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An Elf By Any Other Name . . .

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
Our Elves Are Different is a very common trope in the fantasy genre, but I've lately become more aware of a subtrope of it; the need for nearly every fantasy writer that builds a world that contains elves in it to make their own fantasy name for them. There's a ton of them. Here are just a few examples that I can think of off of the top of my head:
  • Eldar from Warhammer 40k
  • Tel'Quessir from the Forgotten Realms
  • Alfar from Norse Mythology
  • Mer from The Elder Scrolls
  • Quendi from The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit (feel free to correct me if I got this wrong, any of you Tolkien-enthusiasts)
  • All of the names for the elven races in Dragonlance end with "esti" (similar to "mer" from The Elder Scrolls)
  • Älfa in the Inheritance Cycle (very similar to the Norse Alfar)
  • Possibly Vulcans from Star Trek, but they might not count.
  • Fair Folk in Fablehaven
(If anyone has any other examples, please list them in the comments below, and I might edit this post to compile them all together.)

And this leads me to ask why? Why are there so many different names for elves in the fantasy (and sci-fi) genre? Why do people feel the need to make yet another name for the elven race? I have also noticed that this applies to dwarves, giants, and other fantasy races to some extent, but none of them have it to the same extent as Elves. Any thoughts?
 

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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I Actually think theres some deeper psychology going on than just “Eeew we’re different” and it goes back to the ubiquity of Elf/Fairy across human cultures and for thousands of years of storytelling.

Elfs are Fae and Fae are the Idealised Other in Human Psychology, they look human but represent the ideal best form of the ego thats just beyond mortal reach. (Equally dockalfar and svartalfar represent the less desirable traits).

I think Humans cant help but to have fantasies about the idealised other, its hardwired into human psychology and so every fantasy story from Nuadas battle with the Fir Bolg King to Shakespears Midsummer Night Dream and right up to My Spock of Vulcan is going to have some variation of Elf in it.

Of course people want to make sure they dont look derivative and so will think up alternate names or make them sentient vegetables, but in the end they pretty much always fit the same psychological profile of idealised ego
 
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Alfar from Norse Mythology
Not sure the chronology works on this one...
Possibly Vulcans from Star Trek, but they might not count.
Space elves are their own subtrope. Babylon 5's Mimbari also go here. But JMS never denied he was doing Tolkien in space.

GRRM, Tad Williams, Raymond Feist, Julian May are all fantasy authors I have read with alternatively named elves.

Terry Pratchett's take on elves interprets them differently, rather than filing the numbers off.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
And this leads me to ask why? Why are there so many different names for elves in the fantasy (and sci-fi) genre? Why do people feel the need to make yet another name for the elven race? I have also noticed that this applies to dwarves, giants, and other fantasy races to some extent, but none of them have it to the same extent as Elves. Any thoughts?

Mostly for the Trademarks.
 

Ryujin

Legend
Our Elves Are Different is a very common trope in the fantasy genre, but I've lately become more aware of a subtrope of it; the need for nearly every fantasy writer that builds a world that contains elves in it to make their own fantasy name for them. There's a ton of them. Here are just a few examples that I can think of off of the top of my head:
  • Eldar from Warhammer 40k
  • Tel'Quessir from the Forgotten Realms
  • Alfar from Norse Mythology
  • Mer from The Elder Scrolls
  • Quendi from The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit (feel free to correct me if I got this wrong, any of you Tolkien-enthusiasts)
  • All of the names for the elven races in Dragonlance end with "esti" (similar to "mer" from The Elder Scrolls)
  • Älfa in the Inheritance Cycle (very similar to the Norse Alfar)
  • Possibly Vulcans from Star Trek, but they might not count.
  • Fair Folk in Fablehaven
(If anyone has any other examples, please list them in the comments below, and I might edit this post to compile them all together.)

And this leads me to ask why? Why are there so many different names for elves in the fantasy (and sci-fi) genre? Why do people feel the need to make yet another name for the elven race? I have also noticed that this applies to dwarves, giants, and other fantasy races to some extent, but none of them have it to the same extent as Elves. Any thoughts?
Lord of the Rings uses Quendi, Teleri, Vanyar, Sindar, Nandor, Noldor, Eldar.... lots of names for the Elves, depending on where they were, and what they did.

