master of none." Which in turn references his worries about his flock. He was worried his flock were changing between jobs too much and not taking the time to master any one job.
  • In Mass Effect, the asari occasionally have a shaker—most notably Liara T'Soni, Sha'ira and Aria T'Loak. It is more prevalent among the batarians. At least one turian—Lorik Qui'in—has it too.
    • Also, the Quarians use apostrophes to run their given and clan names together: Tali'Zorah nar Rayya is explained to be Tali of Clan Zorah, born of the Starship Rayya. 'vas' is also used in their naming system to indicate the ship which they are the crew of, as such, at the beginning of Mass Effect 2, Tali's full name is Tali'Zorah nar Rayya vas Neema
  • Many names of Kilrathi characters in the Wing Commander universe will make use of apostrophes, although just as many names won't use them at all.
  • Male Khajiit in The Elder Scrolls series typically have a prefix separated from their name by an apostrophe, which indicates their status or a broad profession. Some are also said to use two titles, the prefix and a suffix separated by a hyphen, which is considered rather arrogant. More info here.
  • Most of the demons in RuneScape have an apostrophe in their names.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Played with in Supernormal Step when a character named Akela T'nadne claims her last name is a contraction.
  • 8-Bit Theater parodies Dungeons & Dragons' love of apostrophes with its character Dark Elf Prince Drizz'l (a sendup of Drizzt Do'Urden) and the evil Doom Cultists, who have feminine names generously sprinkled with odd punctuation: Mrr'grt (Margret), L'zlhe (Leslie), Lv'rn (Laverne), etc. The Cthulu-esque god they worship is not immune either - her name is Jnf'ur (Jennifer).
    • Don't forget the elven clans Khee'bler and Sahn'ta.
    • Fo' Drizzle!
  • From Chainmail Bikini:

Josh(Re: Kr'thyndt): You need to get in touch with Pat Sajak. Get the man to hook you up with some vowels.

  • Parodied in Sluggy Freelance, where the demon K'Z'K The Vowelless is constantly annoyed when human characters pronounce its name "Kizke".
    • Pronouncing it "K'Z'K" is actually quite possible. Instead of the English velar 'K' sound, try a uvular 'Q' sound as used in Arabic. Then pronounce a 'Z' in the front of the mouth. Then another 'Q'. This sounds very insect-like, and is the true name of a horrible demon!
      • Actually, it is also possible with a velar /k/. Use glottal stops in place of the apostrophes to avoid pronouncing vowels.
  • Parodied in Schlock Mercenary, when the footnotes explain the random apostrophes. This is a running gag with the Gatekeepers, whose phrases are always considered to be contractions of something decidedly longer and less cool-sounding. For instance, the name of their superweapon, the T'okjith, is a contraction of an 18-word phrase which translates to "The design is clever, but this <expletive> thing could sterilize a sizeable <expletive> chunk of the <expletive> galaxy if you're not <expletive> careful with it."
    • Bu'uthandi, their word for a contiguous Dyson sphere, is a contraction of "this was expensive to build."
    • Also, Ambassador Ch'vorthq is pronounced like the Ch in China, not in Chevrolet, followed by the noise an expensive piece of china makes when struck by a chevrolet, a plain "vor", soft Th and the Q in Quetzalcoatl.
