->'''Atia''': My congratulations, you're good as king now.\\
'''Octavian''': Not king, merely First Citizen.
-->-- ''Series/{{Rome}}''

This is a variation of TheEmperor. Maybe he's a dictator who controls half the universe with an iron fist, whom no one dares to oppose. Maybe he can order a planet destroyed and no one will so much as try to object. You will probably expect [[TheMagnificent his title]] to be [[TryToFitThatOnABusinessCard three pages]] of BadassBoast, probably ending with something pompous like "TheMagnificent."

Or maybe he is a ReasonableAuthorityFigure who recognizes that blatant displays of power, even just by holding the title "Emperor", may cause unnecessary complications in the affairs of state.

Either way, his title is short, simple, laconic and unpretentious, quite possibly little more than a job descriptor. His authority doesn't come from his title; it comes from ''[[AsskickingEqualsAuthority himself]]''.

Also, it's a perfect way to escape responsibility. You don't ''rule'' anything, after all; you're just "a" citizen. It can demonstrate how well you've [[BreadAndCircuses stayed attuned to the common people and their needs]], or [[BlatantLies shameless propaganda to present such an image]]. It may also be necessary to not violate tradition, the constitution or both. Say your country has a century old aversion to having a king. Well, if you are just the "hereditary first citizen" you are not a king, are you? Or your country's constitution has term limits on the presidency. Surely there AintNoRule against being "head of the national guard" forever?

The pretense that he is just a PermanentElectedOfficial is common. May preside over a HereditaryRepublic.

This is TruthInTelevision, OlderThanFeudalism, and much more common in RealLife than in fiction.

See also ModestRoyalty and ReasonableAuthorityFigure. Contrast TheMagnificent, IHaveManyNames and AuthorityInNameOnly.

Often found ruling a PeoplesRepublicOfTyranny.


[[folder: FanFiction]]
* ''WesternAnimation/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagic'' examples:
** In the ''FanFic/PonyPOVSeries''' [[BadFuture Epilogue/Dark World]] timeline, [[BigBad Discord]] constantly refers to himself by (usually random) titles that imply he's an elected official, rather than an EvilOverlord.
** A fair amount of fanfic uses a variation of this trope to explain why [[PrincessesRule Luna and Celestia call themselves "Princess", instead of "Queen" or something higher]]. The theory is that the land now known as Equestria -- or pony civilization in some earlier form -- once had a queen, but [[GodSaveUsFromTheQueen she wasn't especially popular]][[note]]ranging from "mostly competent but autocratic and ruthless" to "[[TheCaligula Caligula-grade batshit insane]]", depending on the fanfic[[/note]] and the present royal sisters acquired a distaste for the title. ''FanFic/ABriefHistoryOfEquestria'' is a prominent example.
*** This actually has support in canon. Queen Majesty, in the '80s comics, [[WhatDoYouMeanItsForKids was known to do some pretty nasty stuff]] [[FamilyUnfriendlyDeath to deal with villains]], and stories like that sometimes grow in the telling.
* ''FanFic/{{Neomorphs}}'': When [[BigBad the Visser]] reorganizes the Yeerk Empire into the New Yeerk Order, he refuses the position of Emperor, instead continuing to go by his rank title.
* ''[[http://wiki.alternatehistory.com/doku.php?id=timelines:tl-191_after_the_end Timeline-191: After the End]]'' sees Japan's military government collapse at the end of the Fourth Pacific War, being replaced by a syndicalist revolution. The leader of this new government subsequently grants himself the title of "People's Friend".

* A variant occurs in ''Film/{{Downfall}}''. After Eva Braun marries Hitler an officer briefly stumbles over what to call her, since they never bothered to come up with a title for the wife of a Fuhrer. She tells him to just call her "Frau Hitler".

