How Did the Klingon Species Get Its Name?

Klingon from "Star Trek: The Original Series"

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Klingons are one of the most popular species in the “Star Trek” universe. They appear in more episodes of “Star Trek” than any other alien lifeform. So far, the only show in the franchise that does not include the Klingons is “Star Trek: Picard.”

The species was first introduced in season one of “Star Trek: The Original Series,” during the episode “Errand of Mercy.” According to “Inside Star Trek: The Real Story,” the Klingons were created by Gene L. Coon, one of the most influential “Star Trek” writers. Coon was responsible for many of the ideas that formed the basis of the “Star Trek” universe, including the Federation and the Prime Directive. He developed the personality and culture of the Klingons for the first season episode.

Coon also gave the species its interesting and unique name, though this wasn’t something he came up with all on his own. If he hadn’t overheard a random conversation, the Klingons might have been given a completely different name.


The Klingons Are Named After a Real Person


Survival must be earned, captain (TOS: Errand of Mercy)Kirk's cover is blown, leading to his capture by Klingon commander Kor. From Star Trek TOS Season 1, Errand of Mercy2020-08-12T17:46:50Z

According to the book “Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry,” the Klingons were named after a friend of “Star Trek’s” creator, Gene Roddenberry. Wilbur Clingan met Roddenberry when they were both police officers for the Los Angeles Police Department. The two became very good friends and remained close even after Roddenberry left the police force to pursue a career in television.

According to “Star Trek: The Original Series 365,” after Coon fully fleshed out his ideas for the Klingons, he struggled to come up with a name that really fit. While he was trying to figure out what to call his new species, Coon overheard Roddenberry talking about his good friend Clingan. Coon loved the sound of the name. He decided to change the spelling but kept the pronunciation.

“Star Trek Creator” revealed that Clingan gleefully referred to himself as “the original Klingon” for years after the aliens made their Trek debut.


Opposition to the Name


Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – Klingons: Conjuring the LegendAn examination of the history and evolution of the Klingon species. Features interviews with Michael Dorn, Christopher Plummer, and Michael Westmore.2021-05-13T17:19:46Z

Though Coon loved the name of his new species, not all of the other writers agreed. Dorothy Fontana, the influential “Star Trek” writer who created the Vulcans, told the authors of “Captains’ Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages” that she truly hated the name. Apparently, she begged Roddenberry to rename the species, but he never did.

“We never came up with anything better, so we left it,” Fontana admitted.

William Campbell, the actor who played the Klingon warrior Koloth in “The Original Series” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” confirmed Fontana’s statement in an interview for the program “Klingons: Conjuring the Legend.”

“As a matter of fact, they never did come to an agreement that they liked the name Klingon. And Gene Coon stuck to it, and eventually it was used because there was nothing else they could think about.”

Though Fontana wasn’t initially a fan of the Klingons in general, she warmed up to them as they were included in more episodes. She told the authors of “Captains’ Logs” that the Klingons “became a stock villain” in the series because their makeup was easier than the Romulans. Since she was one of the primary writers for the series, she was forced to flesh out the species as they continued to appear in new episodes.

The species became “a very good adversary,” in her opinion, and eventually, Fontana enjoyed including them in her scripts.

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