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Ford Prefect took that name because he thought it sounded like a normal name on Earth. I couldn't find any mention anywhere that he used this name before his 15-year-long visit to Earth and he didn't have any contact with anyone not from Earth who knew him (specifically not with Zaphod) until he was picked up by the Heart of Gold. Unless I missed something while reading, the name "Ford Prefect" wasn't mentioned until Zaphod addressed Ford directly.

My question is, firstly, how does Zaphod know about the name in the first place and secondly, why does he prefer to use it over whatever name he used before Ford's trip to Earth?

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    Sounds unlikely that Zaphod would know his new name. You might even say it was... improbable. – loneboat Jun 15 '16 at 14:30
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    Fun(?) fact: In the 2005 movie (which Adams wrote some unkown substantial portion of), Zaphon calls him "Ix" when they meet on the Heart of Gold. – apsillers Jun 15 '16 at 18:37
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    @loneboat Could you be more precise about how improbable..? – David Richerby Jun 16 '16 at 11:33
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    @DavidRicherby, on a scale of 1 to K, about this |-------| much. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 16 '16 at 21:17
  • If you are going to ask that question, then why wouldn't you ask why the characters kept visiting earth even though it was destroyed in the first chapter of the first book of the 6 part trilogy or even how can you have a 6 part trilogy. He called Ford, Ford because that was his name. :-) – Gandolf989 Jun 17 '16 at 13:56
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Douglas Adams actually explained this on page 50 of the book of the radio scripts.

Many people have asked me angrily why it is that Zaphod Beeblebrox instantly greets Ford as Ford when I had earlier stated quite clearly that he had only changed his name to Ford Prefect when he came to Earth.

It was very simple. Just before arriving he registered his new name officially at the Galactic Nomenclaturoid Office, where they had the technology to unpick his old name from the fabric of space/time and thread the new one in its place, so that to all intents and purposes his name always had been and always would be Ford Prefect. I included a footnote explaining this in the first Hitch-Hiker book, but it was cut because it was so dull.

Personally I prefer my own idea, which is that it was just an artifact of the Babel fish translation.

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    I suspect when originally written, it was intended as an artifact of Babel fish translation, and the Adams quote above is him taking the piss out of the people angrily asking him the question. :-) – T.J. Crowder Jun 15 '16 at 10:45
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    One might also think that it's the credentials he went by when publishing to W̶i̶k̶i̶p̶e̶d̶i̶a̶ the Hitchhikkers Guide to the Galaxy, and Zaphod kept track of that. But that's most certainly not true, because Zaphod is kind of a jerk. – Wayne Werner Jun 15 '16 at 12:24
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    You know, ehhh, Zaphod is just this guy, you know. – Tschallacka Jun 15 '16 at 12:41
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    @T.J.Crowder i think you're right about the second part but I think the original reason is more likely to be a simple oversight. – Max Williams Jun 15 '16 at 13:24
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    @T.J.Crowder: I suspect that when originally written, it was because Douglas Adams was generally thinking of the character as Ford, and didn’t give a flying Belgium about establishing a detailed consistent background continuity. :-) – PLL Jun 15 '16 at 15:45

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