* The Literature/{{Foundation}} series by Creator/IsaacAsimov has a series of powerful offices and personages, all distinct from one another, that match the trope exactly.
** The Mule styles himself only "First Citizen of the Union" despite complete domination of 1/10 of the entire Galaxy and [[PsychicPowers impressive mental powers]]. Part of this stemmed from his innate inferiority complex, as he was aware that no matter how impressively he titled himself he could never change the fact that he was physically misshapen and almost comically deformed. At least two others claimed the title after the Mule's death, but they had neither the personal or imperial power that the Mule possessed.
** In later books, the highest title, which commanded the most respect and ruled over more territory and people than the Mule ever did, was simply "Mayor of Terminus". It remained from the times when the Foundation was but a single city on an undeveloped world and persisted at least into the times of the Foundation ruling a third of the Milky Way.
** The head of the Second Foundation is "First Speaker", which is [[ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin a literal job-description]]: He gets to talk first at meetings.
** The Commdor of [[PeoplesRepublicOfTyranny Korell]] [[BlatantLies claims]] that Commdor simply means "the first citizen of our Republic".
* The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork in the Literature/{{Discworld}} series, whose title simply means "member of a political family".
** It does seem to be a real elected office, though: in ''Night Watch'' it's mentioned that the guilds elect him, and the Patrician has an official residence.
** One man, one vote... he's the man, so he gets the vote.
** The Archchancellor of Unseen University likes to describe his position as being "first among equals". Though he puts more emphasis on the "first."
** Ponder Stibbons, who wields more-or-less absolute power over the University by virtue of being the [[BeleagueredAssistant only one who ever does any work]], doesn't actually have a title ''at all'' - at least not one that explains his power. His power ultimately stems from holding seventeen staff positions simultaneously, each of which has an unimportant title associated with it.
* To some extent, the Stewards of Minas Tirith in ''Literature/TheLordOfTheRings''. Though they aren't the kings, they control the city much as a king would and in fact the Steward Denethor of "Return of the King" didn't want to give up his title because of the power.
** The Lady Galadriel of Lothlórien. She controls everything that happens and can read the minds of intruders into her realm, keeps her people safe from Sauron, and is one of the oldest beings in the world, but is simply called the Lady or the White Lady.
*** The White Lady is actually pretty lofty considering White is used in the context of Holy or Divine.
*** Galadriel is not a political leader in the normal sense either, in that she doesn't control everything in Lórien. She protects Lórien and represents it, but she exercises no formal power inside its borders. What power she has over the other Elves is given to her by the respect she is accorded by the same.
** Elrond, while "mighty among Elves and Men" and fairly powerful, is simply called "Master Elrond".
*** Elves barely have any concept of "rank"; while they attach prestige to lineage, an individual's actual power mostly derives solely from other elves being willing to follow him (though if a given leader doesn't make many mistakes, other Elves will tend to prefer status quo to revolution). Their political model is basically, in anthropological terms, a pre-chiefdom tribal one, like that of the Sioux or Apache. Mind you, the Elves ''do'' have more traditional sophisticated monarchies, and in ages past there were many Elf kingdoms,[[note]]The First Age had more than you can realistically count, while Gil-galad ran a decent-sized kingdom in the Second Age.[[/note]] but in the Third Age the only proper kingdom of Elves remaining in Middle-Earth is that of Thranduil at the northern end of Mirkwood (Legolas' people); the other remaining Elven kingdoms are in Valinor.
* ''Literature/TheBlackCompany'''s first (arguable) BigBad. Sorceress-queen with near-PhysicalGod powers. Ruler of an entire continent, and conquering more. Known simply as The Lady.
* In Creator/StephenKing's ''Literature/TheStand'', [[BigBad Randall Flagg]] refers to himself as [[PeoplesRepublicOfTyranny "Leader of the People and First Citizen"]] when issuing proclamations.
* Likewise, in King's ''Franchise/TheDarkTower'' series, John Farson is a warlord who accumulates a significant enough force to bring down Gilead, one of In-World's few remaining stable states. Farson is referred to in-universe by the title, "The Good Man."
* MarkTwain's ''Literature/AConnecticutYankeeInKingArthursCourt'' styles himself [[AC:The Boss]].
* In ''Tik-Tok of Oz'', the eighth [[Literature/LandOfOz Oz book]], there is a land where everyone is a king or queen ''except'' that the guy with the position of ruling over all these kings and queens is "the Private Citizen". Even he gets a fancy title, namely "the Great Jinjin," but his subordinates still get to have the regal titles that the Private Citizen doesn't.
* Lorenzo de Medici in ''The Agony And The Ectasy'', as he was in RealLife.
* In ''Literature/AtlasShrugged'', the top U.S. governmental position is "Head of State," and its occupant is always referred to simply as "Mr. Thompson"; unimpressive titles both. It's a matter of speculation exactly why the United States no longer has a president in this AlternateHistory (have they formally abolished the US Constitution?); though Rand said that she wanted characters like Mr. Thompson to seem like mediocrities, and calling him "the President" would have given him a dignity he wasn't supposed to have.
