My main issue lies in alternate terms for “humanity” and “mankind” when humans don’t exist.

[…] my world is an Earth replacement in an alternate universe. I’ve taken time meticulously worldbuilding, even outside what I’d ever need for my story, just for my own enjoyment. However, there is one specific detail I can’t seem to think of a solution for.

In my world, humans don’t exist, and are instead replaced by a very similar bipedal race of a different name. […] But because humans don’t exist, I’ve found a roadblock in what to call the general person.

An easy solution is to replace “mankind” and “humanity” with a word that is similar, playing off of the species’ name. However, there are more than one dominant human-esque species on my world. There are three.

With three equal species, I have no idea what to refer to the general person as. “Man” and “women” are both terms which derive from “human,” but this issue I can get past by using the terms female and male in certain instances, but it sounds odd in others. In general, I don’t know how to refer to the planet’s dominant residents.

Each species have their own races, own separated cultures. They may be similar, but the three cannot be considered one singular species. How can I refer to the general person, what word can I use to describe ‘humanity’ and ‘mankind’?

– Jane

Hi Jane,

Sounds like a cool world, reminds me of the world of The Dark Crystal, which I’m particularly fond of.

This certainly can get a little tricky sometimes. Even in worlds with humans, you often don’t want to exclude other intelligent life. For “human” or “humankind” the best substitution I’ve found is versions of the word “sapient.” So instead of “humanity” you would use “sapience” and instead of “humankind” (or “mankind”) you would use “sapientkind.” It’s worth noting here that people often use “sentient” when they mean “sapient.” The difference is that “sentient” means self-awareness, which most animals have. “Sapient” means that a being has higher reasoning like humans.

I would stick with “man” and “woman” as long as your species has gender roles that resemble those ones. While those words are derived from “human,” if you try to avoid every word that’s derived from something that doesn’t exist in your world, you’ll probably have to forgo half the English language, and people who read in English are going to need those words to understand the story and world. I don’t think readers will bat an eye at it.

I can understand the appeal of “female” and “male” if you’re try to keep things neutral and scientific sounding, but the issue with those words is that they’re ambiguous about whether they refer to biology or gender roles. If you use them for gender, it could feel like trans-erasure to readers. So I would avoid them in this case.

Last, keep in mind you can always use “people” or “folk” or anything like that for individuals of any species. As long as it’s not specifically “human” or “homo sapien,” it should be fair game.

But of course, feel free to make up new words for each species or individuals of that species specifically.

Have fun worldbuilding!


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