"The argument is too subtle to cram into a title, which is why I went to the trouble of writing the rest of the book."
—Richard Dawkins, regarding The Selfish Gene
Casual viewers just can't be bothered to pay the kind of attention it takes to interpret the meaning of a show's title, even if this effort is small. This can lead to some unusual and mistaken notions about key facets of the show.
Often contributes to instances of Media Research Failure, including the trope's namesake incident. For confusion regarding our own Word Salad Titles, see I Thought It Meant. Specific Sub Tropes include:
- I Am Not Shazam: The work's title is mistaken for the protagonist's name.
- Iconic Character, Forgotten Title: The protagonist's name is mistaken for the work's title.
- Protagonist Title Fallacy: Which character the title refers to is clear, but that character is mistaken for the protagonist.
- The "The" Title Confusion: When nobody is quite sure if a work's title begins with a "the".
Examples where the title itself is mistaken for something else:
Anime and Manga
- A common misconception of entry-level Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch fans is that the abbreviation is "Mermaid Melody". In fact, "Pichi Pichi Pitch", and sometimes "Pichi" or "P3", is the shortened title on every piece of merchandise, as well as the biggest part of the logo. Because this isn't common in other series (imagine calling Sailor Moon "Bishoujo Senshi" or Angelic Layer "Kidou Tenshi"), it's assumed that people just automatically think this because the first half of the title is the English part. The English and German versions of the manga have, in retaliation, moved "Mermaid Melody" to tiny font after the "Pichi Pichi Pitch".
- However, the French and Italian versions have embraced the Title Confusion, making "Mermaid Melody" bigger than "Pichi Pichi Pitch" (or, in the Italian version, "Principesse Sirene") on the logo rather than the other way around. This may be an example of a Market-Based Title, as Gratuitous English is more common in Europe than Gratuitous Japanese is, and if you must have both in the title, it would make more sense to emphasize the one that would get more attention instead of stay true to the source.
- Urusei Yatsura is often called Lum.
- That's because the English manga used the title "Lum" with "Urusei Yatsura" written in small print under it. This was probably a good decision, since people can pronounce "Lum" (especially back then before the modern manga boom).
- When the show was dubbed for French TV, it was actually re-titled Lamu (Lum's name in the dub, taken from the Japanese pronunciation / spelling of "Lum", which is ラム).
- There was a bad British dub of the early episodes (cropped into widescreen) called Lum the Invader Girl.
- The Movie of The X-Files is simply called "The X-Files"; the phrase "Fight the Future" was just its tagline. Confusing these two is rather like saying that every other episode of the show was called "The Truth is Out There". The second movie, however, is titiled The X-Files: I Want to Believe.
- See the poster; by where "Fight the Future" is placed in relation to the title, it could easily be mistaken for a subtitle. Half the time, I Want To Believe is written in the same position when it comes to the newer movie, so it looks like the writers have surrendered.
- The poster's not the half of it — "Fight the Future" appears on the spine of the DVD case.
- And that poster has another, more obvious tagline already!
- The obscure 1970s movie Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is often referred to as Death Bed: The Bed That Eats People due to Patton Oswalt's infamous rant about the movie where he consistently and incorrectly refers to the movie by that title.
- The Flemish playwright Hugo Claus originally titled his first novel The Duck Hunt, then decided to change it to The Metsiers (title in Dutch: De Metsiers), the name of the family on which the plot focuses. The novel ends on a duck hunt during which the mentally ill son of the Metsiers family gets shot in the face and dies, but Claus wanted the title to put the whole emphasis on the title characters (some scholars insist that this is such a deliberate and important choice). Then the novel was translated into French, English, etc. with the title The Duck Hunt.
- The Analects of Confucius are mistitled in English. The actual title, Lún Yǔ, means "discussion over Confucius' words" -- "analects" are a collection of excerpts from a literary work, an inaccurate description for the book in question.
- Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass: really Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There
- The British television spy series starring Patrick McGoohan was titled Danger Man in the UK, Secret Agent everywhere else, but the chorus of the American theme song by Johnny Rivers is "Secret Agent Man."
- It's stunning how often people refer to David Letterman's CBS show as Late Night with David Letterman, the title of his old NBC show which went off the air in 1993. The CBS show is called Late Show with David Letterman, and was circa 1993 seen as more of a continuation of Late Night than the actual continuation of Late Night with unknown comedy writer Conan O'Brien at the helm, which Jimmy Fallon became the host of after Conan stopped doing so. But it's been 15 years, people! Learn the name, already! Especially since Late Night still exists as Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and is completely separate from Late Show.
