In 1997, when I went to see a screening of The Fifth Element, I was pulled right out of the movie when it was revealed that the maniacalacle arms deler with a Southern drawl played by Gary Oldman was named Zorg. Wait, what? But Buzz Lightyear’s nemesis in Toy Story is Zurg. Who didn’t see Toy Story? Was Luc Besson commenting on Pixar? Or was he just being lazy? And then the following year, I bought popular real-time strategy Starcraft, in which I had an option of fighting against the alien race known as the Zerg. WTF? Zurg. Zorg. Zerg. I know. Naming things is hard. Names carry weight and meaning. Names can reveal or conceal information about someone or something. Names will resonate with an audience and are connected to other experiences and other stories. Naming a character Cain (or Kane, or Cane, or Kain) points back to the original sibling rivalry no matter what an author intends. Science fiction has its own peculiar problem for namers of things, because as a genre it is more often than not an intentional vessel for additional subsurface meaning, and it also implies a certain level of plausibility in the design of its narratives (as opposed to straight fantasy). The appearance of the Zerg Rush meme got me thinking about it again recently and I dusted off a list I started making years ago that started with: Zurg, Zorg, Zerg. The list grew…and became a chart. A while back I published a series of memos about the rules for Vulcan proper names which demonstrates care in establishing a logic for science fiction naming taken to a ridiculous extreme. Those memos were originally supposed to accompany this post, but I thought they warranted their own article. You can see how they tie together nicely, though. Naming sci-fi characters is especially hard. Of course they can’t all be Muad’Dib or Gully Foyle or Speaker to Animals. A few notes on the chart:
of sci-fi satire. It’s a clever commentary on lazy sci-fi names, and is the perfect punctuation to this list. The writers on Futurama get similar points for Slurm, which is probably the best satirical sci-fi product name ever (or at least since The Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster).
Barf – A case could be made that Barf does not belong on the chart because Spaceballs itself is satire and Barf is a play on the lazy name trend. I actually consider it an example of lazy sci-fi satire (as opposed to Futurama or Douglas Adams). Barf is clearly based on Chewbacca, who possesses not just a thoughtful name, but a thoughtful nickname as well. So given Chewbacca and Chewie, the best Mel Brooks can do is Barf? Lazy (and juvenile). I may right an article some day about the in ineffectiveness of Spaceballs as satire due to the lack of love and understanding of the genre it’s commenting on. The triumph of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein help prove my point.
Zurg – Of course, Zurg is also a satirical name playing on just this laziness, too and I will admit that I think it’s clever and is not on here because it’s lazy. Like Gort, it’s on here as a source for later laziness. But it had to be on here!
Zod – Someone’s going to get all up in my business because Zod was actually created and named in 1961 in Adventure Comics # 283, and should not be in the 1980s. Noted. But Zod is definitely part of the collective sci-fi name consciousness largely because of Richard Donner’s movie (and Terence Stamp’s performance).
Zorp – Like Zurg and Lrrr, Zorp is a satirical sci-fi name. First mentioned in the Parks and Recreation episode “Time Capsule,” Zorp The Surveyor is the lizard god believed by The Reasonableists to be the bringer of the end of the world. Later, Zorp got more coverage in the episode “End of the World”.
ALF – ALF would have gone between Borf and Barf, but I really wanted those two next to each other and ALF is an acronym for Alien Life Form not technically his name. Plus, the character’s real name is Gordon Shumway, which I think is one of the best alien names ever and certainly does not belong in this collection.
Lorne and Dorn – For a while there were two actual, real-life people on this list: Lorne Greene and Michael Dorn. Ultimately, I took them off, because they are not lazy sci-fi names…but Lorne and Dorn!
Dorf – Not a science fiction name, but it definitely fits right in. There was no possible way to justify adding Tim Conway’s successful direct-to-VHS sports how-to video series to this list. But…Dorf would have been right next to Gorf!
Bonus SNL clip! “Zog!”