Names of things discovered independently

msstice

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I have two groups of explorers that have separated and are out of contact. When they come across the same phenomenon/thing, I feel they should give it different names. How confusing could this be? I have a short example as an illustration:

Gengy slashed the vines with his machete and came upon a clearing. One of the thumpers was basking there, its long tail arching and whipping round the sky, its stubby thumping legs kneading the air playfully, its yellow spotted coat glistening in the sun.

(Meanwhile, back on the ranch ...)

Firengy let himself down silently with a vine onto the roof of the barn. Inside he could hear the snoring of the spotty. He peeked through a crack and in the gloaming saw the giant thing with its yellow spotted coat get up, swishing a long tail that whipped out, broke the barn doors with a crash, and wriggled in the sun.

What Gengy calls a "thumper" is the same as a "spotty". How confusing could this get? Should I rather just settle on a common name?
 

sknox

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Is there a story reason to have them be named differently? If not, I'd have the explorers both call them blue elephants or spotted goats or anything both distinctive and familiar. Formal names could come later.

If there *is* a story reason, then just make sure it's clear (beta readers will help here) that it's the same animal.
 

ckatt

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Seems perfectly clear to me. if these two groups have no contact with each other I think it would be strange if they independently came up with the same names for everything.
 

msstice

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The way you wrote it, it sounds like those were pre-existing names, at least to me.
And that's definitely confusing.
I'm using close third and I tend to write what the character is thinking, and I can see why this is confusing in this case. Like if it had been

Gengy slashed the vines with his machete and came upon a clearing. "A thumper!" he thought. The creature was basking there, its long tail arching and whipping round the sky, its stubby thumping legs kneading the air playfully, its yellow spotted coat glistening in the sun.

(Meanwhile, back on the ranch ...)

Firengy let himself down silently with a vine onto the roof of the barn. Inside he could hear something snoring. "A spotty!" he thought. He peeked through a crack and in the gloaming saw the giant thing with its yellow spotted coat get up, swishing a long tail that whipped out, broke the barn doors with a crash, and wriggled in the sun.

I'm avoiding "He thought" constructions as I feel these are filter words, but I get that it can lead to confusion ...
 

msstice

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Seems perfectly clear to me. if these two groups have no contact with each other I think it would be strange if they independently came up with the same names for everything.
My thinking too, but a counter argument is that I'm giving the reader a translated story where concepts have been translated into english and unless this difference in terminology is critical to the story, perhaps the risk of confusion is not worth it?
 

ckatt

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You may be right. but I think the risk of confusion is something I can't really comment on as I don't know the larger context.
Will the story show scenes of people discovering these things? and how much does it matter that we even know that they are the same things with different names?
Most science fiction books will contain some level of complexity that many readers don't notice. That never hurts if it's not confusing readers
 

The Judge

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As written, yes it's potentially confusing, because it appears both characters have met these creatures before, which then raises the question why they haven't agreed to give them the same name. That confusion isn't due to the lack of "he thought" but because you give the name as if it's already known to the men as a name, not that it's been new-minted by them.

I'd suggest you have at least one character meet the creatures for the first time on the page with something like:

Gengy slashed the vines with his machete and came upon a clearing. A strange creature was basking there, its long tail arching and whipping round the sky, its stubby thumping legs kneading the air playfully, its yellow spotted coat glistening in the sun. What on earth is that thumper-thing? [he wondered]​

Then the next time he sees them he thinks "Another of those thumper-things" which in time you reduce to "Thumpers".

Meanwhile, if you don't want another first-contact scene I'd suggest something like:

Firengy let himself down silently with a vine onto the roof of the barn. Inside he could hear the snoring of one of the spotty creatures he'd seen the day before. He peeked through a crack and in the gloaming saw the giant thing with its yellow spotted coat get up, swishing a long tail that whipped out, broke the barn doors with a crash, and wriggled in the sun.​

And thereafter he can call them "spotties". Alternatively on the first occasion you could have eg

There was a spotty, as he'd taken to calling the weird creatures with the yellow spotted coats

That way it's clear these are names they've independently come up with since separating and also makes it more obvious how the names have arisen, and therefore reduces room for confusion.
 

ckatt

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it appears both characters have met these creatures before, which then raises the question why they haven't agreed to give them the same name.
The answer to this was stated right off the bat
I have two groups of explorers that have separated and are out of contact.
So I think the thing to look at is how is this presented to the reader. In this case msstice is just telling us out of context. How it unfolds in the story will determine whether the reader "gets" it.
 