- Although the title of Doctor Who refers to the main character [the Doctor], his name is, in fact, not actually "Doctor Who", being instead just "the Doctor"- something most people unfamiliar to the series seem to miss.
- In fairness, he's referred to as "Doctor Who" in at least three episodes of the original series, and various comic strips published about his adventures during its run by people who should have been familiar with it also referred to him that way.
- The Beatles' ninth album (dubbed "The White Album") is actually titled "The Beatles." Because of the design, and that its release was 8 years into their fame, most people seeing the cover assume it has no printed title.
- Wing Commander Prophecy is sometimes referred to by fans as "Wing Commander 5", as the fifth "main line" WC, even though it's never been used outside the fandom using it as a working title, when almost nothing of the game was yet known to anyone not involved with production of the game.
- Mega Man & Bass used to get a similar treatment, fans stubbornly referring to it as Mega Man 9, until the real Mega Man 9 was announced.
- There is no such character as "Carmen San Diego". The Edutainment Game series instead centers on Carmen Sandiego, whose surname is spelled as one word for whatever reason.
- To quote from The Other Wiki, the video game Granada "is sometimes mistakenly referred to as 'XGranadaX' or 'Granada X' because of ambiguity in the design of the logo."
- The web comic Dinosaur Comics is still occasionally referred to as Daily Dinosaur Comics. This is where "Daily" came from. Note the top of the page "Welcome to qwantz.com", then immediately on the next line "daily dinosaur comics". Since "qwantz.com" isn't a suitable title for the comic, the descriptive text was likely mistaken for the title back in the day, and it stuck.
- Even though the most popular character is named Strong Bad, and the feature he hosts is called Strong Bad E-mails, the Web Animation series as a whole is called Homestar Runner. People get this wrong even though the website is called homestarrunner.com.
- Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines is popularly known as Stop That Pigeon or Stop The Pigeon because of its theme song. As a matter of fact, Stop That Pigeon was the series' working title, and instead of Dick Dastardly, a German baron was intended as the squadron leader.
- In an episode of Yogi's Treasure Hunt, Dastardly captures a bunch of HB characters, and starts torturing them with clips from the show. One of them remarks "Oh no! Not these Stop The Pigeon cartoons!". Bonus points for the audio being the "Stop The Pigeon" portion of the theme song looped over and over and the "clip" being Dastardly in a plane chasing the pigeon also looping over and over.
- A minor example: The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries were often thought of as just Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries, which is understandable given that the title appears five times in the theme tune without the "The"; the "The" only appears in the title card.
- The BBC TV adaptation of Journey to the West is titled Monkey but often called "Monkey Magic!" after the memorable chorus to the theme song.
- Another minor example: Pontoffel Pock, Where Are You?, a Dr. Seuss television special about a boy and a piano that takes him to any part of the world, is misremembered as Pontoffel Pock, Where the Heck Are You? due to the refrain of the title song. The only time a Title Drop without "the Heck" is used is when Pontoffel escapes and Neefa Feefa is left behind, yelling the title.
- On DVD the special is instead called Pontoffel Pock and His Magic Piano.
- The title of The Berenstain Bears is often misremembered as "The Berenstein Bears", with accompanying mispronunciation.
Examples where the meaning of the title is missed
Anime and Manga
- The "cheeky angel" in Tenshi na Konamaiki is Megumi, not the mischievous spirit who transformed Megumi into a girl.
- In a double case, Rurouni Kenshin had a period where American viewers, upon hearing the title, would ask "Which one is Roan?" This is a result of people confusing "rurouni", meaning "wandering swordsman", with "Ronin".
- In The Thin Man, the title refers to the person detective Nick Charles (who is out of shape in the book) is seeking. In the later sequel movies, it refers to Charles.
- Girls of the Playboy Mansion is not, contrary to what it sounds like, a porn show, but rather a documentary on the lives of the three Hugh Hefner wives.
- Those unfamiliar with Bambi often believe that its title character is female, since "Bambi" is today considered only a girls' name.
- Zombieland refers not to the Pacific Playland amusement park where the characters are headed, but rather to the zombie-infested world (or possibly just the United States) where they all live.
- Non-fiction example: The biologist Richard Dawkins has often remarked about how many of his critics do not seem to have read his books past the title page. The Selfish Gene in particular is a magnet for this, with people assuming that he claims that people should behave in a selfish manner, that human selfishness has some kind of genetic cause, or even that genes have emotional states comparable to selfishness in humans. There's actually been quite a bit of philosophical argument about whether or not the book itself bears this out.
