D&D General Scientific Names for My Homebrew Setting

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
I've edited the OP to include my alternative to Homo sapiens sapiens (which I like better) and English translations of the Latin names I've coined.
 
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Voadam

Legend
Well yes, I am going with biology. That's the whole point of using zoological terminology. I don't usually think of these groups as merely biological entities, but what if their biology could be examined and described? With elves, I'm imagining almost no biological difference. Biologically, they would be well within the modern human range of variation. Their separate spiritual destiny from humans is metaphysical rather than physical. There's no component of their biology you could point to that's responsible for this. At least, that's the way I think of it.
Age range is a big biological distinction for elves and humans traditionally. Low light vision is another biological distinction. Trancing instead of sleep. Everyone knows pointed ears means not human!

Everyone can conceive of them differently.

Orcs and elves can both traditionally produce viable half-humans so whether they are the same biological species can reasonably be on the table.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
Age range is a big biological distinction for elves and humans traditionally.
I don't assume it's biological. There are lots of non-biological factors that affect variation in human lifespan. It has been estimated that only 20-30% of the variation is due to genetics. The rest is due to behavior and environment.

I imagine elven spirits as being destined to dwell within the world for as long as it lasts, whereas humans are destined to die and depart to the Astral Plane and beyond, so it would make sense for elven bodies to have some biological component that would allow them to remain physically incarnated for huge spans of time, but even elven bodies don't last forever, which is why they must depart the Prime Material and live out their years in the Feywild, or linger on as un-bodied ghosts should they choose to stay. Elves have every reason to perfect a culture and lifestyle designed to prolong the lives of their bodies.

But how much of a biological difference, accomplished through gene-editing or similar, would really be necessary to give humans a longer average life span? Would such alterations make them a different species from us?

Low light vision is another biological distinction.
Why is it biological? Are you imagining a physical difference that could be studied if you dissected an elven eye, like inverted rods or something? It's possible, but too sci-fi for me. I prefer to think there's something magical about their eyes -- a gift bestowed upon them as the people who would awaken in a time of great darkness. Or perhaps they have a cultural practice of using averted vision to enhance their night vision.

Trancing instead of sleep.
There’s a wide variety of sleep behavior across human cultures. In preindustrial Europe, biphasic sleeping was considered normal, and in many nomadic and “hunter-gatherer” societies, people sleep on and off throughout the day or night for shorter periods of time. It’s not inconceivable that elven society could develop something like yoga nidra or "yogic sleep" to the point where it entirely replaces the need for sleep.

Everyone knows pointed ears means not human!
I don't imagine elves as having pointed ears. Sacrilege, I know! I imagine them having normal human ears and features, although being visibly distinct as a group in physical appearance and modes of dress, just the way various human groups are. However, if there was an ethnic group of humans that displayed pointed ears, do you think that would be a reason to classify then as a separate species?

Everyone can conceive of them differently.
Right, and I'm definitely not saying there's anything wrong with seeing them as a separate species or subspecies from humans. It's just not how I imagine them.

Orcs and elves can both traditionally produce viable half-humans so whether they are the same biological species can reasonably be on the table.
Agreed, which is one of the reasons why I put all three groups under Homo sapiens.
 

Hi and Merry Christmas, if that's your thing,

The recent discussions about the possibility of using species for the game-term currently known as race got me thinking about what nomenclature I would use to describe the various speaking peoples of my homebrew setting as I imagine them and as if I was a zoologist given the task of naming them. What I've come up with in addition to an existing subspecies are two imaginary subspecies and two imaginary species:

  1. Homo sapiens sapiens or alternatively Homo sapiens donatus (transl.: gifted wise man) - This familiar subspecies (modern humans) would include not only humans, but also elves and halflings. Elves I imagine as physically identical to modern humans in pretty much every way, their primary differences being a separate spiritual destiny and a distinct culture derived from tutelage under various Archfey. Half-elves would of course also fall into this subspecies, taking after either parent. Halflings I conceive of as miniature versions of modern humans with only superficial physical differences such as having slightly pointed ears and, of course, thick hair on the tops of their feet.
  2. Homo sapiens durus (transl.: wise and hard man) - The dwarves and gnomes would make up this subspecies. Their primary physical difference would be a greater muscular density giving them more strength for their size as well as resistance to extremes of heat and cold. They are analogous to the real-world neanderthals (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis).
  3. Homo sapiens odio (transl.: wise man of hate) - This subspecies would comprise orcs, goblinoids, and kobolds. Their physical forms are adapted to operating in the darkness as soldiers and servants, both underground and at night, and are influenced by the blood of fiends in goblin form which runs through them.
  4. Paranthropus dendroides (transl.: tree-like para-man) - I imagine treants as a species of robust australopithecines adapted to resemble the trees they "shepherd" that grow in the forests in which they dwell.
  5. Paranthropus immanis (tranl.: monstrous para-man) - Ogres, ettins, and trolls would form another species closely related to treants but infused with fiendish magic to give them immense size and strength.
So what scientific names would you give to the various creature and character types of the game? Also, if anyone is proficient in Latin, please let me know if my species and subspecies names agree with the genders of the genus names. Thanks!
Are the names an in-setting thing? It sounds like they are, because your species-groupings are unconventional by modern D&D standards.

