I'm looking for a pair of words to respectively represent a “real” thing and for multiple representations of that “real” thing.

Simulacra is close, but I’m not aware of any term for the object that is being mimicked, and I’m not sure its usage is common enough for people to know the term.

I like replicant (the fake people in Bladerunner), but there are some issues using it. Silhouette feels close, but not quite there.

The hologram watch from Total Recall comes to mind in describing what I’m looking for. The idea is that there is the real object, but you can interact with the copies just like the original such that it doesn’t matter that they aren’t the original.

Sorry, the words I’m looking for would work well in describing what I’m looking for!


I’m working on a software library for interprocess communication, and am trying to come up with a few terms that convey the intent. The idea is that you create an object in your process that behaves the expected way, and it doesn't matter whether the “real” object exists in another process. If the object is in another process, the library handles all of the communication to keep things synchronized with that (real) object so your version behaves exactly the same way.

Proxy and RPC (remote procedure call) focus on the information transport. I’m looking to convey the intent instead of the implementation. I do need terms for each, so I can describe the implementation to people.


Updated to clarify question. I'm not sure what the line is between describing a conceptual behavior in computer programming vs. naming of a class. The suggestions have been very helpful for helping me figure out how to describe what I'm working on, so it is unfortunate that my question has been put on hold as off-topic.

  • Can you give us some context? It could help us narrow things down if we knew what you were describing.
    – 4444
    Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 15:47
  • Is this along the lines of pointers in computer programming? Multiple references to the "original", each reference can manipulate the original. This may help guide the discussion, if I interact with one of these copies and cause it to be altered (say I paint it red), will all the other copies and the original exhibit that same modification?
    – Anssssss
    Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 16:34
  • 1
    Given the context, I think proxy works best. Note that none of the definitions focus on information transport, and even in a software context "proxy" doesn't make me think of information transport. Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 17:09
  • 4
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about names for use in a software context. Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 17:15
  • 3
    The grammatical terms are antecedent (for the original) and anaphor for anything like a pronoun or something else that refers to the antecedent. It's a decent match here, because "antecedent" means "coming before", and, while grammatical antecedents don't always precede their anaphors in a sentence, originals always precede their copies in time. Plus, there are various categories of anaphors -- and a classic Greek plural anaphora to cover the whole subject of coreference, in case you need to falute highly -- and you can tailor the categories to suit your needs. Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 17:38

12 Answers 12

  • The first word I thought of when I read your question was proxy, but I guess you’re saying that you don’t like it.
  • I believe that, for better or worse, surrogate is similar to proxy.
  • Your mention of a hologram suggests virtual object, which is naturally paired with real object.
  • I know somebody else mentioned it, but I believe that replica is good.  For example, Lotus Notes allows an organization to have multiple copies of a database, distributed around the world, if appropriate.  These copies are called replicas.  Users interact with the nearest replica, and so get decent response time.  Changes are replicated (i.e., propagated) to the other sites.
  • Mirror is similar.  Compare to its usage for replicated web sites for downloading files; e.g., software.
  • You mentioned silhouette.  How about shadow?
  • More generic: primary vs. secondary, and, at the risk of being politically incorrect, master vs. slave.
  • My issue with proxy is that it is used a lot, usually to mean something that modifies something else. You put a proxy around something to enforce a consistent interface around several objects that have different interfaces. My intent is to have the same "object", so you can't tell. I thought of shadow as well, but that, I think, has sinister connotations. Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 0:24
  • These are all great suggestions. It's a shame the question was closed, but my +1 goes to you, as (specifically in a software context but also grammatically/in a lexical context) words like surrogate, shadow, and mirror are all terms that work and are in common usage for OP's purpose to accomplish OP's intended usage.
    – psosuna
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 1:15

It depends on the context. For example, in the world of industrial design we have:

production v.s. mock-up

in the world of system engineering we have:

implementation v.s. simulation

What is your context??


For the original, consider

  • prototype
  • paradigm
  • archetype
  • epitome

For the simulacrum, perhaps

  • copy
  • facsimile
  • replica
  • duplicate
  • clone
  • autotype (images only)
  • reproduction
  • repro (slangy)
  • knockoff (a bit derogatory)
  • Thanks for all of these suggestions! Need to look into some of these after work. Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 17:05
  • archetype/facsimile seems like a pair that fits your intended usage quite well.
    – amalloy
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 0:38

Since OP specifically says it doesn't matter that they aren't the original, I suggest they're all...

fungibles (as a plural noun; they could be adjectivally referred to as fungible)
Something that is exchangeable or substitutable. Often used in the plural.