** Supporting the "Constitution was abolished" [[FanWank theory]] is the fact that one character is introduced as "Majority Leader of the National Legislature." The US Congress has ''two'' chambers, so no single person could ever be ''the'' majority leader. And for that matter, in the House of Representatives, the majority leader is actually only the second-ranking position, after the Speaker of the House. Furthermore, the US doesn't actually have a ''national'' government, it has a ''federal'' government. It is ''possible'' that, since Rand's philosophy was pretty clearly meant to be a precise inversion of Soviet Communism, she chose to represent the US as being controlled by a similar governmental system.
* In ''Literature/CodexAlera'', Alera is ruled over by the First Lord, who is presented as the "first among equals" with the rest of the Realm being ruled by High Lords who preside over each major city, and the First Lord officially being the ruler of Alera Imperia, the chairman of the Senate, and the executive commander of the combined Legions in times of war. Unofficially, the First Lord rules over all of Alera and the High Lords bow to him. This causes trouble when the SuccessionCrisis erupts.
* Big Brother from ''Literature/NineteenEightyFour''.
* ''Literature/HonorHarrington'': Robert Pierre of the People's Republic of Haven uses the title Chairman of The Committee of Public Safety or simply Citizen Chairman.
* In the last book of the ''Literature/MistbornTheOriginalTrilogy'', a minor villain named Quellion has taken over the city of Urteau and turned it into a {{Dystopia}} where former nobles are gathered up, locked in a building, then burned alive, while the common people are subject to increasingly strict regulation according to Quellion's ideas of how people should live. Despite being effectively a king, due to his "anti-noble" stance claiming a noble title would be counterproductive, so Quellion instead calls himself "the Citizen".
* In Creator/JamesBlish's MissionToTheHeartStars, the Hegemon of Malis objects to even being addressed as "your excellency". "Hegemon" is sufficient.
* In Creator/SarahAHoyt's ''Literature/DarkshipThieves'', Earth is ruled by the Good Men.
* Subverted in ''Literature/TheWheelOfTime''. In his role as leader of the Asha'man, Mazrim Taim takes the title "M'Hael", which literally just means "leader" in the Old Tongue,something that doesn't seem that impressive. However, taken without specifications, it carries the implication that he leads ''everyone and everything'', making it a rather grandiose title after all. [[spoiler: After Taim gets promoted to [[QuirkyMinibossSquad the Forsaken]] in the last book, he actually changes his ''name'' to M'Hael]].
* In Creator/AndreNorton's ''Literature/{{Catseye}}'', the BlueBlood customers of Kyger's have many titles; one is merely Citizen Dragur, though.
* Creator/RobertAHeinlein’s ''Literature/{{Friday}}'' has an especially nasty one: “(T)he father of the present First Citizen climbed to the throne over uncounted dead bodies and his son stays on that throne by being even more ruthless than his father.” He later gets assassinated, ending the danger for Friday to become one of those dead bodies.
* Not his official title, but in Creator/HarryTurtledove's Literature/{{Timeline 191}} series, Jake Featherston prefers to be called "Sarge" even after becoming President of the CSA.
* ''Literature/RevancheCycle'': Veruca Barrett insists she's merely the "mayor" of Winter's Reach, when she's actually an iron-fisted dictator with an elite force of killers under her command. She gives a speech about how she's really just an average citizen and the people of the Reach are all equal; the crowds eat it up, even though it's patently untrue.
* ''Literature/ForWantOfANail'' has both of the dictators of the United States of Mexico doing this:
** Benito Hermion spends most of his reign after seizing power referring to himself by the simple title of "Chief of State", only shifting it to "[[TheEmperor Emperor of Mexico]]" near the end. And interestingly enough, it's only when he does that that [[MegaCorp Kramer Associates]] decide he's gone too far and engineer a coup to bring him down.
** Vincent Mercator later does this several different ways -- first, after the MilitaryCoup he engineers following the chaos of the Global War, he has his nominal superior Field Marshal Garcia rule as a PuppetKing. Then, after a few years, he takes direct power but doesn't promote himself past his normal rank of Colonel. And finally, when he eventually sets up a facade of democracy, he doesn't get himself elected President, but rather settles for the position of Secretary of War (while the newly elected President is another PuppetKing).
* In the second book of ''Literature/ErebusSequence'', the de facto new queen disdains the title which would normally come with her role. This reflects a dislike of the traditional power structures of the kingdom rather than either humility or public relations.
* In ''Literature/StarksWar'', the protagonist would rather still be referred to as plain "Sergeant" than get a new title after leading his rebellion, though his fellow sergeants do manage to persuade him to differentiate himself with "Commander" ("General" being right out, even though that's the job he's now doing).
* Literature/SixteenThirtyTwo: Mike Stearns goes through a handful of official titles, but they are mostly (at least to the ears of his 17th century contemporaries) relatively negligible. Prime Minister of the United States of Europe (before he - intentionally - loses reelection), a mere general among many in the army of Gustav Adolph of Sweden - the people however only refer to him as "the Prince of Germany" - a funny title for an erstwhile Union organizer from Appalachia. "Prince" also directly derives from the Latin Word "princeps", the title the TropeNamer Augusts wanted to be referred to and the German word for it - Fürst - Does not sound like "first" merely by coincidence.