One thing people don't always think about is that scientific names for intelligent species are absolutely going to be a political and ideological statement on the part of the namer. You have a superb example with Homo Sapiens Odio. All the other names are relatively positive, even the giants - though they are dehumanized by being classed as "paranthropus", they're given immanis, which means "huge-monstrous" rather than "scary-monstrous" ("immense" is the word we use in English). But goblinoids are given a purely negative and extremely dehumanizing classification, which is a clear ideological statement from the person naming them (presumably a specific person in-setting) that the namer thought goblinoids were evil and dangerous beings.

If you wanted a more neutral name which suits adapted to the dark, why not Homo Sapiens Noctis? It's still a bit sinister, but it's not "your entire species is about hate", which is a hell of a statement to make, but it's the statement Homo Sapiens Odio makes.

There's also the question of why would humans be the "starting point"? The easy answer is that a human is who came up with this. Presumably that's the case here.

I must admit I am surprised to see humans and Elves grouped together. Elves in most settings would be outraged at being grouped with humans, and would probably given them some kind of insulting name involving their short lifespans.

(Also with multiple intelligent species I guarantee there'd be multiple competing sets of scientific nomenclature and ways of dividing things up, but that's perhaps beyond the scope of this.)
 

jgsugden

Legend
In what language? You're using Latin roots, right? What does the mimic from your setting? Is celestial, dwarven or elven somewhat latin?

In my setting, the first language was draconic. Then, celestial, primordial and giant. Then elven, dwarven, orcish, goblin, undercommon/drow, and gnomish. After that, the majority of the remaining languages sprang up within about a 100 year period as new species were created. So what language are you looking to in order to have some sort of scientifi or scholarly listing of species?

There is an actual correct answer in my setting. There is only one heritage that is so structured as to classify everything with a technical term - and that is the Modrons. And in my setting, they speak in hexatriacontagonic cypher. Everything is broken down into 36 categories, and everything within each of those categories breaks down into 36 categories, with things within each of those breakdowns breaking down into up to 36 categories and so on.... meaning specis get names like D4RU7.
 
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First, this is only what I remember from biology class...

Why 3 words? The names come from the taxonomic hierarchy; domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species. You're 3rd word is trying to add another level to this system, why? Though this is done (canine lupus familiaris for dogs), if you are going to do it, I would only do it for those species that can interbreed. (remember, interbreeding is usually considered impossible unless they share a genus or species, I don't remember at what level breeding is possible).

BUT, it is also used to derive a genetic evolutionary understanding. ie. two creatures that share a genus are generally related to the same ancestor (genetically). So, by giving humans and elves the same genus, you are implying they are very closely related genetically/evolutionary. (Which may not be wrong). Same thing for orcs. And maybe that is why humans and orcs or elves can interbreed, but not dwarves, etc.

And remember, though humans are now homo sapiens, there are previous evolutions of humans such as homo erectus, and homo naledi.

Why not simple use:
homo sapien - humans
homo elfias - elves
homo orcus - orcs
(dwarvy) gemus - dwarves
(dwarvy) shortus - gnomes
etc.

See also:
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
Biologically, they would be well within the modern human range of variation. Their separate spiritual destiny from humans is metaphysical rather than physical.
There are such things as convergent evolution, carcinization and various forms of mimicry. Just because some flora or fauna look the same, it doesn’t mean they’re from the same evolutionary tree. The cleaner wrasse and the mimic/saber tooth blenny resemble each other, but are completely different taxonomic orders.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
Are the names an in-setting thing? It sounds like they are, because your species-groupings are unconventional by modern D&D standards.
I’m not exactly sure what you mean here by “in-setting”. If you mean “are they meant to reflect words or categories used by someone in the setting?" no, they are not. If you mean "are they meant to reflect in-setting biological realities, as I imagine them?" then yes, that's what I'm trying to describe.

One thing people don't always think about is that scientific names for intelligent species are absolutely going to be a political and ideological statement on the part of the namer. You have a superb example with Homo Sapiens Odio. All the other names are relatively positive, even the giants - though they are dehumanized by being classed as "paranthropus", they're given immanis, which means "huge-monstrous" rather than "scary-monstrous" ("immense" is the word we use in English). But goblinoids are given a purely negative and extremely dehumanizing classification, which is a clear ideological statement from the person naming them (presumably a specific person in-setting) that the namer thought goblinoids were evil and dangerous beings.

If you wanted a more neutral name which suits adapted to the dark, why not Homo Sapiens Noctis? It's still a bit sinister, but it's not "your entire species is about hate", which is a hell of a statement to make, but it's the statement Homo Sapiens Odio makes.
Right, I went with immanis, as opposed to the perhaps more obvious monstrosus, for at least in part something like this reason. For the orc/goblinoid/kobold grouping, however, I had some difficulty finding a characteristic that I feel defines them that doesn't also have similarly bad optics. I think noctis, as you suggest, doesn't quite capture their association with darkness, especially underground darkness which I think is a big part of it. I also think it risks subsuming part of the elven identity which is a sort of night-adapted human. Of course, tenebris is right out because of implications about human skin-tones. What about umbra in the sense of "shadow"? Perhaps the fiendish origin I imagine for them could be acknowledged with the word furialia, although I think that might commonly be interpreted as furious rather than fiendish, which meaning could also work but runs into similar problems. Alternatively, I think one solution is to fold them into the modern human subspecies along with elves and halflings.