- Leonard Nimoy's 1977 book I Am Not Spock. The book was an autobiography which dealt with the differences between Nimoy and his famous Star Trek character. Of course, everyone read the title and assumed that he hated playing Spock. Years later, a Paramount executive, believing this, almost refused to let Nimoy direct Star Trek III! Nimoy later published a book titled I Am Spock.
- The title Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is often assumed to mean the depth at which the Nautilus travels, which is problematic since this is greater than the diameter of the Earth. In fact, the name refers to the horizontal distance traveled underwater, coming close to twice around the world.
- Dead Souls is not about souls in the spiritual sense. The word "soul" meant "person" in Imperial Russian statistics, particularly concerning peasant population. The eponymous dead souls are serfs who died before the latest update of the state records, making them factually dead but legally alive.
- The title of the TV show Lost refers to how the greatly flawed characters are all metaphorically lost, wandering through their broken lives, before becoming physically lost on a mysterious island. This physical act of being lost is only the manner in which the series' themes and motifs are played; "getting rescued" is not the focus of the show and in fact half the characters are rescued halfway through the series and then willingly return to the island three years later.
- It was intentionally marketed as (and began as) a series about people physically lost on a mysterious island.
- The live-action/animation hybrid Vanpires had a title which actually referred to the series' villains. The good guys were named the Motorvators.
- A promotional press conference early in its run revealed that at least one reporter thought that the 3rd Rock from the Sun was where its aliens were from, rather than where they were visiting... likewise the continuity announcers on Sky 1, where the series premiered in the UK.
- Many people get confused as to what the hell the title of 30 Rock is supposed to mean. Try watching the Title Sequence carefully and you'll eventually get it. It comes from the street address of NBC's headquarters in New York City, 30 Rockefeller Center, where the show is set.
- Many non-viewers erroneously assume that Angel had a female main character, since Angel is more commonly a feminine name; in fact the title character is male. Dark Angel may have added to the confusion.
- Stargate SG-1 is often thought of as unnecessarily repetitive by those unfamiliar with the show. In actuality, it refers to the Stargate program and its flagship team: SG-1.
- On first hearing, Firefly sounds like the name of the characters' ship. In actuality, Firefly is the type of ship and Serenity is its name.
- Charles Schulz was allegedly very annoyed by fans who wrote to him under the assumption that "Peanuts" was the name of one of the characters - in the early days, he often got letters saying "I love your new strip with Peanuts and his dog!" (The name of the comic strip was not his; it was an example of Executive Meddling. The original title, "Li'l Folks", was too similar to another strip of the time.) To get around this, the Sunday strips were, for a long while, subtitled "featuring Good Ol' Charlie Brown," although the subtitle has recently been dropped, presumably because nowdays the only person who wouldn't know who Charlie Brown was would be living under a rock.
- Though in Brazil, the strip title ("Minduim", from amendoim, "Peanut") was turned into Charlie Brown's nickname.
- The Merchant of Venice is not Shylock, but Antonio, as made explicit by the original full title: The moſt excellent Hiſtorie of the Merchant of Venice. VVith the extreame crueltie of Shylocke the Iewe towards the ſayd Merchant, in cutting a iuſt pound of his flesh: and the obtaining of Portia by the choice of three chests.
- One version of Richard III was retitled simply Richard in the US because many people assumed it was third in a series, and, not having seen the first two, didn't bother to see it.
- The World Ends With You doesn't refer to The End of the World as We Know It. Rather, it describes the hero's solipsistic outlook on life at the onset of the game. He gets better.
- Mind you, the Japanese title is the Glurge-ical It's a Wonderful World.
- The title of the game series Guilty Gear is often assumed to be Gratuitous English. It in fact refers to the main character Sol Badguy, the prototype Gear who feels responsible for the creation of the Gears.
- The Modern Warfare 2 mission No Russian, the controversial "airport level" centered on the player-character killing civilians to maintain his cover in Vladimir Makarov's Ultranationalist group, is often presumed to mean "don't kill any Russians," because Makarov and the Ultranationalists are themselves Russian, and the first line is Makarov doing a Title Drop, using the phrase as an order to the player and his other lackies before the shooting starts. The airport, however, is in Russia, and as such, the people waiting in line to pass through the metal detectors before boarding outbound flights are most certainly Russian, barring a few tourists or businessmen returning home. "No Russian" means "don't speak any Russian, use English," to disguise the fact that the attack is conducted by Russians because Makarov intends to frame the United States for it.
