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?
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, or 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. These could be are humans, horses, or flowers.
As you can see, species are in lowercase, whereas races are in upper case.
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 then 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:
All those things will be in lower cased 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, or 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, or 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, or the Stone Crows.
If you wonder: but what about witches? Or wizards? Or sorcerers? Or werewolves?
Are they not races stemming from the species humans?
And, I hear you, that is 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.
Because 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 human 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 in still our species, not our race.
I mean, humans can still live on another planet, right?
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 Marsians, 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.
To make this clear, in a Sci-Fi world, the different species could be:
- mammalian humanoids;
- reptilian humanoids;
- avian humanoids;
- sando aqua;
On the other hand, races could then be:
- Tusken Raiders;
- Krayt dragons;
- White bantha;
- Asian elephant;
To capitalize or not to capitalize
Capitalization of fantasy and sci-fi races is not 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 in your story are and what the races are.
Once you know this, you will know when to capitalize something and when this isn’t necessary.
As with most things in writing: whether or not you capitalize a word, is entirely up to you. As long as you do it consistently (and take into account the effect it has on the reading experience when you capitalize too much), you can choose whether or not you capitalize a word.
And when in doubt, check books in your genre and find out what they use.