"The Fair Folk" is a term frequently used in Celtic mythology for Elves, so just subsumed by some writers.
 

aco175

Legend
Would some of it come from the point that people- humans write the story or the game rules. We certainly like to categized all the types of humans. We do it to others and to ourselves. We don't walk around calling ourselves a human, but we are black, white, brown etc... Also, we may call ourselves American or Texan, or such. Not sure if it would be different if elves and dwarves lived on Earth.

Another thought is that it is a way to have more races and not have turtles, insects, crystals and chipmunks be player races. You can separate them into more defined cultures and have them fir a role or story.

There is also the drow elf, I cannot remember their Forgotten Realms name though.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Our Elves Are Different is a very common trope in the fantasy genre, but I've lately become more aware of a subtrope of it; the need for nearly every fantasy writer that builds a world that contains elves in it to make their own fantasy name for them. There's a ton of them. Here are just a few examples that I can think of off of the top of my head:
  • Eldar from Warhammer 40k
  • Tel'Quessir from the Forgotten Realms
  • Alfar from Norse Mythology
  • Mer from The Elder Scrolls
  • Quendi from The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit (feel free to correct me if I got this wrong, any of you Tolkien-enthusiasts)
  • All of the names for the elven races in Dragonlance end with "esti" (similar to "mer" from The Elder Scrolls)
  • Älfa in the Inheritance Cycle (very similar to the Norse Alfar)
  • Possibly Vulcans from Star Trek, but they might not count.
  • Fair Folk in Fablehaven
(If anyone has any other examples, please list them in the comments below, and I might edit this post to compile them all together.)

And this leads me to ask why? Why are there so many different names for elves in the fantasy (and sci-fi) genre? Why do people feel the need to make yet another name for the elven race? I have also noticed that this applies to dwarves, giants, and other fantasy races to some extent, but none of them have it to the same extent as Elves. Any thoughts?
You think Vulcans should have been called Elves?
 


MarkB

Legend
it's probably a bit of Call A Rabbit a "Smeerp" with writers wanting to differentiate their elves from others, plus some instances of wanting to differentiate individual subraces within their fiction.

In Elder Scrolls, for instance, the "-mer" races include not just multiple varieties of Elf, but also Orcs (Orsimer) and Dwarves (Dwemer).
 



Mallus

Legend
My favorite off-brand elves are from Mike Moorcock: Melnibonéans, the Vadhagh folk, the Eldren (technically I think they're all the same species).

Also, why so many sea gods (Neptune, Poseidon, Triton, etc., etc. etc.)? Pick one and be done with it, I say!
 

I'd also add the Light and Dark Elves of The Spire and the various elves of Elfquest to the list of distinct elvish tropes.

As for why so many elvish varietals, I think it goes back to Tolkien. Having just read the Nature of Middle-Earth, it's clear that elves were for him, a huge key to his design and understanding of Middle-Earth. While the elves are just one part of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, when you read the Silmarillion, an enormous amount of the foundational worldbuilding is experienced through elvish eyes.

Elves are frequently the most magical of the various fantasy races, and when designing a magical world, that ties them all the more strongly to it. If you want to present your fantasy world as different, one way to convey that is with different elves.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Especially those silly Norse poseurs with their "alfar."

I mean really, who do they think they're fooling?
Yeah I can see why the Norse were always coming down hard on the Anglosaxons - did that Northumbrian lot really think ælf was going to cut it? and as for Ylfe, come on Wessex thou can doest better!
 
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AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
Also, why so many sea gods (Neptune, Poseidon, Triton, etc., etc. etc.)
Neptune and Poseidon are the same god, just the Roman and Greek versions of him respectively. Triton is their son. However, there are quite a few redundant Greco-Roman water gods/titans, like Oceanus, Pontus, Phorcys, and all of the river gods, and so on.
 



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