Iconic Character, Forgotten Title

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Sometimes, the title of a work overshadows the main character. It's hard to fault someone for assuming The Legend of Zelda stars a green elf named Zelda for both this reason and the fact that the game features no elves at all.[1] The title of a work can be heard so much that the character names become footnotes in comparison. This is I Am Not Shazam.

But what happens when the opposite occurs? What about when you've got an iconic character, the subject of a million parodies, whom anyone can caricature at a moment's notice, but no one can remember the name of the work they're in? You've got this trope. Iconic Character, Forgotten Title covers those character names that overshadow the title of their story.

Often, this will be lost in foreign language translations which use the character's name as the title instead of translating the original one.

Compare Media Research Failure. Contrast Spotlight-Stealing Title. See also Mainstream Obscurity.

Examples of Iconic Character, Forgotten Title include:


Anime[edit | hide | hide all]

Art[edit | hide]

  • The Treachery of Images by René Magritte is sometimes called "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" or "This is not a pipe".
  • Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1. Or as it's almost universally known, Whistler's Mother.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • This happened early on with Superman. Action Comics was at first supposed to feature a variety of characters but Superman quickly took off and interviewing newstand owners revealed that kids were asking, not for Action Comics, but for "that comic book with Superman in it." Eventually, the title shifted to some variation of "Action Comics starring Superman" or "Superman in Action Comics." (Has shifted back and forth over the decades.) Of course, he has additional titles in his own name.
  • A similar thing happened with Detective Comics and Batman.
  • 2000 AD is primarily known as the comic with Judge Dredd in it, and has spawned a sister comic titled as such. ("Judge Dredd Megazine", that is, not "The Comic With Judge Dredd In It".)
  • Dennis the Menace has been headlining The Beano since 1974.
  • Similarly, Desperate Dan has been the main draw in The Dandy since 1984, with only a short interruption in 1999.
  • The word Hellblazer just gets smaller and smaller, while the words John Constantine get larger and larger. Ironic, because the original title was chosen specifically because they didn't think anyone would know who Constantine was (despite his appearances in the Swamp Thing).
  • Journey Into Mystery is another example of a book that was originally supposed to be an anthology but eventually became dominated by stories about its most popular character before finally just being renamed for him. In this case, it became The Mighty Thor.
  • Popeye originally debuted as a bit player in Thimble Theatre, with Olive Oyl already well-established. Pretty soon after, Popeye became the main star, with Olive Oyl becoming his love interest over her original love, the Dagwood-like Harold Hamgravy.
  • The 100th issue of Tales Of Suspense saw the series renamed Captain America, after the superhero who co-starred (alongside Iron Man) since issue #59.
  • Similarly, Tales to Astonish became The Incredible Hulk with #102, after the character who'd been co-starring since issue #59.

Films -- Animated[edit | hide]

  • Some people think An American Tail is actually called "Fievel". It doesn't help that it has a sequel called Fievel Goes West.

Films -- Live-Action[edit | hide]