There's also the question of why would humans be the "starting point"? The easy answer is that a human is who came up with this. Presumably that's the case here.
Well, yes, I came up with this, and I am human. It's funny that I've never really had the need to explain that to anyone before, but that already in this thread I've had to make that clarification at least once. Now, I think I resorted to describing things in terms of physical differences from modern humans because my audience (other humans) ought to know what a human is, and because I was trying to justify creating a few other categories based on those differences.

I must admit I am surprised to see humans and Elves grouped together. Elves in most settings would be outraged at being grouped with humans, and would probably given them some kind of insulting name involving their short lifespans.

(Also with multiple intelligent species I guarantee there'd be multiple competing sets of scientific nomenclature and ways of dividing things up, but that's perhaps beyond the scope of this.)
Okay, well again, it's not meant to be an "in-setting" taxonomy. I'm describing the setting from outside, as it were. The reason I've grouped elves in as part of the "modern human" group is because I'm imagining them as having very little actual physical difference from (modern) humans.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
In what language? You're using Latin roots, right? What does the mimic from your setting? Is celestial, dwarven or elven somewhat latin?

In my setting, the first language was draconic. Then, celestial, primordial and giant. Then elven, dwarven, orcish, goblin, undercommon/drow, and gnomish. After that, the majority of the remaining languages sprang up within about a 100 year period as new species were created. So what language are you looking to in order to have some sort of scientifi or scholarly listing of species?

There is an actual correct answer in my setting. There is only one heritage that is so structured as to classify everything with a technical term - and that is the Modrons. And in my setting, they speak in hexatriacontagonic cypher. Everything is broken down into 36 categories, and everything within each of those categories breaks down into 36 categories, with things within each of those breakdowns breaking down into up to 36 categories and so on.... meaning specis get names like D4RU7.
My list isn't meant to be an exercise in roleplaying. It's meant to be an exercise in practicing amateur zoology of the imagination. Latin isn't meant to represent anything from the setting. I'm using Latin because that's the language biologists and naturalists in the real world use when inventing names for new species and subspecies.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
First, this is only what I remember from biology class...

Why 3 words? The names come from the taxonomic hierarchy; domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species. You're 3rd word is trying to add another level to this system, why? Though this is done (canine lupus familiaris for dogs), if you are going to do it, I would only do it for those species that can interbreed. (remember, interbreeding is usually considered impossible unless they share a genus or species, I don't remember at what level breeding is possible).

BUT, it is also used to derive a genetic evolutionary understanding. ie. two creatures that share a genus are generally related to the same ancestor (genetically). So, by giving humans and elves the same genus, you are implying they are very closely related genetically/evolutionary. (Which may not be wrong). Same thing for orcs. And maybe that is why humans and orcs or elves can interbreed, but not dwarves, etc.

And remember, though humans are now homo sapiens, there are previous evolutions of humans such as homo erectus, and homo naledi.

Why not simple use:
homo sapien - humans
homo elfias - elves
homo orcus - orcs
(dwarvy) gemus - dwarves
(dwarvy) shortus - gnomes
etc.

See also:
The use of trinomial nomenclature in zoology is for naming subspecies. Modern humans have been described as a subspecies of Homo sapiens. I.e. Homo sapiens sapiens. This is because certain other groups of archaic humans have been described as subspecies of Homo sapiens, most notably Homo s. heidelbergensis, Homo s. idaltu, and Homo s. neanderthalensis which was proposed in 1864 as an alternative to classifying neanderthals as a separate species, requiring the reclassification of modern humans as a subspecies of Homo sapiens. Genetic evidence in the modern human genome for interbreeding between archaic humans and modern humans would suggest to me subspecies classifications for neanderthals, denisovans, and several other as yet unidentified groups.

My reasoning for including humans (and halflings), elves, and orcs/goblins/kobolds in the same species (Homo sapiens) is the possibility for interbreeding among these three groupings, using the common definition of species. Pairings between humans and elves in particular seem to occur "in the wild" naturally and with the willingness of both parties. Also, humans, halflings, and elves as a group seem "anatomically modern" in a way that would support their inclusion in our subspecies. Pairings between orcs and humans, on the other hand, while possible, might be seen as unnatural, so I've put orcs, goblinoids, and kobolds in their own subpsecies which is also supported by their having some rather pronounced morphological differences from anatomically modern humans.

I'm a bit torn about dwarves and gnomes who are typically not depicted as interbreeding with other groups, which would warrant their classification as a separate species or even a distinct genus. The thing is they look quite human, especially compared to the goblinoids, and I've grown accustomed to imagining them as analogous to the neanderthals, so on that basis I included them as a subspecies of Homo sapiens. I may have to rethink this.
 

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