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* ''Series/BabylonFive'': AvertedTrope with Citizen G'Kar. He ''was'' offered absolute power for [[spoiler: organizing the Narn Resistance and participating in the assassination of [[TheCaligula Emperor Cartagia]]]], but he refused and only accepted his old position of an ambassador. Nevertheless, his fans continue to pester him until the end of the series.
* ''Series/BlakesSeven'': First Citizen Hower of planet Obsidian is a rare non-villainous example, or at least a TrueNeutral one, being the leader of a [[HiddenElfVillage secretive colony]] of ostensibly PerfectPacifistPeople who turn out not to be all that perfect on closer inspection after the ''Liberator'' and Servalan's ship turn up in orbit.
* ''Series/{{Flash Gordon|2007}}'': In the re-imagined series, Ming is no longer "Emperor Ming the Merciless" who dressed like rulers of Ancient China. Instead, he prefers a military uniform and the self-appointed title of "Benevolent Father". His subjects, though, still occasionally call him "Ming the Merciless" behind his back. And his daughter is still called Princess Aura.
* ''Series/GameOfThrones'': The obvious leader of the ruling council of Qarth refers to himself as "simply a trader of spices." Everyone else just calls him "the Spice King".
* ''Series/ThePrisoner'':
** An almost literal example, where every citizen of the Village is known by number rather than by name. The official in charge of the Village is known simply as "Number Two." (The nature of Number One is one of the arc mysteries.)
** The 2009 remake takes it even further, with there actually being no "Number One" and Number Two genuinely being the sole ruler. Apparently, the lack of a "Number One" is to remind the Villagers that they are all public servants, even [[ManipulativeBastard their leader]]. (Apart from 2, the closest thing to a 1 is [[spoiler:his wife, identified as M2]].)
* ''Series/{{Revolution}}'': President and General Bass Monroe of the Monroe Republic. The name alone is scary enough.
* ''Series/{{Rome}}'': In HBO's show, this is Octavian's InsistentTerminology name for his position. A consummate politician, he knows that Romans still despise the notion of a king and thus makes himself one in all but name.
* ''Series/StarTrekDeepSpaceNine'':
** After Gul Dukat takes over the Cardassian government, he retains the title "Gul", roughly equivalent to a colonel or navy captain:
-->'''Sisko''': Still calling yourself 'Gul'? I'm surprised you haven't promoted yourself back to legate by now.
-->'''Dukat''': I prefer the title 'Gul'; so much more hands-on than 'Legate'. And less pretentious than the other alternatives: President, Emperor, First Minister... [[TakeThat Emissary]].
** The ''Terok Nor'' [[ExpandedUniverse novels]] suggest that, having served under a succession of Legates who are little more than {{Obstructive Bureaucrat}}s, he's developed something of a grudge against the position. Dukat's former protege Damar and successor as the head of Cardassian government clearly didn't feel the same way; he jumped straight from Glinn (roughly equivalent to a major) to Legate, skipping the rank of Gul entirely.
** As Sisko noted in the quote above, Dukat did hold the rank of Legate once, an award for supporting the Detapa Council's coup over the Central Command. Dukat lost that title, though, when he brought [[SecretOtherFamily Ziyal]] back with him. A half-Bajoran daughter [[FantasticRacism didn't exactly play over well]], even with the civilian government, and he was demoted to freighter duty, and ultimately left to fight the Klingons on his own.
* ''Series/StarTrekTheOriginalSeries'':
** Kirk & co. come across a Roman Empire-[[RecycledINSPACE analogue planet]] where Kirk's buddy Captain Merrick has become First Citizen Merikus.
** Actually somewhat odd, as it's clear he has no power whatsoever. It appears the only reason for keeping him around is to lure other Federation ships to restock their gladiator supply.