  • The murderous doll Chucky from Childs Play. The Child's Play title is entirely lost in the fourth and fifth films, Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky.
  • The Friday the 13 th and A Nightmare on Elm Street movies are better known as the Jason and Freddy movies respectively. Especially since Freddy vs. Jason came out. It doesn't help that several of the sequels don't have the words "Thirteenth" or "Elm Street" in their titles.
  • Everyone knows The Three Stooges, but considerably fewer people can name any of their 190 films.
  • Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson... A lot of people probably know the song but not that she was the seductress from The Graduate.
  • The first film that featured Sylvester Stallone's character John Rambo was called First Blood. The second was called Rambo: First Blood Part II. The third movie then became Rambo III, and the fourth was simply called Rambo.
  • Coffin Joe. Arguably, that name's a lot more memorable than any of the actual film titles.
  • The first Indiana Jones movie was just called Raiders of the Lost Ark. This changed with the sequels. Indeed, even Raiders gets retrofitted with an "Indiana Jones and the..." in some places (including, notably, its DVD release.)
  • The same thing happened with Pitch Black and the subsequent The Chronicles of Riddick series.
  • It's impossible for most people to name any of the Dirty Harry movies without looking it up. The exception is the first one, which happens to be titled Dirty Harry.
  • The theme tune to The Spy Who Loved Me drops the film title in the lyrics, but is actually titled "Nobody Does it Better".
  • The Dark Knight was in fact the first Batman film not to feature the word "Batman" in the title, but (rather understandably) it was often assumed that the title of the film was Batman: The Dark Knight or something to that effect.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. Several adaptations have actually been called "Scrooge".
  • Svengali from Trilby.
  • James Bond in all his novels and films. None of the major titles, and nearly none in general, have included the words "James Bond".
    • Averted in the Brazilian translations of the film titles, which are always on the form "007 and X", where X are translations of the English titles with varying degrees of accuracy.
  • Willy Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This is probably thanks to the 1971 movie and candy brand being named after him.
    • Also sometimes mistaken as The Candyman, from the song of the same name featured in the film. Not to be confused with the other Candyman.
  • Hannibal Lecter from Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. The two books that followed were named after him.
  • Sherlock Holmes. Undoubtedly, nearly everyone has heard the character name, but only a significant minority could list the titles of any of the stories he appears in, with The Hound Of the Baskervilles being the most likely candidate.
  • More people recognize John Carter of Mars than any of the stories he was in (save, perhaps, the last one which had a Character Title).
  • In a curious case of promotional and marketing efforts gone awry, in the early 1930s Street and Smith had The Shadow serve as narrator for the Detective Story Hour in hopes of drawing attention to the Detective Story Magazine. Several listeners went to newsstands asking for the "Shadow Magazine". Street and Smith decided to roll with it and hired Walter Gibson to create the "Kent Allard Shadow".
  • Kunta Kinte from Roots.
  • Long John Silver from Treasure Island.
  • If you can't remember The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, most people will understand if you just refer to its Headless Horseman.
    • And how many people know that "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle" are just two of the stories in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.? Most editions of that book feature an illustration of one of those two stories on the cover.
  • Older Than Radio: The Armenian folktale The Daredevils of Sassoun is commonly just called David of Sassoun after the main character, despite the real title sounding much cooler.
  • Even the Wikipedia page starts with "Robinson Crusoe is a novel by Daniel Defoe..." The actual title was:
  • Gullivers Travels. While his name is still in the title, it's not just "Gulliver's Travels". The full title was: "Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World in Four Parts by Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then Captain of Several Ships."

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Late night talk shows are often known by the name of the current host. For instance, for many years The Tonight Show was referred to more often as "Johnny Carson." People are more likely to say, "John Smith is on Letterman tonight" than "John Smith is on Late Show tonight."
    • Well, the full title of Late Show is "Late Show with David Letterman", so you could argue that calling it "Letterman" shortens it to a word which is legitimately part of the title.
    • Conan may be a parody of this. That's the show's full name. Conan even joked that he named it that so that nobody could replace him on the show.
  • The show is called Return of Ultraman, not Ultraman Jack after its titular hero. Most people call it by its titular hero though.
  • What show did the character Sergeant Bilko appear in? No, not Sergeant Bilko (except in syndication and the film version) but The Phil Silvers Show or You'll Never Get Rich.
  • Pretty much everyone referred to All in The Family as "Archie Bunker" back in the day. Later on, the series was re-tooled, slightly re-set, and became "Archie Bunker's Place".
  • UK crime series Midsomer Murders features Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, Causton CID as the chief protagonist of every episode and apparent point of the whole show, causing some people to just call the show "Barnaby."
  • Family Matters was often misnamed "The Urkel Show" because Steve Urkel, originally a minor character, became an very successful Breakout Character.
  • This trope is almost certainly why Game Show Network named its revival of Press Your Luck (AKA "Whammy" or "The Whammy Show"), "Whammy: The All-New Press Your Luck".
  • Cold Opening into the Show Within a Show led many people to refer to Home Improvement as Tool Time.
  • Keeping Up Appearances is universally referred to as "Mrs. Hyacinth" in Denmark (even though it does have an offical translated name, and that, when you think about it, "Mrs. Hyacinth" is a case of I Am Not Shazam)
  • A lot of people seem to think that Secret Diary of a Call Girl is titled "Belle du Jour", which in actual fact is the pseudonym of its main character, played by Billie Piper. The confusion might also be because the blog the show was based on was called "Belle du Jour."[2]
  • Many people will refer to Married... with Children just as Al Bundy.
  • When the popularity of the first incarnation of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was at its peak, some people were just calling the show "Regis". Which was funny, considering that there already was another show featuring Regis Philbin that did have his name in the title.
  • In the movie Rain Man, the titular character made it a point to watch The People's Court every day. At the time, the court was presided by Judge Wapner. One of Rain Man's catchphrases was "10 minutes to Wapner".
  • Young children often referred to Full House as "The Baby Michelle Show," because that's who they watched it to see.


Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • Charlie Brown from Peanuts. Executive Meddling produced the name Peanuts, and Charles Schulz reportedly hated it (he had named it Li'l Folks). So not only do most of the animated specials and book collections include "Charlie Brown" in the title, but the title panels on the Sunday strips for many years said Peanuts featuring GOOD OL' CHARLIE BROWN. Also applies to Snoopy.
    • Well averted with the animated shorts - The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show - and all major features - [phrase], Charlie Brown.
    • In Italy it's known as "Linus" by most readers, mostly because of a publication of the same name.
  • Caspar Milquetoast from The Timid Soul. "Milquetoast" has even entered the lexicon as a term for a weak, submissive person.
  • Both Bloom County and Outland were known for Opus, so the third comic strip with him became just Opus.
  • The comic strip Thimble Theater is hardly known today, but one of its characters, Popeye is quite well known, probably because he later got an animated series.
  • There are many who think the comic strip Blondie is called Dagwood, since he's become the main character rather than Blondie.


Theatre[edit | hide]


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • It was very common to refer to the N64 shooter Golden Eye 1997 as "Bond", "007" or "James Bond" in the 90s.
  • The Ace Attorney series is commonly referred as the "Phoenix Wright" series. This is a justified case, as "Ace Attorney" was originally the subtitle of the first game in the series, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. When it became obvious that the fourth game in the series would have a new protagonist, the localization staff did the best they could in promoting Ace Attorney as the main title of the franchise, while keeping Phoenix Wright title for the first two sequels, resulting in the overly long titles of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials & Tribulations. Even when the title of the fourth game was announced to be Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice, people kept referring to the new installment as the "fourth Phoenix Wright game".
  • Tomb Raider's Lara Croft is about halfway there. The Tomb Raider name is still well-known, but the character has become very recognizable to people who don't play games, which is probably why the movies were called "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider."


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Dick Dastardly, the epitome of the moustache-twirling villain. What series did he star in, again? Admit it: it took you a moment to remember Wacky Races. The pigeon-hunting spin-off does not help things.
    • Better known as Stop The Pigeon (after the theme song).
  • During the first few seasons of The Simpsons, back when Bart was the most popular character and most of the episodes focused on him, it was not uncommon for people to refer to the show as "The Bart Simpson Show". He appeared on various t-shirts and merchandise, and was even the star of several video games. In the years since Bart's popularity died out, people now consider Homer to be the most iconic character of the series and are now less likely to use an informal name for the series.
  • Metalocalypse is commonly referred as "Dethklok", after the cartoon band in which the show is centered around. The Working Title was actually Dethklok Metalocalypse before they decided to shorten it to just Metalocalypse, but since many people are not sure on how to pronounce "Metalocalypse" correctly, they simply refer to the show as "Dethklok" as well.
  • The Dynomutt Dog Wonder show is more commonly referred as "Blue Falcon & Dynomutt" or simply "Blue Falcon".
  • A number of people mistake the name of Jem as Jem and the Holograms because that's the actual name of the band she performs with in the show. Even The Nostalgia Chick did this when reviewing the show.
  • Some people who haven't seen KaBlam! in a while refer to it at times as "The Henry and June Show" (Which was actually a proposed (and failed) spin-off)


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • The actor Sylvester McCoy (born Percy Kent-Smith) got his stage name this way. Some of his earlier work was as a sidekick/warm-up man to the stand-up comedian-cum-performance artist Ken Campbell, as a fictional character called "Sylveste McCoy". To further the joke, his character was credited in the playbill as "Sylveste McCoy as Sylveste McCoy". One reviewer didn't get the joke and used it in the review as if it was his real name, so he said Sure Why Not and used it as his stage name from then on (though adding an "r" to the end - no, those weren't typos earlier).
  • The Nehi Corporation used to make a line of popular fruit-flavored sodas (the one most commonly known today is the Grape Nehi, Radar's favorite soda in MASH). In 1955, as the soda market changed to favor colas over everything else, they changed their name to their new star brand, Royal Crown (although they kept the name for their fruit-flavored products; you can still find and purchase Nehi soda to this day).
  1. if you want to nitpick, they have pointy elf ears but otherwise human bodies and personalities
  2. "Belle du Jour" is French for "girl of the day."