Andy Hauser

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I like it, as long as the attentive reader could reasonable deduct that both words mean the same thing.
The Walking Dead does this nicely with "walker," "biter," etc. instead of "zombie"
 

The Judge

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I think you've perhaps misunderstood what I was trying to say, ckatt.

I know the explorers are out of contact with each other and each discovered the creatures and named them independently, but as written (ie in the examples given) the use of the names suggests that these names are already known to each of the explorers because they say "One of the thumpers" and "he could hear the snoring of the spotty". Those aren't expressions used when someone comes up against a new creature for the first time.

So if these quotes fairly represent the first time these creatures are seen with each explorer, it will cause confusion as to exactly when they were named. But msstice believed the confusion arose simply because the "he thought" wasn't there in the original examples, whereas in fact that isn't the case; rather it's to do with how those lines are written, as I was attempting to make clear.

Obviously, if these quotes are representative of a time after the creatures have first been seen and named by each explorer -- that first naming along the lines I suggested -- then the confusion will be lessened. But that's why I started my post with "As written".
 

ckatt

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@The Judge
Ah, I see what you mean.
I never took these as quotes revealing the first appearance of Thumpers and Spotty. But if they are, then you are right. Without more context, I would assume they were two similar spotted creatures, but not the same thing.
 

Wayne Mack

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I am not certain that the two groups would assign a name on discovery. I feel that they would likely just use a descriptive phrase. Someone coming up with a name immediately just does not feel natural to me.
 

ckatt

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I am not certain that the two groups would assign a name on discovery. I feel that they would likely just use a descriptive phrase.
Indeed you have a point. Yet I think that's making assumptions about the world. I think it's better to take the author at their word in this case rather than tell them what their characters should do or how their cultures should act when we haven't yet read their story.
 

msstice

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I am not certain that the two groups would assign a name on discovery. I feel that they would likely just use a descriptive phrase. Someone coming up with a name immediately just does not feel natural to me.

@Andy Hauser 's example from the Walking Dead is a nice one. I can easily see an explorer coming across something and giving it an evocative nickname based on some striking characteristic. I would imagine a descriptive phrase quickly gets wearisome in conversation.
 

Vladd67

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Of course, it could be a language difference or a cultural thing.
pineapple.jpg
 

farntfar

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It's perfectly reasonable for each group to assign a name to the thing for their own use, as long as they don't assume that that will be their permanent and official name.

Watching people walk past my house (to take their children to school), I have often given people names, so that I could speak of them to my wife.
"Andy Capp was late this morning." I would say
Or "I haven't seen Inspector Gadget for some while"

We were happy with these designations, despite the fact the the Farovna (my wife) had no idea who the original Andy Capp was.(*) But we never expected that they were their real names.
* She would give some names too that sometimes meant little to me, if she saw them first. We had a Falbala and a Gaston Lagaffe, who I still see occasionally.

But I agree, that in your original examples, it seems as if a spotty and a thumper are already in common usage.
 

Elckerlyc

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I have two groups of explorers that have separated and are out of contact. When they come across the same phenomenon/thing, I feel they should give it different names. How confusing could this be?
Not, but it is up to the narrator to show enough similarities in the descriptions that informs the reader that it concerns in fact (or very likely - leave some room for doubt for 'suspense' if you wish) the same thing.
In cases like these I always like to stress that logic should dictate your approach:
- Either both group of explorers share the same language but have never met this creature before and therefor name is differently. If the creature was already known there would be a common name for the thing and naming it here differently by the 2 groups doesn't really make much sense.
- Or the groups are from different countries (or regions) with different languages (or local names for the same thing) is will become confusing if you let them use different names. Like in the example given by @Vladd67, if one calls it pineapple and the other ananas while everyone knows the fruit will give rise to unnecessary complexity and confusion.
 

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