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* {{Earthdawn}} sees the leader of the globe-spanning Theran Empire being named the First Governor instead of "emperor." However, this is an EnforcedTrope -- one of the founders of Thera summoned several massive earth elementals to create a Sphinx statue that would sit outside the First Governor's palace, watching him for signs of corruption (including making Thera into an empire), and would go on a RoaringRampageOfRevenge at its discretion. Not taking up the Name of Emperor is a safeguard against that, even though Thera essentially HAS become TheEmpire. They also make sure to make the expansive First Governor's Mansion mostly invisible from the outside, though it's unlikely such a powerful magical construct would be fooled.
* A slight variation occurs in ''{{Exalted}}''; while the Scarlet Empress herself has the usual fancy titles, her Dynasty is a different matter. Although being a member of one of the Great Houses confers significant opportunities for and possession of power as a matter of course, there are no titles that automatically come with it (and even the titles one gains from aking actual positions in government are fairly humble; "Senator", "Satrap" "Minister", etc.). The heads of each House are some of the most powerful people in the Realm, but are known merely by their personal names.
* The Tau from ''{{TabletopGame/Warhammer40000}}'' apparently have a dozen words for variations on "First among equals". The Ethereals especially are just one of five equal castes, and ''definitely'' not a ruling class of any kind.
** Also, the Emperor of Mankind. Even though his soul is literally crafted from the human sacrifices of thousands of psychics, deep down he's just another human who has his seriously dickish moments. He established himself as the Be-All-End-All messiah of Mankind while explicitly declaring that he was NOT God, that a God of Humanity NEVER existed, and that the reason why he is in charge is because he's the most powerful human in the galaxy, period. Unfortunately, this goes horribly wrong, especially when it came to his overly-religious son Lorgar. 10,000 years later, the inverse of this happens; everybody worships him as a god, so he now has the power of one, but he's also dying.
* Citizen Dawn, from from TabletopGame/SentinelsOfTheMultiverse, is a superhuman supremacist worshiped by her followers as a ''god''. Nonetheless, all superhumans in her faction, including herself, are merely referred to as "citizen."

