Historical Character Confusion

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/Firesign_Marx_Lennon_7320.jpg
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 the 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 Buonarroti 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. Compare Historical Hilarity and Wrongfully Attributed.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    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!

    Comic Books 
  • One issue of Rat-Man that parodied Star Trek had the same gag as the Family Guy episode listed below: it began with a commemoration of the first man on the moon, but when the speaker starts talking about "his beautiful music" it becomes clear that they're talking about Louis (and not Neil) Armstrong.

    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 Schulz 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.
  • From Bull Durham:
    Annie: You ever heard of Walt Whitman?
    Nuke: Who's he play for?
  • An early scene in Tommy Boy has Tommy filling in the name "Herbie Hancock" on a history test question about the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. Later Tommy "corrects" someone who uses the term "John Hancock" for a signature.
  • Played with in The LEGO Movie - when Vitruvius is addressing the assembled Lego Master Builders (by name), he mentions "Michelangelo, Michelangelo...". The Renaissance artist and the Turtle are sitting next to each other.

    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 apparently lacks computer history knowledge and thinks Turing worked for John Carmack (Turing died sixteen years before Carmack was born).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Bill McNeal on NewsRadio. "Big Chief Custer? No, he scalped many palefaces that day."
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has this exchange:
    Will: Malcolm's one of my heroes, too.
    Hilary: Oh, I idolize Malcolm! He's the only reason I watch The Cosby Show.
  • In an episode of Are You Being Served?, Mr Grainger comments that a plan the staff come up with to avoid starting work earlier sounds like something Bulldog Drummond would have come up with to defeat Oscar Peterson. It has to be pointed out to him that Oscar Peterson is a pianist, and that Bulldog Drummond's arch-nemesis was Carl Peterson.
  • Horrible Histories: One Cliff Whiteley segment opens with Cliff on the phone telling a newspaper "Albert Einstein was the one with a theory of relativity. Frankenstein was the one with a monster. Now print an apology!"
  • In the Girl Meets World episode "Girl Meets Communism," Riley makes a mistake very similar to the page image. Maya of all people corrects her at the end, and it seems to be one of the reasons she rejects "grading Communism."

    Music 

    Radio 

    Tabletop Games 

    Theatre 
  • In the musical adaptation of The Full Monty, the lines in "Big Ass Rock":
    "I've got a friend, like Carole King, or was it Carly Simon, used to sing, I always get those two confused, but anyway—I've got a friend."

    Video Games 
  • As revealed in Meet the Soldier, the Soldier of Team Fortress 2 attributes the story of Noah's ark to Sun Tzu instead:
    Soldier: "Then he [Sun Tzu] used his fight money to buy two of every animal on Earth, and then he herded them onto a boat, and then he beat the crap out of every single one!"

    Web Original 
  • Conversed on Fundies Say the Darndest Things. One acquisition for their museum of stupid fundie quotes said the following:
    "Lennon, the founder of Russian Communism, said that if you tell a lie loud enough and often enough people will believe it."
  • Not Always Right has some examples from customers, especially of museums and historical sites, including this example. While the employee never figures out what the patron actually means, they don't, despite repeated insistence to the contrary, mean to say "Machiavelli." And he wasn't French either.

    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.
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold: In "Cry Freedom Fighters!", Plastic Man mixes up Thomas Jefferson and George Jefferson, and refers to John Paul Jones and Ringo.
  • The Simpsons: In "Eeny Teeny Maya Moe", Marge phones Moe's and asks for Homer. Moe tries to cover by saying that he thought she was asking for Heimlich Himmler, the guy who invented the Heimlich maneuver note . When Marge says they are different people, Moe claims they are both in the tavern.

    Real Life 

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HistoricalCharacterConfusion