This was originally very much a legal term (if you lend someone a dollar bill, you don't necessarily expect to be repaid with the same bill, since all dollar bills are fungible/interchangeable). But in the modern age with so many sophisticated copying mechanisms (and theories of reality), the word is becoming more widely used in a range of contexts.

  • The definition is really close. But for a name for my library, "fungibles" just doesn't sound good. +1 anyway, thanks for the suggestion. Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 17:07
  • @Brett: Ah well. But I'm afraid by that reasoning (and more particularly, following your recent edit) the question is Off Topic anyway. ELU doesn't do "names for use in software contexts". Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 17:15

You actually used the word in your question. It's called a "representation", and that is exactly the word and the computer-science concept that used in REST, which stands for "REpresentational State Transfer".

For example, let's say we have a "profile". One "representation" of this profile is a bunch of HTML with embedded images that is viewable through a web browser, as a UI component. People think of this as "the profile", but in "reality" the profile is a row in a database table, and the HTML page is a representation of that profile. If a person updates their profile, then requests the HTML, the representation will be updated to match the underlying data. The programming concept of a "representation" already has the concept of synchronizing built in. Gotta represent, yo.

A different representation is a string of JSON, returned by an API. It contains the same data, because it is a "representation" of the "actual thing".

So the terminology you're looking for could be and "object" and its "representations".


You may be looking at facade or facet. The facade is all your object sees.

I'm having difficulty finding a pair for it though. On the inside you could consider implementation, often abbreviated Impl, or realization. On the other side of the implementation coin, though, usually you would use interface instead of facade. This is especially true in what I'll call "languages that look and feel surprisingly similar to Java" (Java, C#, D, plenty of others.)

This just goes to show you, there's only two hard things in computer science: cache invalidation and naming things. (and off by one errors...)


You might call it 'bilocation' or even 'polylocation' to show that the object is in multiple places at the same time, and call the copies 'projections' and the originals 'original'. Something along the lines of 'ubiquitous' or 'omnipresent' could work for the library name, but I like the idea of an 'original object' 'bilocating' through 'projections' :)


Surprised this hasn’t been mentioned yet, but:

dop·pel·gäng·er noun
a ghostly double or counterpart of a living person.

You mention a hologram, which could be considered ghostly in appearance. In common usage, I’ve heard the word to most commonly mean a duplicate or replication intended to appear identical to the original, even to the point of replacing the original. It can be similar in connotation to a forgery, except when embodied as a person or living thing, the thing itself is also the forger.

But, this doesn’t hold up in your added context of a software object. Also, it’s quite cumbersome in a programming-variable or repeated-typing context, in my opinion. But if you need to expose the real and fake objects through a user interface, I think it could work well.

The literal translation of the word from German is double-goer or double-walker which works quite well for a software term, reality-reflecting term, or a user-interface term.

  • Good one. I wondering "why didn't I think of that", BTW! Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 18:51

You could pair simulacra with referent in line with Jean Baudrillard's concept of total simulation and the absence of the Real. See the Wikipedia article on Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation for more about this idea.


Already in use in RPC (at least in Java) - 'Stub' - which is the class that gets 'exposed' but it's not the 'real' thing.

From software testing (and other things), 'Dummy' as in 'Dummy Objects' which are the ones 'filling in' for the real ones.

'Pseudo', typically used a prefix but it can be used on it's own, meaning false or fake, as in pseudo-science (not 'really' science) or an amoeba has a pseudopod (false appendage).

  • One of my favorite words (in the “guilty pleasures” category) is ersatz. dictionary.com defines it as an adjective as “serving as a substitute; synthetic; artificial,” or as a noun as “an artificial substance or article used to replace something natural or genuine; a substitute.” (So there are two possible counterparts: natural and genuine, and from artificial we get real.) I’ve always thought of ersatz as an adjective, with a meaning somewhere between pseudo and virtual; again, real works. Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 13:24

You can consider lifelike experience. It is also easy to understand.

Lifelike is an adjective that relates to anything that simulates real life, in accordance with its laws. Its goal is to immerse individuals into what is called a lifelike experience. It gets as close as possible to real life behavior, appearance, senses, etc. therefore enabling its subject to experience what is happening as if it were real. In other words, simulating reality with its physical laws is the objective of lifelike experience.


I second Luke G's suggestion of "object"/"representation", but here are a few other word-pairs that might be useable:

  • "Vehicle"/"Tenor". (This comes from the two parts of a metaphor.)
  • "Ideal"/"Object". (In the sense of Platonic ideal.)
  • "Prototype"/"Instance"

Hope these help.

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