Origin of overuse of apostrophed names?

It is a SF/Fantasy cliche that characters have apostrophes in thier names, esp for aliens/non-humans.

Where did this start? I know that in Dragonriders of Pern when rider found his/her dragon, the rider would shorten thier name with an apostrophe. But IMHO that wasn’t overuse. And I’m guessing there was occasional use before then.

So when did this become popular? When did it become a crutch for cool/alien names?


Just a guess, but my candidate is H. P. Lovecraft.

If the seminal story, “The Call of Cthulhu,” Lovecraft talks about the great stone city R’lyeh and quotes chants like:

I can find a few other apostrophes as well:

To be honest, though, Lovecraft did not overuse apostrophes. I have the feeling that his imitators did because it added a sense of “differentness” to the names and languages.

The pulp era of science fiction coincided with the pulp era of horror and the authors read - and often wrote - both. Everybody borrowed from everybody else, so when someone saw a gimmick that worked it spread rapidly.

To be honest again, I’m not a big fan of the pulp era so someone who is may have more specific information.

I was going to say Pern, too. I never knew what the hell I was supposed to do with those apostrophes. F’lar? Is that “flar”? Or “fuh-lar”? Is it short for “Fellar” or something?

Lovecraft also said that his names were not quite pronounceable to us humans, as the Old Ones are physiologically equipped to pronounce syllables that we can’t pronounce. The cth in Cthulhu is very difficult for English speakers to pronounce, and even if done to the best of human ability Cthulhu may not answer to it.

The apostrophes here make sense when parts of the name don’t even have an approximation in the Latin alphabet. What’s left is only the parts of words that humans can by any stretch read or pronounce. The word would be mangled, but at least it’s recognizable as, for example, R’lyeh.

For cool effect, I agree it does get kinda lame. But it’s based on a reasonable supposition that if we’re built differently, we speak differently too. The name Toadspittle might not be pronouncable to some aliens, so it might be rendered to them as something like To’pitl.

Of course, apostrophed names are specifically forbidden from use if your new fantasy novel abides by the requirements of Frodma '03.

I think it started with D’Artagnen in Dumas’ The Three Musketeers