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This is a Common Fan Fallacy associated with Character Titles. It works as follows:

The work is titled X; therefore, X is the protagonist.

This is simply not always the case.

This is a Sister Trope of I Am Not Shazam. The difference is that, in these cases, the confusion arises from the title of the work referring to someone other than the main protagonist, such as a secondary character or antagonist. Viewers know who the person is but incorrectly assume said person is the protagonist.

  • I Am Not Shazam: People correctly know which character is the protagonist but think the title refers to that protagonist's name.
  • Protagonist Title Fallacy: People correctly know to whom or what the title refers but wrongly assume that the eponymous character is the protagonist because his/her name is the title.

When done with a Secondary Character Title, this can lead to Adaptation Decay where the hero is actually Demoted to Extra, making the adaptation an unintentional Perspective Flip.

When done with an Antagonist Title, this guarantees Draco in Leather Pants, as the reader or viewer assumes the villain is actually the one they're supposed to root for. Ron the Death Eater easily follows for the true protagonist(s). If this is done intentionally, it's not an error but deliberate invocation of Evil Is Cool.

Compare other forms of Title Confusion. When someone in media doing a report on a fictional work commits this fallacy, it crosses with Cowboy Bebop at His Computer. When protagonists gradually switched over time, this crosses with Artifact Title. May be a result of Wolverine Publicity. See also Gannon Banned.

Examples of Protagonist Title Fallacy include:


Anime and Manga Edit

  • Akira. The main characters are actually TETSUO! And KANEDA!!
  • Princess Mononoke is the nickname for San, the human girl raised by wolf gods. However, the main character is Ashitaka.
  • In To Aru Majutsu no Index, Touma is the protagonist, not Index (Who is still the second most important character).
  • Some fans argue that, being the name of the series, Soul Eater Evans must therefore be the main character and so worthy of the most attention. Yet it is not he but his meister Maka Albarn who gets the most page-time of the two.
  • Doraemon. The main character is actually Nobita.
  • Samurai Champloo is another arguable example. The title, chanpuru refers to an Okinawan dish that is a fusion of various things. Since Mugen is also from Okinawa and incorporates a "Chanpuru" sword style, people assume he is the protagonist (it doesn't help that Mugen is an expy of Spike, the protagonist of Cowboy Bebop). Actually, Fuu fits a bit better. It is her motivation of finding "the sunflower samurai" that drives the plot.
  • Kagome is the protagonist and POV character of the show Inuyasha. (Although Inuyasha is the other half of the Battle Couple and gets about the same amount of screen time.)
  • Axis Powers Hetalia has stopped focusing on the Axis or Italy long ago.
  • The Lyrical Nanoha franchise was almost never about the title character. Much more, each installment is the story of the "villains" whom Nanoha (and the previous seasons' villains) is to befriend to smithereens in it and, to a lesser degree, of younger heroes she serves to inspire. It's quite telling that the franchise first really kicked off when Fate Testarossa was introduced almost half-way through The Original Series. Still, each installment faithfully keeps her name in their titles, even ones that hardly feature her at all.
  • Medaka Box: Despite being the title character and The Hero, it is debatable whether Medaka is truly the protagonist of the series. Other contenders include Zenkichi and even Kumagawa.

Film (Animated) Edit

  • Disney's Sleeping Beauty: The actual protagonists are the three fairies -- a Perspective Flip for the better that the merchandising is still unaware of.
  • Finding Nemo: While the eponymous character does gain development, it's fairly clear his father Marlin is the protagonist. After all, it would be pretty hard for the movie to be about Nemo searching for himself.

Film (Live Action) Edit

  • 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.
  • Dr. Strangelove: The title character is more of a Dr. Exposition than anything else.
  • Ichi the Killer: The main character is named Kakihara (Ichi is an assassin hired to kill him), but many people make the mistaken assumption that Kakihara is Ichi since his face is on the posters and home video covers rather than Ichi's.
  • Beetlejuice: Antagonist Title; the main protagonists are actually the Maitlands (Adam and Barbara). The eponymous character actually only appears for about 11 minutes of the film.
  • While Rocky is a major character in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, he's not the protagonist, nor the antagonist. That honor goes to Brad and Janet, and to Dr. Frank-N-Furter, respectively.
  • The protagonist of the Oliver Stone film JFK is not President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy only appears in the movie in camera footage and in a doctor's flashback as a corpse. The protagonist of the story is Jim Garrison, the DA investigating JFK's assassination (who does bear a few similarities to the real Jim Garrison, though not many).
  • In The Third Man, the title character does not appear on camera until the second half of the film, and even then it's only for about ten minute's screentime. The protagonist is Holly Martins, played by Joseph Cotten. The confusion is cemented further by the fact that said title character is now one of the most iconic film villains of all time.
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) was really more about Charlie. And Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) focused more strongly on Willy Wonka.
  • In Rachel Getting Married, the protagonist is Kym, Rachel's sister.
  • The Last Samurai refers to all those who fought in the Satsuma Rebellion, not Tom Cruise. Part of the confusion is that Samurai can refer both to a single warrior and to a group, in this case it was the latter.
    • A fact completely lost on the Swedish translators, who made it Den siste samurajen, meaning the same except explicitly singular (the plural form would be De sista samurajerna). Same stuff in Russian, with Posledniy samuray instead of Poslednie samurai.
      • The same can be said about the Italian title, being L'ultimo samurai (singular), instead of Gli ultimi samurai (plural).
  • Tron is a Secondary Character Title. The main character is Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges).
  • The Legend of Bagger Vance: Wolverine Publicity -- Will Smith gets top billing and his God in Human Form character is in the title, but he plays guru and caddy to the protagonist, Rannulph Junuh.
  • Chasing Amy does not feature the eponymous "Amy" at all. The protagonist is Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and he in in love with Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams).
  • The main character of The Big Lebowski is The Dude, not the titular character.