* The titular hero of ''Theatre/{{Lohengrin}}'' refuses the title of "Duke of Brabant" in favor of the more functional "Protector." (In Wagner's original script the title was "Leader" -- "Fuhrer" -- but that is usually changed these days for obvious reasons.)

* [[ColonelBadass Colonel]] Santiago from ''VideoGame/SidMeiersAlphaCentauri'', leader of the CrazyPrepared Spartan Federation. Other examples include Chairman Yang, Commissioner Lal, [[ChurchMilitant Sister]] Miriam, [[{{Pirates}} Captain]] Svensgard, [[OneNationUnderCopyright CEO]] Morgan, [[MadScientist Provost]] Zakharov, Foreman Domai... Big-shot titles are more of an exception than the norm, even by the leaders of the alien factions.
** Zakharov's actual title in-game is Academician, which is the Russian equivalent of the Western honorific Doctor or Professor.
** Chairman is a typical title of Communist leaders, like Mao and Khrushchev.
** Given the Data Angels' anarchistic nature, it can be assumed that Sinder Roze's title Datajack just means "hacker."
** The only true grand title is Prophet Cha Dawn. Prime Function Aki Zeta-Five is debatable, given that these are machines with no delusions of grandeur.
** The reason Domai is only known as a Foreman (he doesn't even get a first name) is because his faction is made up of escaped drones (i.e. lowly workers). Naturally, they wouldn't accept anything higher than a title equivalent to "shift supervisor", meaning he's their immediate superior, but that's it.
** Given that the Morganites are, essentially, a MegaCorp, Morgan's title of CEO means quite a lot.
** The SpiritualSuccessor ''VideoGame/CivilizationBeyondEarth'' largely averts this either with non-stated titles or fairly big titles (e.g. Commander Rejinaldo Leonardo Pedro Bolivar de Alencar-Araripe, General Vadim Petrovich Kozlov). However, Samatar Jama Barre of the People's African Union prefers that his people call him Kubwa Mjomba ("great uncle" in Swahili). Naturally, this helps to inspire great loyalty for their leader.
* Lynette, First Citizen of Vault City in ''VideoGame/{{Fallout 2}}''. Lovingly referred to as "First Bitchizen" by the fan community.
** Oddly enough, while the title fits, she makes it very clear that she is ''the'' leader (more clear than it seems she actually is - she says autocratic rule is absolutely necessary for a government to function, yet she can be overruled by a Council).
* Chairman Drek from the first ''[[VideoGame/RatchetAndClank2002 Ratchet & Clank]]'' game. Runs an organization that may as well run the entire Blarg homeworld, not to mention is in charge of a lot of their military power. {{Subverted|Trope}} more and more during the course of the game as he keeps getting more and more prefixes until he's "Ultimate Supreme Executive Chairman Drek", despite how he's not actually gaining anything for the title promotion.
* In ''VideoGame/VampireTheMasqueradeBloodlines'', Nines Rodriguez is very insistent that he is not a leader of the Anarchs, but just a soldier that's survived longer than any other (given that the Anarchs are, well, ''[[AnarchyIsChaos anarchists]]'', pretending otherwise would be very hypocritical). Despite this, he's obviously the de facto leader of the Anarchs in downtown L.A., since they all look to him for leadership and follow his advice.
** Of course, given how the anarchs operate, he didn't exactly pick his role or take the position by free will, and is instead thrusted into his position through respect from the other anarchs in Los Angeles. For a bit of contrast, we do have Isaac, the Baron of Hollywood, and he doesn't hold nearly as much authority over the Anarchs as Nines does, even with a title.
* [[InvertedTrope Inversion]] in ''VideoGame/HalfLife2''. Gordon Freeman's crimes have rendered him Anti-Citizen One.
** Played straight with [[BigBad Administrator Breen.]]
* In AllodsOnline, Yasker, the ruler and archmage of the Empire, is styled simply "Leader". Not Emperor, not even Archmage.
* Played for laughs in the case of Tabitha in ''VideoGame/FalloutNewVegas''. As a crazed Super Mutant who controls the "State of Utobitha" (AKA Black Mountain), her self-appointed title is "Best Friend Tabitha".
* Played straight in ''VideoGame/ChampionsOnline''. In [[MirrorUniverse Multifaria,]] the BigBad, [[spoiler: Shadow Destroyer]], is called "Citizen Harmon".
* [[AffablyEvil Vayne]] of ''VideoGame/FinalFantasyXII'' takes this UpToEleven: His official title is "Consul", but he insists that the citizens of Rabanastre don't even use that to address him. Instead, he requests that they address him as "Vayne" and treat him like any other citizen.
* The version of King Louis Philippe in ''VideoGame/AviaryAttorney'' both tries to claim this trope and constantly shows that he doesn't believe in it at all.
* While the ''default'' leader titles in ''VideoGame/{{Stellaris}}'' don't fit this, at least contextually (High Technician sounds a lot more impressive in a society centred around powerful computers calculating the most efficient ways of governance), they are subject to player customisation -- so it is entirely possible to design a People's Republic governed by a First Citizen and have the government type be [[TheEmpire Despotic Empire]]

