Mark of Shame

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"Branded, scorned as the one who ran,
What do you do when you're branded, and you know you're a man?"

Bob's been discredited and disgraced, perhaps so badly that he can never go home again. In order to permanently label him as a failure, he's given an easily noticed marking of some sort, often on the face, chest, back or hands. Popular methods for a Mark of Shame include tattooing, branding, and scarring, although for a less painful method of application, Bob may just be forced to wear something on his clothing to identify him as an Arsonist, Murderer, Jaywalker or what have you. It's also entirely possible that a coincidental, accidental marking he had prior to or received during the disgrace he suffered will serve as a Mark of Shame.

If Bob receives the mark after making a Deal with the Devil, but it's still treated as a shameful, disgraceful thing, this can overlap with Mark of the Beast.

Examples of Mark of Shame include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Wolf's Rain, the Cool Scar on Tsume is eventually revealed to be a mark of cowardice given by his former packmates.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, criminals (read "people usually from Satellite") are given these. In fact, criminals who weren't from Satellite originally are forced to hang out there since they're no longer welcome in the city. The Hero Yusei naturally gets one in the sixth episode.
  • In One Piece, there is the "Hoof of the Celestial Dragon", a claw-shaped Slave Brand given by the World Nobles (whose are also known as the "Celestial Dragons") to their slaves. The branding is a mark of shame hidden by those who do escape, like Boa Hancock and her sisters. The fishman pirate Fisher Tiger branded over the mark of slaves that became members of his crew with the symbol of his "Sun Pirates", in order to remove the distinction of who was a slave and who wasn't.
  • The Rising of the Shield Hero has Aultcray and Malty brought to justice for years of oppressing their subjects and unjustly executing innocents via false accusations; Naofumi decides to spare them on the condition they change their names to "Bitch" and "Trash", respectively; 13 whole volumes later, Malty is still referred to as "Bitch", remaining completely unrepentant for her crimes.

Comic Books

  • Pictured above is Jonah Hex. When his weapon broke during a sacred tomahawk battle due to sabotage by his opponent, Jonah drew a knife to continue the fight. This violated the laws of the tribe and, had Jonah not had an honorary relationship to the chief, he would have been killed. Instead he was branded with the Mark of the Demon by having a red-hot tomahawk pressed against his face.
  • Ariciaa in Thorgal gets one when it is discovered that her husband is an infamous pirate.


  • In Inglourious Basterds, the protagonists carve swastikas into the foreheads of the Nazis they don't kill.
  • In the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Jack Sparrow is positively identified as a buccaneer when Norrington uncovers a 'P' brand on his right wrist. "Had a brush with the East India Trading Company, did we, pirate?" In the second movie, it was revealed that this was the handiwork of Cutler Beckett. Jack may have retaliated in kind. Beckett told Will "We've both left our marks on each other", but made no reply when Will asked "What mark did he leave on you?" The movies never answer this question either. There has been some fandom speculation that Beckett branded Jack on the arm rather than the forehead (as was more commonly done to convicted pirates of that day) because he did not wish to mar Sparrow's comely face (possible sinister implications...?)
  • Kovu from The Lion King 2 gets one from his Abusive Mother, making him resemble Scar from the first film.


  • In The Scarlet Letter, the red letter "A" the main character is required to wear on her clothes labels her an adulterer in the Puritan community where she lives. Of course, she shocks the townspeople by making it big and elaborate with gold trim.
  • The Three Musketeers. In her youth, Milady de Winter was branded on the shoulder for thievery.
  • In the Gor novels, slaves are branded so other people will know what they are.
  • In the Robert Silverberg short story "To See The Invisible Man". A man is punished for "coldness" by having a mark affixed to his forehead so everyone else will know to shun him. Later made into a New Twilight Zone episode.
  • In The Baroque Cycle, Jack is branded with a V for vagabond. It works out to his advantage later, though.
  • In the books, Zorro cuts his Zorro Mark into the cheeks of evil men he feels are beneath him to kill. Since everyone in Old California knows what that means, most of them vacate the territory post-haste.
  • In the Knight and Rogue Series by Hilari Bell, Michael is declared "unredeemed", which basically means that he's committed a crime and hasn't atoned for it in the eyes of the law. Unredeemed people have broken circles tattooed on their wrists, which any local official knows to check for. Michael's actual offense isn't very terrible—he's a Lawful Good hero who got himself in trouble via Honor Before Reason—but the tattoos make for instant Hero with Bad Publicity.
  • Raven's tattoo, "POOR IMPULSE CONTROL", was supposed to be this in Snow Crash. It didn't end up working out that way.
  • Fade's brand of cowardice in the Codex Alera. It's the Legions' mark for soldiers who run from battle, and he has it because nobody would go looking for Araris Valerian behind the face of a brain-damaged, cowardly slave. And because Araris thinks he did just that...
  • In the fourth book of The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, appropriately titles "Outcast" features this trope. Torak is thrown out of Riverclan, and given traitor marks so everyone knows it.
  • "The Mischievous Dog," a Middle Ages fable where the title character – a young, attention-seeking mongrel – sneaks up on people and bites their legs. The trope comes into play when the dog's master (aware of his pet's malbehavior, and having been unsuccessful with previous efforts to correct the dog's actions) places a collar with a bell around its neck. The dog thinks at first it is some sort of prize or reward for being a good dog, or at the very least by a liberal-minded pet owner who "just woves his pet" ... until a wise, elderly dog. aware of the reason for the collar, takes the youngster aside and tersely informs him the real reason for the collar ... it is not a gift but a mark of shame, to get people and/or other dogs to be wary of this ill-mannered mutt. (The fable ends there, with the "Noteriety is often mistaken for fame" moral, but it is presumed the dog is brought to earth in swift fashion.)
  • In Circle of Magic, Briar has two X-shaped tattoos on his hands, identifying him as a a thief. He later managed to cover them up with homemade tattoos.