Literature Edit

 Pippin: Hurray! Here is our noble cousin! Make way for Frodo, Lord of the Ring!

Gandalf: Hush! Evil things do not come into this valley; but all the same we should not name them. The Lord of the Ring is not Frodo, but the master of the Dark Tower of Mordor, whose power is again stretching out over the world!

  • Barnaby Rudge: Secondary Character Title. The novel doesn't have a real central protagonist, but Barnaby plays second fiddle to the Chester and Haredale families.
  • The Ugly American: While there are "ugly Americans" in The Ugly American, particularly Joe Bing, the character known as "the Ugly American" in the book is actually quite clever and culturally sensitive.

Live Action TV Edit

  • Tin Man: Secondary Character Title; Cain is simply the focus of a secondary character arc.
  • Abigail's Party. Abigail doesn't appear, nor do we see her party. The actual party is one thrown by her neighbours, which her mother attends.
  • Life with Derek: The protagonist is Casey, and the title refers to her new life with her step-brother.
  • In-universe, How I Met Your Mother's Barney Stinson combines this with Misaimed Fandom, making bizarre and often disturbing justifications for how a film's actual villain is supposedly the title character and why he roots for him. Specifically, he roots for Hans Gruber in Die Hard ("Charming international bandit. In the end he dies hard. He's the title character."), Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid, (he describes Daniel as a scrawny loser who barely even knows karate, hence Johnny is the real Karate Kid) and The Terminator (who is, after all, the title character). Strangely, he does not apply this to The Breakfast Club, and only roots for Vernon because he wears a suit.
    • The series itself is also an example. Except for her ankle for a brief moment in one episode, we haven't so far ever seen the titular mother. (Or at least it isn't yet possible to discern who she is, if she already did appear on screen.)
  • Gossip Girl. Although for a few episodes in season five Serena was Gossip Girl.

Newspaper Comics Edit

  • Blondie is the name of Dagwood Bumstead's wife. This is confusing to some kids who read the comics, which mostly (but not always) follow Dagwood, and assume that "Blondie" is a Gender Blender Name in this case. This has elements of Artifact Title in that, although Blondie is still a character (and thus this is a Secondary Character Title), in the very beginning Blondie was the protagonist.
  • Funky Winkerbean is a Secondary Character Title. The strip was originally an ensemble comic with no single protagonist (Funky being one of the teenage characters), but since then the title of protagonist has settled on Funky's best friend, Les Moore.
  • Keeping Up with the Joneses was a popular strip in the early 20th century, and its title remains a common vernacular phrase to this day. But the strip's main characters were the McGinises; the eponymous Joneses were their (never-seen) neighbors.
  • The original protagonist of Judge Parker was Judge Alan Parker. Soon after the strip started, though, the character of Sam Driver was introduced, and nowadays he and his wife are the main characters.
  • Barney Google and Snuffy Smith can go for years without featuring the first title character.

Theatre Edit

  • Gilbert and Sullivan operettas:
    • Iolanthe, the actual character of Iolanthe actually doesn't do too many important things.
    • The Mikado, the eponymous character doesn't appear until well into the second act.
    • Trial By Jury, the jury acts as a (heavily biased) Greek Chorus to an ensemble cast; the beleaguered Edwin may almost stand as a protagonist.
    • The Pirates of Penzance are not protagonists, although a former one of their number is.
  • From William Shakespeare:
    • Julius Caesar. Caesar is in only three scenes; the protagonist is Brutus.
    • Henry IV parts 1 and 2 are mainly about Henry's son Prince Hal (later Henry V) and his relationship with his friends, including the legendary Falstaff.
    • In Cymbeline, the protagonist is Cymbeline's daughter, Imogen.
  • Fiddler On the Roof: The protagonist is Tevye the milkman, who neither plays the violin nor stands on a roof. The Fiddler is a walk-on character with very few appearances and no spoken lines. (He functions as a metaphor for the show's theme of balancing tradition and modernity.)

Video Games Edit

  • Lufia: Secondary Character Title, and she's only in the first game, so in sequels it becomes an Artifact Title.
  • Link is the main character in The Legend of Zelda games, not Zelda.
  • The protagonist of the Valis series is named Yuko (at least for the first three games), "Valis" is simply the name of her sword.
  • "Metroid" refers to floating, energy-stealing jellyfish monsters, not the protagonist Samus Aran. In fact, they only appear in the last level of the first game.

Web Original Edit

Western Animation Edit