  • Almost everyone's name's in Drowtales has at least two apostrophes, being inspired by the Dungeons & Dragons Drow. Just ask Mel'anarch Val'sarghress. There are exceptions, such as Ariel, Syphile, Liriel and some others. The apostrophe after "Val" does serve a legitimate purpose: the actual house name is merely Sarghress, and Val is an honorific attached to indicate noble standing. But aside from that, though, it really does fit this trope to a T.
    • Sort of. Apparently the apostrophes are considered a mark of respect on the speaker's behalf. Notable when the Vel'Sharen call Sil'lice "Sillice" after the prologue.
  • Ah'Arl'Bah'l, the god of Apostrophes
  • Inverloch has Da'kor. Elven names often follow this trope, as well, such as Kayn'dar.
    • As an interesting aversion, the author's other webcomic, The Phoenix Requiem has Dakor (without the apostrophe), which looks similar, but is completely different.
  • Every single tekk name from Prophecy of the Circle has an apostrophe separating given name from caste name (ex. Shan'rekk), though the second part is dropped in casual conversations.
  • Order of the Stick has a dark elf character named Zz'dtri.
  • Lampshaded in Planescape Survival Guide with "Fred" the dragon, his full name is Frd'gl'fn'd'pq'zter, his mother named him after her great-grand-uncle. His father thought her great-great-grandparents forgot that apostrophes aren't vowels.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • One particularly egregious example comes from the web-original sci-fi setting Orion's Arm. OA has the To'ul'h, which speak the To'ul'ho'lo'ss language and follow the calendar known as `Ha'ts'ul. Their primary beast of burden is called the Shur'rooss'hur, and several famous politicians are To'ul'h, such as Ho'th'hss'lho, To'h'hshls'ho, Ho'h'h'l'l'h, H'to'hs'hssl'o, and H't'lo'h'ss'so'h. This is implied as being due to their alien language, which is unpronounceable to humans; likewise, humans cannot pronounce To'ul'ho'lo'ss. It is not explained what, exactly, the apostrophes are for.
  • When Strong Bad gets an email from someone named Talon Jendro, he speculates that it's a made-up name concocted by George Lucas and rewrites it with a bunch of superfluous apostrophes: Ta'lon J'en-dr'o, from the computery generated planet of Des' Moi-nes'ia.
  • Justified in the Peacock King, apostrophes etc. are used to incorporate information about family, status and citizenship into the names. For example, Ebrelle becomes Ebrellin-i upon coronation, h'Akribastes marks the head of the Akribastes family, o'Radia is the king of Radia. Pronounciation is still a nightmare, for a lot of reasons.
  • The Centaurian language in The Pentagon War, when transcribed by us humans, uses apostrophes to indicate that the speaker is switching from one of its 4 mouths to another in mid-vowel (e.g. Go'orla is the name of their home planet). More common than apostrophes, though, are parentheses, which indicate that another mouth is making a different sound at the same time (e.g. Goor(l)a, the word for a clan's bookkeeping expert -- the double o means two mouths are saying "o" simultaneously, and the r(l) means that one mouth is saying "r" while another is saying "l").
  • In Pay Me, Bug!, Ktk's full name is "Ktkt'tkkt'kktt'tkkk'tktk'ttkt'tkkk'kktt'kktk'tk." Pronounce that.


