Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Races and names in Mass Effect

I'm a pretty big fan of Mass Effect.  One thing I really like about it is the wide variety of races, differentiated in culture as well as appearance.  Turians, for instance, rarely commit crimes and will, we're told by the all-knowing codex, readily confess to any crimes which they may have committed.  Contrast this with Star Trek, whose Klingons, despite their reputation for "honor" and such, engage in back-room politicking in practically every episode featuring them.

But this isn't about Mass Effect vs Star Trek.  One of the more subtle differences between the Mass Effect races is naming.  Asari names are quite different from turian names, reflecting their greatly differing philosophies on life.  I thought I'd try to collect some rules for constructing these names.

I'm going to be using some rather technical terminology here, which I only know because I've spent some time browsing the relevant Wikipedia articles.  But, since you probably have better things to do, here's a quick reference:
t (but not th), d, k (and "hard" c), "hard" g, b, and p (there's also another stop which we don't have much in English called the glottal stop; it may be represented as an apostrophe or hyphen but there's no hard-and-fast rule).
Lots of things; almost anything that isn't a stop or a sonorant.
Some phonemes (specifically ch and j) begin as stops and end as fricatives. 
All vowels including y, m, n, r (not trilled), l, and w.
These are in alphabetical order, with council races first.
  • Asari: I see lots of sonorants and some fricatives, but very few stops, and most of those are at the beginning or end of names, while the vowels often form diphthongs; this gives the words an elvish feel, which is apropos since the asari are basically space elves.  The names also have a Greek feel; the Asari Republics strongly resemble Ancient Greece, so this is hardly shocking.
  • Drell: We don't meet very many of these, so it's hard to tell.  There do appear to be relatively few fricatives, but I can't really be sure.
  • Elcor: Again, there really aren't a lot of them, but I will note that every stop is voiceless (t, k, and p) rather than voiced (g, d, and b).
  • Hanar: "Blasto" is fictional and looks out of place.  The other names seem to have few fricatives and voiceless stops.
  • Human: Basically modern names, no fancy "smash two names together to make a futuristic-sounding one" shenanigans here.
  • Keeper: Keepers don't have names.
  • Salarian: According to the Mass Effect wiki, salarian names consist of "the name of a salarian's homeworld, nation, city, district, clan name and given name," in that order.  They have a lot of fricatives and some stops.
  • Turian: A lot of turian names end in "[i]us."  Stops and fricatives are relatively plentiful, and stops tend to be voiceless rather than voiced, though this is far from universal.  The "[i]us" thing, combined with what I know of turian culture, makes it apparent that their names are meant to sound Roman.
  • Batarian: These resemble the turians, but with a more even balance of voiced and voiceless stops.
  • Collector: Collectors don't have names.
  • Geth: Geth usually take designations rather than names as-such.  The easiest way to do that is something like "Unit 1234" (side-note: 1025's assertion that the number 1025 is meaningful is bullshit; the significant numbers in that neighborhood are 1024 and 1023.  The explanation it gives is even more wrong since 210 = 1024 has 11 digits in binary, much like 1010 has 11 digits in decimal.).
  • Krogan: Krogan names are composed of a clan name (such as "Urdnot") and a personal name (such as "Wrex").  Mass Effect 3 says that krogan personal names are selected via males having belching contests.  "Bakara" doesn't sound like a belch, so I'm guessing this is only for male names.  A belch-name should consist of an optional stop followed by a series of sonorants and fricatives, possibly terminated with another stop; moreover, it will probably be monosyllabic or nearly so.  This is based on the assumption that a belch consists of a single continuous expulsion of breath; if there are stops in the middle, it isn't continuous (air stopped coming out, hence the name "stop").  "Fortack," "Okeer," and "Skarr" clearly break this rule, but the other names mostly seem consistent with it.  The latter two can be explained as someone cheating, starting to make sounds before the real belch began, but "Fortack" just doesn't seem like it could possibly occur as a belch.  Maybe someone stuck the t in afterwards.
  • Leviathan: We don't really have enough information.
  • Quarian: FirstName'LastName nar/vas ShipName.  The names tend to be monosyllabic, which makes a kind of sense since the population of any given ship is small and the ship's name can be used to disambiguate; there's no need for elaborate names.  Diphthongs are rare; the only one I can see is "Rael."
  • Raoli: We don't see any of them and I only know of them through the wiki.
  • Reaper: "Nazara" and possibly "Harbinger."  That's not enough names to generalize.
  • Virtual Alien: Uh... who are these guys?
  • Vorcha: It's hard to generalize.  Most of the galaxy regards vorcha as vermin, and pays relatively little attention to their individual names.
  • Yahg: We don't know anything about yahg names.