- The protagonist of The Legend of Zelda series is not Zelda. Zelda is the princess that the hero (default name Link) must save every game.
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion does not actually take place in Oblivion, which is the series' version of Hell. The game takes place in Cyrodil, with Oblivion being visited through in-game portals.
- The popularity of actress Zooey Deschanel almost certainly caused some to think that the original Zooey (from J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey) must be female. He's not.
- There was a "Star Wars: Clone Wars" comic series long before the production of either television series. It was then followed up with "Clone Wars Adventures" then simply "Star Wars: The Clone Wars", in turn followed up by "Star Wars The Clone Wars" graphic novel series. Throw in a book series and several video games using only the words "Clone Wars" as their titles and you'd think someone would be able to think to at least subtitle them. Some people even mistakenly refer to Attack of the Clones as "The Clone Wars".
- When Hal Roach began his series of child-centered comedy shorts in the 1920s, his titles included Roach's Rascals and The Terrible Ten. But because the first short was titled Our Gang, the public started referring to them as "Our Gang comedies". By the time MGM took over production in 1938, Our Gang had become the official title. The series' Syndication Title, The Little Rascals, wasn't popular until the mid-1960s, when King World sold the shorts to TV stations.
- In Movies, the Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises had sufficient inconsistencies in their naming conventions that their first installments have been retroactively retitled.
- The first Star Wars film was originally titled "Star Wars". It was not titled "Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope" until its second rerelease 3 years later. George Lucas claims this was because the execs thought nobody would get why this was Episode IV ... instead of which, nobody got why the second film was Episode V. By then, of course, he had enough Protection From Editors to get away with it.
- The first Indiana Jones film was titled "Raiders of the Lost Ark". It has been renamed as "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark" to fit better with the later movies, although the onscreen title is still Raiders of the Lost Ark.
- Other confusion that Star Wars evokes is when mentioning numbers, since it started from the middle (when you mention "the first" can be either IV or I).
- A similar film example is the Rambo series: The first movie in the series is named First Blood, the second Rambo: First Blood Part II, the third Rambo III... and to add to the confusion, the fourth movie in the series is simply titled Rambo.
- In Europe, the fourth Rambo movie is titled John Rambo.
- Probably because First Blood was called simply Rambo in Europe.
- And also because it was the working title, on the footsteps of the previous "Stallone revival" (Rocky Balboa, the sixth movie of the boxer).
- In Europe, the fourth Rambo movie is titled John Rambo.
- The X-Men movies are largely themselves to blame for the confusion around their titles. While the first is simply X-Men, the second is identified in its opening sequence as X2 but in its closing sequence as X2: X-Men United, and in publicity material is also promoted as X-Men 2, X-Men 2: X-Men United and simply X-Men United. Similarly, the third entry is variously known as X3, X3: The Last Stand, X-Men 3, X-Men 3: The Last Stand and The Last Stand. The next movie in the series, a prequel, gained the unnecessarily lengthy X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and is referred to simply as Wolverine by most sane people.
- Another Star Wars example: a video game series set in the New Republic Era, featuring Kyle Katarn, a mercenary-turned-Jedi (although he was not the player character in all of them). The games were named: Dark Forces, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II (with an expansion pack, Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith), Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, and Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (without any numbers despite being a sequel to Jedi Knight II, which brought yet more confusion).
- The first game in the Command & Conquer series was retronymmed "Tiberian Dawn".
- That was always the subtitle at least, though you wouldn't know it without the readme.txt file.
- Bubble Bobble; Rainbow Islands: Story of Bubble Bobble II; Parasol Stars: Story of Bubble Bobble III; Bubble Bobble Part 2; Bubble Bobble II aka Bubble Symphony; Bubble Memories: Story of Bubble Bobble III. Non-Linear Sequels have you confused yet?
- Modern Warfare 2 originally didn't include the series name, Call of Duty; the original Modern Warfare was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. When it was discovered that the absence of the series name led to fans being less aware of Modern Warfare 2, it was added back on. The special editions of the game still omit it on their box art.
- The "Doom/Quake with a crossbow" series: Heretic; Hexen; Hexen II; Heretic II.
- There seems to be some confusion about whether Animated, the latest[when?] Transformers series, has a colon in the title, so it's either Transformers: Animated (like on the Cartoon Network site), or Transformers Animated (which shows up on all press releases about the series).
- Cartoon Network "up next" announcements sometimes make things even worse by appending "Series" to the end.
- After the success of Star Wars: Clone Wars, the animated series set between episode II and III, Lucasfilm decided to create a new animated series set in the same time period called Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Enough said.
