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Capitalization of Fantasy and Sci-Fi Races & Species

Bijgewerkt op: 11 apr.

Capitalization of fantasy and sci-fi races can be tricky. If you write fantasy or science fiction, it’s quite likely you’re also writing different races. Elves and dwarves living among humans or people coming from a different planet, like Mandelorians or Hutts.


And as great as it is to come up with your own races—or use more established ones—once you get to the copy editing and proofreading stage, one question remains:


Should races be capitalized in fantasy and sci-fi?



capitalization of fantasy & sci-fi races & species

What’s the difference between race and species?

First, let’s get our terminology straight.


Race can be defined as a group of living things (within a species) that can be considered a category because they share certain characteristics. This can be based on geography, physical traits, or cultural practices. For instance, the Spanish, Dutch, and Americans are races. They are races within the species of humans.


On the other hand, we have species. This is the overarching group of living things consisting of individuals with common attributes based on biology. Like humans, horses, and flowers.


As you can see, species are in lowercase, whereas races are in uppercase.


To know if something’s a race or a species

For the capitalization of fantasy and sci-fi races, we will look at these genres separately.

 
 

Fantasy races and species capitalization

As we’ve said, a species is an overarching group of living things with common attributes. What you consider to be a species, is something you should determine. As it’s generally based on biology, it’s possible you simply say there are humanoid and non-humanoid species and everything else is a race.


However, that does give the issue that all the names of every non-humanoid race should also be capitalized, like Dragon, Horse, or Rose. And then what about races within the non-humanoid races?


That would just lead to a lot of capitalization, which will be very confusing. And, if you ever need to emphasize something through capitalization, it will have lost its meaning.


So, that leaves us with the species for fantasy being, for example:

  • humans

  • dwarves

  • elves

  • gnomes

  • fairies

  • dragons

  • wolves

  • orcs

All those things will be in lowercase letters. The only instances where you would capitalize is when it does refer to a certain culture, ethnicity, or land designation. For instance:

  • the Elven Empire

  • the Orc King

  • the Dwarven language

To remember, it helps to think about it in real-world terms. You would also say the English language, the Roman Empire, or the British Queen.

 
 

On the other hand, races are capitalized.


These are races within the species. For instance:

  • Wood Elves

  • Rock Giants

  • Imperial Dragons

  • Dark Faeries

Keep in mind that when your character is from a certain part of the world or belongs to a certain ethnic group, this also denominates a race. For instance:

  • Westerosi

  • Shirefolk

  • Hispanics

  • the Stone Crows

If you wonder: what about witches? Or wizards? Or sorcerers? Or werewolves?


Aren't they races stemming from the species of humans?


And, I hear you. It gets pretty complicated. But, generally speaking, these are considered a type of supernatural species. They are, essentially, a subspecies of humans, similar to how humans are a subspecies of the larger category of mammals.

 
 

Sci-Fi races and species capitalization

With Sci-Fi, there’s a lot more capitalization going on. Usually, we’re dealing with many different races rather than species.


In Sci-Fi stories, a group of people is often denoted by the planet they’re from. For instance, in Star Wars, we have the Mandelorians from Mandelore or the Rodians from Rodia.


I’ve seen many writers question if this means humans should be capitalized as well since they’re native to Earth.


The answer, in my opinion, is no. For one, we’re so used to human without capitalization that it would look strange with a capital letter. Second, even in an intergalactic world, human is still our species, not our race.


Think about it this way: if we would go to Mars, our species wouldn’t suddenly change. We’re still humans. But we would also be Martians, our race based on where we live.


That’s why often in science fiction, you will see the term Earthlings or Terrans to denote humans coming from Earth.


That said, if you want to write Humans with a capital, it wouldn’t necessarily be “wrong.” In this case, it’s a matter of preference.


To make it clear, in a Sci-Fi world, the different species could be:

  • mammalian humanoids

  • humans

  • gastropods

  • reptiles

  • nexu

  • sando aqua

  • slug

On the other hand, races could be:

  • Earthlings

  • Wookies

  • Krayt dragons

  • White bantha

  • Asian elephant

  • Vulcans

 
 

To capitalize or not to capitalize

Capitalization of fantasy and sci-fi races isn't always easy since there are no strict rules you can follow. To make things easier for yourself it can help to determine—either when you’re doing your worldbuilding or after you’ve written your story—what the species and races in your story.


Once you know this, you will know when to capitalize something or not.


And when in doubt, check books in your genre and find out what they use.


Want a copyeditor or proofreader to check whether you've used capitalization correctly? Have a look at my services.

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