Western Animation[edit | hide]


Other[edit | hide]

  • The science museum COSI in Columbus, Ohio used to have an exhibit set on a fictitious Micronesian island ruled by the four "Spirits of Knowledge," named P'lunk, B'ra-Zoa, L'lala, and T'em-Poa. L'lala was the only one of the four whose apostrophe seemed to affect the pronunciation in any way.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • As mentioned above, Modern Standard English and French orthographies mandate the use of apostrophes in contractions, such as can't and didn't, or French je t'aime and such.
    • They can also be used to circumvent taboos, such as in G'd for the name of the Deity.
    • Lewis Carroll used to insist that shan't should be spelt sha'n't - why use an apostrophe to represent the missing O, but not the missing LL?
  • Many languages, both natural and invented, use apostrophes for various purposes other than indicating omission of sounds or letters:
    • Some romanizations of Japanese like Hepburn or Kunrei-shiki use n' when a syllabic n comes before a vowel or y, so we know that Ken'ichi is pronounced Ke-n-i-chi and not Ke-ni-chi.
    • Chinese does this sometimes in the pinyin system, where Xi'an is transliterated with the apostrophe so as to avoid confusion in pronunciation. Apostrophes were a lot more common in the earlier Wade-Giles transliteration system, which used them to represent aspiration (a puff of air after a consonant) - modern Pinyin uses English voiced consonants to represent Chinese unasipirated consonants, and English unvoiced to represent Chinese aspirated. (So Pinyin d = Wade-Giles t, and Pinyin t = Wade-Giles t'.)
    • Transcriptions into Roman letters of Russian and other Slavic languages use apostrophes to indicate palatalization: tsar'.
    • The Semitic languages have a plethora of pharyngeal and glottal sounds, several of which are sometimes represented with apostrophes facing various directions.
      • Several Polynesian languages (including but not limited to Hawaiian) also use apostrophes for glottal stops. (Yes, the one in "Hawai'i" is important and should be pronounced.)
    • Navajo uses the apostrophe for both the glottal stop and for ejective consonants, and it uses them a lot-you need one of each just to say hello. (Yá'át'ééh.) It tends to sound a bit like Klingon, since Klingon's sound palate is based on Tlingit, which is distantly related to Navajo. K'elwod, for instance, is a perfectly normal Navajo boy's name-and it's probably also some functionary in the Gowron Administration.
      • Many languages use apostrophes to indicate ejective consonants (for example, the Mayan language K'iche').
    • In early Esperanto, apostrophes were a mandatory root word separator. Now, hyphens are used, if anything separates roots at all. (Compare mal'san'ul'ej'o to malsanulejo.)
    • Lojban. The apostrophe is pronounced like an H, and serves to separate two vowels that would otherwise be blended into a diphthong. So ui and u'i are actually different words by virtue of the apostrophe.
    • Czech has lots of accents and freakishly long consonant clusters. Some letters even include an apostrophe as a part of it; ť and ď in the lowercase, and Ľ in both forms. There are háček over letters and rings and acutes and the whole shebang.
      • Vietnamese uses a heck of a lot of these as well: Vietnamese in Vietnamese is "tiếng Việt". Yes, that's an E with a circumflex and an accent (or a dot). Circumflexes, horns or breve show what the vowel should be, everything else shows the tone.
    • Some non-European languages transcripted in the Latin alphabet. For example, Arabic transliterations use it to show glottal stops or, rarely, an ayin, while Russian ones use it to show palatalization. ... Read a book, people!
  • American businessman Timothy Dexter reputedly viewed the English language as a punctuation shaker. To this end, he wrote his autobiography, A Pickle for the Nowing Ones, with no punctuation whatsoever. When people complained, he wrote a second edition with an entire page of punctuation marks, asking the readers to "peper and solt it as they plese".
  • When asked about the meaning and pronunciation of the dot (bullet) in his last name, Mark Rein·Hagen once reportedly replied, "It's unpronounceable, and symbolizes how meaningless are the labels that we attach to ourselves."
    • This has led to discussions about the right place to put the bullet in Mark Rein·Hagen...
    • Suddenly everything about that game is completely clear.
  • Many Breton surnames start with Ker- (Kerouac, Kermarrec), which was often replaced with a striked K (the lower right part of the K being striked out). With typography came the inability to reproduce the striked K, which led to it being written K/ or K' (turning Kerouac into K'ouac or K/ouac). Still today, mainly in oversea territories, some French people have names such as K/Jean, K'madec, K/ily (and frequently run into trouble with bureaucracy).
  • A'h-mosé the Scribe, author of the second oldest known large scale work of Mathematics. Subverted in more modern transliterations - Ahmose is now preferred.
  • In Hebrew ' (though it has a different name) after certain letters at foreign words to write sounds that the Hebrew alphabet doesn't have, like "ch" and "j". Also, when transcripting Hebrew to the latin alphabet, apostrophes and dashes may be used in various ways to indicate the pauses that western languages don't have, or the connected elements (since Hebrew connects some prepositions with nouns and verbs), but there are no set rules or systems so it can become rather confusing.
  • !Kung, one of the famed "clicking languages" of the Africa. Sadly, as all forty eight different clicking noises are usually represented by "!" by western linguists, writing it properly in Latin script is nearly impossible.
  • Indigenous languages of the Americas are often so different from European languages that trying to write them in Latin can be terrifying. Just ask the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh. ("Squamish.")
  • Arabic Chat Alphabet is written in Roman alphabet and generously sprinkled with "Arabic" numerals. Unlike l33tsp33k, this serves a real purpose; numerals represent sounds that are clearly distinguished in the language, but would be spelled identically. (The rules of which numerals to use for what are somewhat loose, but it's generally based on visual similarity with the corresponding Arabic letters.)
  • Badly configurated computer systems can result in this, with more or less horrid results depending in the target language. For example, in Spain cash-machines and computerized punchclocks, it is far too common for a name like "Begoña" (tilde n) to crop up like "BEGO A", "Bego ña" or "BEGO./ A". English is just fine, and Spanish at least intelligible, but any language which uses other letters than Basic Latin Alphabet (like some of the above examples) is a complete Wall of... Something-that-is-not-text'
  • The ʻOkina is a letter that appears in Hawaiian and various other Polynesian languages- in these cases, it represents a glottal stop.
  1. compare "humuhumunukunukuapua'a"
  2. One imagines her and C'rizz huddled together of an evening, sheltering in the combined warmth of the two vowels they have between the pair of them and struggling to pronounce each other's names...