Titles which are plainly understood but overly long, are usually abbreviated by fans
Anime and Manga
- Several of Kurt Vonnegut's novels are have overly long titles and the extra is generally ignored:
- God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine is simply referred to as God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
- Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is generally called Slaughterhouse-Five. Besides his liking to create long names, the reason for adding, "The Children's Crusade" to it is explained in the book. As he was thinking of writing the book he promised the wife of one of his fellow soldiers that the book would not glorify war, promising it would be called "The Children's Crusade", to note that most of the "men" who fought in World War II were 17 to 23 years old.
- Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday, everyone just calls it Breakfast of Champions.
- Slapstick, or Lonesome No More!, called just Slapstick.
- Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide is usually referred to as "Ned's Declassified" or just "Ned's"- however, the TV listings grid in Gannett newspapers lists it as "School", seemingly picking the most confusingly generic word from the title...
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is usually referred to by fans as "The Hitchhiker's Guide" or sometimes "H2G2." (The in-universe guidebook of the same name is referred to in-story and out as simply "The Guide".) Most of the books in the series have similarly long titles (if not even longer), and get referred to by acronyms or significant words.
- Temple of Elemental Evil technically has a "The" in front of it, but absolutely no one uses it (It gets a smaller font size on the original's logo even). Similarly, the computer game adaptation has the subtitle "A Classic Greyhawk Adventure", but it isn't used outside of the cover, first patch installer, and copyright screen.
- Because of the confusing nature of the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series (for more information, see above), each game can have multitudes of abbreviations such as JKII, JO, JKII:JO, SW:JO, DFIII.
- They are almost always called, in order, Dark Forces, Jedi Knight, Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy.
- Since almost everything else that Apple produces followed the same lowercase I and one word format (iPod, iPad, iTunes, iPhone) for the sake of consistency, a lot of people will shorten the iPod Touch down to simply the iTouch. However, any time you see this in an article, expect the first comment to be something along the lines of "It's called an iPod Touch. The iTouch is a knockoff!"
Titles that the writers are inconsistent with.
- Comics, especially one-shots suffering from Colon Cancer, sometimes have a different title in the indicia than on the cover.
- The BBC Radio 4 sitcom You'll Have Had Your Tea: The Doings of Hamish and Dougal. At least, that's what the announcer calls it. The BBC website calls it Hamish and Dougal or Hamish and Dougal: You'll Have Had Your Tea (the Radio 7 Comedy A-Z lists both seperately) and the CD covers say either Hamish And Dougal: The hilarous spin-off from I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue or I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue: The Doings of Hamish and Dougal.
- Neverwinter Nights 2's first expansion is referred to as both "Mask of the Betrayer" and "Mask of The Betrayer" (The Betrayer is a character's title, so it's an exception to normal grammar rules). Even the game itself is split when using "The Betrayer" vs "the Betrayer", but the newer instances (such as the gold and platinum releases) favor capital T.
- The X-Men Licensed Game for the NES is titled The Uncanny X-Men on the cover, but Marvel's X-Men is what the title screen says.
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture for the Vectrex is identified on the title screen as Star Trek - The Game. It's a video game, not a motion picture.
Titles which are very similar, but not the same.
- There were some, only going by title and not having read a synopsis or seeing a trailer, thought that 28 Days Later was a sequel to 28 Days. 28 Days Later was about a zombie outbreak, 28 Days (no "later") was Sandra Bullock playing a woman in a rehab program. It didn't help that 28 Days Later was released 2 years after 28 Days, about the expected time for a sequel to be produced.
- 3rd Rock from the Sun and 30 Rock, made all the more confusing by the fact that the former's title is commonly shortened to "3rd Rock". 3rd Rock is about aliens living on Earth, i.e. the third planet (rock) from the sun. 30 Rock is a Work Com set at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, otherwise known as "30 Rock". Amusingly, they're both NBC Sitcoms.
- Some people assume that The Beatles' "Revolution 9" is the song that has the lyrics "You say you want a revolution..."; they're actually thinking of "Revolution 1" (or "Revolution," the B-side to "Hey Jude"). "Revolution 9" is the weird sound collage with the voice repeating, "Number nine... Number nine... Number nine..." (which notoriously sounds like "Turn me on, dead man" when played backwards).
- In Through the Looking-Glass, the White Knight explains to Alice that, though the name of his song is called "Haddocks' Eyes," its name really is "The Aged Aged Man." However, that's not what the song is called, which is "Ways and Means"; and, finally, the song itself is "A-sitting On a Gate."