Created By: MTsurugi on December 23, 2011 Last Edited By: StarSword on April 19, 2013
Troped

Historical Character Confusion

A character confuses one historical figure with another.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope

Rolling Updates, Needs a Better Description

Bob Howard: "You heard of Alan Turing? The father of programming?"
Peter-Fred Young: "Didn't he work for John Carmack?"
Bob: (thinking) Oh, it's another world out there.
-- "Pimpf"

This trope is when somebody mistakes one historical figure for someone else (or, sometimes, for a fictional character), despite the two having little or nothing in common, exemplifying their lack of intelligence. In speculative fiction settings it may also result from the fog of history getting information muddled.

The source of confusion varies. Maybe the names sound alike (Vladimir Lenin and John Lennon), or their fields are tangentially related (Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein), or the more contemporary figure is a reference to the older (Michelangelo the painter and Michelangelo the turtle).

See also Name's the Same, which is mostly for fun but can be a source of this confusion. Contrast Artistic License – History, which is when the author gets something like this confused.

Examples

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
  • This line from the Pokémon episode "Haunter Vs. Kadabra";
    Jessie: Oh, James, this is the greatest discovery since Einstein invented the light bulb!
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Film]]
  • In Clerks II, Randall compares a guy in a wheelchair to Anne Frank, "The chick that was all duhhh, till the miracle worker showed up and knocked some smarts into her". Dante tries to correct him by saying that was Helen Keller and that Anne Frank hid from the Nazis and had a diary. Randall then says he was right all along because the wheelchair guy had a blog.
  • In The Big Lebowski, The Dude is struggling with a Lenin quote ("You look for the person who will benefit...") which he cannot remember properly. Donny, trying to be helpful, repeatedly mentions Lennon's 1967 song "I Am the Walrus".
  • Facing the Giants: A Who's on First?-esque conversation involves, among other things, the speaker confusing Charles Schultz with the pilot Charles Lindbergh (then him with the Hindenburg). He's clearly joking, though, to mess with The Comically Serious coach trying to correct him.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Literature]]
  • In The Laundry Series, the short story "Pimpf" has Bob get paired with an intern named Peter-Fred Young, a Neverwinter Nights modder who almost summoned an Eldritch Abomination with one of his scenarios. Bob tries to explain what the Laundry does, mentioning Alan Turing in the process. PFY's lack of historical computing knowledge results in the page quote.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Live-Action TV]] [[/folder]]

[[folder:Radio]]
  • In one of the Fred Dagg radio skits, Fred mentions that Abraham Lincoln was shot by a man called Booth, who he always thought founded the Salvation Army (confusing John Wilkes Booth with William Booth for those who don't get the reference). Of course, he then follows this up by adding he might be thinking of the man who invented the telephone box.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
  • Paranoia XP. In the Communism-obsessed Alpha Complex several hundred years in the future, Groucho Marx and John Lennon are confused with Karl Marx and Lenin.
  • This is combined with Composite Character as the basic concept behind the comedy RPG Diana, Warrior Princess. According to the people making a TV series far in the future, any British royal with the same name must be the same person. So Diana is married to Bonnie Prince Charlie, whose mother is Elizabeth the Queen Mother, sister to Mary Queen of Scots. In the sequel, Elvis, the Legendary Tours, Elvis's archenemy is his brother, Abbot Costello, and his companions are the left-wing John Lenin and the right-wing Joe McCartney.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Theatre]] [[/folder]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
  • In an episode of American Dad!, Stan tries to encourage his son and says:
    "Just look at Helen Keller. Deaf, dumb and blind, and she wrote that whole diary in her little attic during World War II. She doesn't sound so dumb to me."
  • Histeria! had a character named Pepper Mills who would ask historical characters for their autograph, then realize that she had mistaken them for someone else.
  • Family Guy: In the song "You've Got a Lot to See" Brian sings to an old lady shut-in about all the things out in the world that she's missing. A group of wild rappers appear during the bridge listing events she's missed, including:
    Diane Simmons: Neil Armstrong landing on the moon.
    Meg: Neil Armstrong - wait was he that trumpet guy?
  • Even after meeting the historical Leonardo da Vinci, Fry from Futurama keeps confusing him with Leonardo DiCaprio.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Real Life]] [[/folder]]

Indexes: Comedy Tropes, Stupidity Tropes

Community Feedback Replies: 37
  • December 23, 2011
    DragonQuestZ
    Why focus on just these two? There are other examples of people mixing up historical figures, with the same characterization purpose.
  • December 23, 2011
    Psychobabble6
    Wow, that's a weird coincidence that you found three examples of those two. Agreed with Dragon Quest Z - expand it.
  • December 23, 2011
    MTsurugi
    OK, I guess...wouldn't that be more like Artistic License History but more specific?
  • December 23, 2011
    Noaqiyeum
    No, Artistic License History is for authors. This would be for when characters don't do the research.
  • December 23, 2011
    Duncan
    If you want to expand this...