Live-Action TV

  • Branded: Main protagonist Jason McCord (Chuck Connors) is (unjustly) dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Army for cowardice; his mark of shame is a broken saber.
  • The classic Doctor Who serial 'The Visitation' features aliens called Tereleptils. The only one the TARDIS crew, and thus the audience, meets has a disfiguring facial scar that - apparently - marks him as a prisoner and a failure.

Oral Tradition, Folklore, Myths and Legends

  • The Bible:
    • The Mark of Cain from the Book of Genesis is often considered to be this, likely due to its portrayals as such in artistic depictions and later takes on the story. In Genesis 4, after Cain committed the first murder by killing his brother Abel out of jealousy, God cursed him to wander the land and be unable to till the soil for sustenance - when Cain complains that this is too great to bear and anyone who finds him would kill him, God set a "mark" upon him so that anyone who killed Cain "shall suffer sevenfold vengeance". Various schools of religious thought have interpreted this in multiple fashions: the Hebrew word for mark ('Oth, אות‎) could mean "a sign, an omen, a warning, or a remembrance", and as such might not necessarily be physical. Common interpretations of the Mark include making an example of Cain to the other people of the Earth and/or a warning not to take God's justice into their own hands and Pay Evil Unto Evil.
    • As told in The Gospel of Matthew, the Crown of Thorns and the scarlet robe associated with Jesus Christ in Matthew 27:28-30 was to be a mark of shame for Him on the Day of His Crucifixion. The Crown was not only a sign of public humiliation to disgrace Him and cause extra pain, but also meant to disparage the very reason why He came and express their rejection of His teachings. For Christians, the Crown of Thorns is both the ultimate symbolism of man's rejection of Christ and a mark of sacrifice and triumph over sin through Christ's death on the cross - through His martyrdom and resurrection, redemption is thus possible for anyone who chooses to follow him.

Professional Wrestling

  • During his 1980s "evil cowboy" gimmick in the World Wrestling Federation, Terry Funk "branded" his opponents (almost always jobbers) with a "hot" branding iron following their losses - the brand was chalk affixed to a cold iron, which the "victim" sold as a branding.

Video Games

  • In Halo 2, after one of the titular rings was destroyed in the first game, The Arbiter has the mark of shame branded onto his chest.

That armour suits you, but it cannot hide that mark.
Nothing ever will...

  • Kratos' characteristic pale white skin in God of War is a result of the ashes of his wife and child, whom he murdered in a blind rage, being grafted onto his skin as a perpetual reminder of his betrayal.
  • Mass Effect: Garrus bears a Mark of Shame for Sidonis due to him selling Garrus out and winds up being shredded by a gunship.
  • In Dantes Inferno, the cross Dante sews onto his own chest, which details all his sins.
  • Kimahri's broken horn in Final Fantasy X serves as one of these.

Web Comics

  • Kokkan's Slave Brand in A Broken Winter is this not for him, but for his adopted father Kuroda, who oversees the base where Kokkan was held as a prisoner, instead. Perhaps because it reminds Kuroda of his failure to protect the then seven year old Kokkan. Kokkan himself was given the brand because his biological father was branded a traitor by the government.

Western Animation

  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko's facial burn serves as one of these.
  • James McCullen in G.I. Joe: Renegades receives this at the end of the episode "Enemy of My Enemy" in the form of the name "Destro", a title given to those of his clan who shame themselves and the clan through failure. And although it was sealed onto him as symbol of Cobra Commander owning him, his trademark metal mask could also be seen as a visual representation of his new name.
  • In The Simpsons, people banished from the Stonecutters have to walk home naked, dragging the stone of shame behind them.

Real Life

  • During World War II, Nazi concentration camp prisoners were identified by coloured triangle badges, or numbers tattooed on their wrists:
  • Being placed on a blacklist is a type of mark of shame, as it often applies to someone who deserves (or is perceived to deserve) to be denied a particular privilege, service, employment, and so forth; or to be ostracized from a certain social or familial circle. For instance, a solicitor who has been convicted of illegally selling tickets at inflated prices may be placed on a blacklist, denying him employment as a ticket salesman.
  • The Sex Offender Registry, which applies to those convicted of certain sex crimes (almost always against children). In addition to being required to state where they live, this very severe "mark of shame" to sex offenders often results in restrictions of where they may live, work, socialize and go about their daily business. Since their profiles are made public, sex offenders are often ostracized by the public and their own families, and the effects can often lead to even tighter restrictions on their daily professional and social lives. More can be read at this link.
    • In many cases, a person's placement on the Sex Offender Registry can also have lasting (very) negative effects for the immediate family, even if they've broken off relations with him.
  • In the military, the most severe mark of shame is a dishonorable discharge, a distinction given to servicemen convicted of the most heinous or reprehensible acts, such as assault, murder, desertion, sexual assault, robbery and so forth. These are handed down after the officer is court-martialed. Not only does this individual lose all military benefits, it is a mark of shame that has lifelong effects, as they lose gun ownership rights (in many states), often are denied employment in many jobs and are ostracized by many social and civic circles.
    • Bad conduct discharges are also seen as shameful, but are not as severe in that the individual retains certain Veterans Affairs benefits.
  • In Medieval Venice Doge Falier placed himself at the centerpiece of a conspiracy to slaughter the members of the Great Council in their chambers and make himself absolute ruler. Following that he was beheaded for treason. In the Ducal palace his portrait was left on the wall-covered by a curtain. Later a fire gutted the building destroying the Doges' portraits. When it was restored a new portrait was placed where Falier's once was; except it was simply a portrait of a curtain to remind of the fate of uppity Doges.