Name Of Star Trek Fan-Favorite Race Never Made Sense

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

The first rule of enjoying science fiction is to embrace the goofier parts of the franchise lore rather than criticize them. When it comes to Star Trek, I’d say that rule is even more important than the Prime Directive, but like Captain Kirk in the third act, I’m about to violate this major rule in the name of the greater good. Here it is: in Star Trek, the name of the Romulans makes no sense whatsoever, and this has only become more apparent over time.

Roman Romulans

To understand what I’m talking about, we need to take things all the way back to the beginning…specifically, The Original Series. The awesome Star Trek episode “Balance of Terror” introduced the aliens and was written by freelancer Paul Schneider, though there are some disputes over whether he came up with the Romulans or simply refined an idea from either Gene Roddenberry or Gene Coon. One thing that is indisputable, though, is that it was Schneider who modeled these infamous aliens after the Roman Empire on Earth, which is why they have Roman-influenced aspects like soldiers with the rank of Centurion.

A Linguistic Plot hole

Knowing that these Star Trek aliens were deliberately modeled after Romans, it makes sense at first glance that they are called Romulans. However, in-universe, it would be an utterly insane coincidence that an offshoot of the Vulcans who had not yet encountered humanity would go on to create a planet seemingly modeled after Earth’s Roman Empire. It’s an even greater coincidence that the society that just happened to unintentionally model itself after the Romans would give themselves a name that sounds so much like “Romans.”


The idea of it is so crazy that for decades, many Star Trek fans assumed that the term “Romulan” was simply what the humans had decided to call these aliens. That, at least, makes more sense: that humanity had encountered a Roman-like alien race and given them a very similar name. However, the Enterprise episode “Minefield” has linguistic expert Hoshi Sato translate the aliens’ language, and she (with some clarifying help from the Vulcan T’Pol) reveals to both the crew and the fandom that the Romulans really do inexplicably refer to themselves by this name.

A Retcon Ignored

Incidentally, this idea is so preposterous that one of Star Trek’s most prominent writers tried to solve the Romulan problem on her own. Prolific Trek writer Diane Duane began, in her 1984 novel My Enemy, My Ally, to give the Romulans their own language, and in that language, the aliens refer to themselves as “Rihannsu.” In Duane’s novels (and the many Trek novels that she helped inspire), the Romulans referred to their homeworlds of Romulus and Remus as (respectively) ch’Rihan and ch’Havran.

Picard Made It Worse

Sadly, later Star Trek writers abandoned Diane Duane’s cool ideas about the Romulans, which is how we got films like Nemesis that clarified (as if anybody was asking) that sister planet Remus was filled with goblin monster people with mild (but majorly evil) telepathy. Later, NuTrek would further muddle Romulan lore in Picard with a strange retcon that these aliens hate advanced computers and synthetic life (something Strange New Worlds almost immediately undid). 

This just goes to show that the Star Trek writers have had no real idea of what to do with the Romulans for a very long time, and the fact that their name makes no sense is literally the least of these secretive aliens’ problems.