  • December 24, 2011
    Koveras
    Historical Person Mix Up? Trope Namers are not in vogue anymore.
  • December 24, 2011
    JonnyB
    Real Life: This is a long-running meme on Fark.com.
  • December 24, 2011
    TonyG
    • Bill McNeal on News Radio. "Big Chief Custer? No, he scalped many palefaces that day."
    • Histeria had a character named Pepper Mills who would ask historical characters for their autograph, then realize that she had mistaken them for someone else.
  • December 24, 2011
    TwinBird
    This mixup is pretty common, I'll admit, but not quite common enough to stand on its own. At the very least, Lenin/Lennon turns up enough to fit alongside it - maybe a section for the general trope, and one for frequent subjects?
  • December 24, 2011
    randomsurfer
  • December 24, 2011
    MidnightRambler
    This specific mix-up is Chairs Sit On People. Characters confusing historical celebrities in general (to show off the character's ignorance) is a valid trope.
  • December 24, 2011
    MTsurugi
    Thank you all. I've modified the trope.
  • December 25, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Can lead to a Chain Of Corrections.

    Real Life: Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder did this in 2010 while complaining about referees.
    Like they didn't see Chad Henne get hit twice when he slid. Yeah, a little Stevie Wonder and Anne Frank.
  • April 14, 2013
    wanderlustwarrior
    Bump.
  • April 14, 2013
    CaveCat
    • This line from the Pokemon episode "Haunter Vs. Kadabra";
      Jessie: Oh, James, this is the greatest discovery since Einstein invented the light bulb!
  • April 14, 2013
    DunDun
    If we want a better-sounding name, Historical Character Confusion.

    I think the description ought to say something like "Contrast Artistic License History, which is when the author gets something like this confused," instead of just "look at this, too."
  • April 14, 2013
    StarSword
    I guess I can take this over.

    Literature:
  • April 15, 2013
    randomsurfer
    Family Guy: In the song "You've Got a Lot to See" Brian sings to an old lady shut-in about all the things out in the world that she's missing. A group of wild rappers appear during the bridge listing events she's missed, including:
    Diane Simmons: Neil Armstrong landing on the moon.
    Meg: Neil Armstrong - wait was he that trumpet guy?
  • April 15, 2013
    jokerisland
    In The Big Lebowski, The Dude is struggling with a Lenin quote ("You look for the person who will benefit...") which he cannot remember properly. Donny, trying to be helpful, repeatedly mentions Lennon's 1967 song "I Am the Walrus".
  • April 15, 2013
    StarSword
    ^Thanks for the ZCE fix.
  • April 15, 2013
    foxley
    In one of the Fred Dagg radio skits, Fred mentions that Abraham Lincoln was shot by a man called Booth, who he always thought founded the Salvation Army (confusing John Wilkes Booth with William Booth for those who don't get the reference). Of course, he then follows this up by adding he might be thinking of the man who invented the telephone box.
  • April 15, 2013
    StarSword
    ^What medium do I namespace that to?
  • April 15, 2013
    Tuckerscreator
  • April 15, 2013
    StarSword
    ^Kicked the page into its correct namespace and added it.
  • April 16, 2013
    Arivne
    ^^^ Radio?

    Tabletop Games
    • Paranoia XP. In the Communism-obsessed Alpha Complex several hundred years in the future, Groucho Marx and John Lennon are confused with Karl Marx and Lenin.
  • April 16, 2013
    foxley
    The Fred Dagg example is radio.
  • April 16, 2013
    StarSword
    Ok, I just wasn't clear cause I looked the guy up on Wikipedia and it just says he originated on NZBC, which seemed to be the New Zealand equivalent of PBS and NPR but the article wasn't clear whether he was on the radio side or the TV side.
  • April 16, 2013
    MonaNaito
    Live Action TV:

    Western Animation:
  • April 16, 2013
    foxley
    ^^The confusion is understandable as the character appeared on both television and radio. That particular joke was from one of his radio sketches.
  • April 17, 2013
    StarSword
    Bump. Can I get some description input?
  • April 18, 2013
    DunDun
    Are Hellen Keller and Anne Frank really mixed up that much? I get the Lenin vs. Lennon thing (I mixed them up at the library myself)... Actually, should we just not list "common" mixed up people? and instead refer to the list over on Historical Domain Character?
  • April 18, 2013
    UltramarineAlizarin
    For the description:

    The source of confusion varies. Maybe the names sound alike (Vladimir Lenin and John Lennon), or their fields are tangentially related (Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein), or the more contemporary figure is a reference to the older (Michelangelo the painter and Michelangelo the turtle).

    Actually, looking back on that last example, is it possible to expand the title and description to include melding of pop culture with history? I'm sure there are many other examples of historical figures confused for fictional characters.
  • April 18, 2013
    DaibhidC
    Tabletop Games:
    • This is combined with Composite Character as the basic concept behind the comedy RPG Diana, Warrior Princess. According to the people making a TV series far in the future, any British royal with the same name must be the same person. So Diana is married to Bonnie Prince Charlie, whose mother is Elizabeth the Queen Mother, sister to Mary Queen of Scots. In the sequel, Elvis, the Legendary Tours, Elvis's archenemy is his brother, Abbot Costello, and his companions are the left-wing John Lenin and the right-wing Joe McCartney.
  • April 18, 2013
    StarSword
    ^^That's good. I've added that this can work with real versus fictional.

    ^Adding.
  • April 19, 2013
    StarSword
    Hats? Suggestions? Examples?
  • April 19, 2013
    DunDun
    Gave it a hat already; can't think of examples. My only suggestion would be--as I said alread--to link to Historical Domain Character somewhere in the description. Besides that, I can't think of anything to make this better (and even then, I don't think it's wholly necessary).
  • April 19, 2013
    StarSword
    ^Potholed it at the first instance of "historical figure" in the description.

    Five hats. Trope deployed.
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