* ''Webcomic/GirlGenius'': Despite reluctantly controlling most of Central and Eastern Europe, [[EmperorScientist Klaus Wulfenbach]] seems content with the lowly title of Baron (for those of you unfamiliar with noble titles, this is like the Chief of Naval Operations insisting on being called "Ensign").
** He also uses this to rub everyone's noses in the fact that yes, they're princes and dukes and whatnot, and according to their rules of succession he wasn't eligible to assume the title even of Baron Wulfenbach ([[AllThereInTheManual due to]] [[spoiler: being the patched-together and reanimated remains of three Wulfenbach brothers killed in a lab accident]], but an illegitimate heir to a minor house was the one who ended the Long War which was destroying Europa.
** Would-be king of Europa Martellus claims that this was the Baron's biggest mistake, saying that if he had crowned himself Emperor, all of the nobles would have gladly followed him. Refusing the title was refusing to play the game, an insult the noble houses couldn't forgive.
** Which he already planned for, since it's been all-but-confirmed that [[spoiler:his son is Skifander royalty]].
** The von Mekkans are seneschals of Heterodyne Lords, and this responsibility includes running the city of Mechanicsburg. They are heads of the shadow government since Wulfenbach conquered the city, but their only ''official'' title is "Doom Bell Ringer." To give an idea just ''how'' humble this title is-- the Doom Bell is ''automated.'' (This is not to mention that it never rings when there's no Heterodyne in residence.)
*** Vanamonde, the current Seneschal, doesn't even seem to have an office, as he prefers to do all of his work at his favorite coffee shop.
* ''Webcomic/{{SSDD}}'': The Anarchists take this a step further. The highest leadership position is Acting First Advisor, the position of First Advisor is reserved for their deceased founder. Position is obtained purely by merit, and the ability to get people to follow suggestions. Disregarding advice can get a person promoted, or demoted, depending on how it works out. Anyone trying to politic their way into position is promptly shot.
* In ''Webcomic/TheOrderOfTheStick'', General Tarquin likes to publicly claim he is simply the top general of the Empress of Blood. He and his priest friend really run the empire and their four other friends (formerly the other members of their evil adventuring party) run two other empires, making them the de-facto rulers of a third of the continent altogether. The empress being a particularly dimwitted dragon helps with that charade, and they kill anyone who is too close to finding out that Tarquin has more powers than "just a general" should.
* In ''Webcomic/NipAndTuck'', the ShowWithinAShow ''Rebel Cry'' features a RoyalBrat [[http://www.rhjunior.com/nip-and-tuck-0686/ who, though calling all the shots, is merely "Madame Chairwoman".]]

[[folder:Web Original]]
* The BigBad of ''WebAnimation/MadnessCombat'' is a HumanoidAbomination [[LivingShadow made of darkness]] who runs multiple extensive paramilitary facilities, a huge organization of {{Super Soldier}}s, a nigh-unlimited arsenal, and multiple {{Reality Warp}}ing engines; and whose rogue employees are {{One Man Arm|y}}ies in themselves. He's [[EveryoneCallsHimBarkeep called]] The Auditor. Presumably, "Somewhere in Nevada" takes tax evasion ''very'' seriously.
* Paulo Abacar the Elder of Literature/MaleRising, [[ReasonableAuthorityFigure though he'd spit in your eye if you told him that]]. As the founder of the Sokoto Republic, Paulo was the man who held the nation through despite his aversion of absolute power.

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* ''WesternAnimation/{{Gargoyles}}'' provides a [[ChaoticNeutral somewhat less villainous]] example with Oberon, whose sole title is "''Lord'' of Avalon," even though for all intents and purposes he's a PhysicalGod who rules [[TheFairFolk the Third Race]] as king. His sense of egalitarianism seems especially odd, since as a rule [[SmugSuper he's not exactly humble]].
** WordOfGod is that the title ''is'' Oberon's attempt at humility, and he does consider himself to be humble- he's just too arrogant to be any good at it. The rest of the Third Race puts up with him because their previous ruler, Oberon's mother Queen Mab, was TheCaligula outright, and even Oberon looks good next to her.
** Not to mention that [[ValuesDissonance he was actually pretty reasonable compared to his wife Titania. However, the centuries caused her to mellow and develop while he remained the same.]]
* Dolf in ''WesternAnimation/AlfredJKwak'' does this when he creates a [[ANaziByAnyOtherName National]] [[FunnyAnimal Crows]] [[ANaziByAnyOtherName Party]] and uses it to seize power in Great Waterland, in a clear satire of the rise and fall of Nazism. Like Hitler's "Führer", he demands that others refer to him exclusively as "The President" or "President Dolf". Note that he does this in a country that has apparantly been a monarchy for many hundreds if not more years, and where this title doesn't seem to have been widely if at all used prior to Dolf's adoption of it.
* ''WesternAnimation/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagic'':
** Equestria is ruled by two immensely powerful, immortal, thousand-plus-years-old, [[GodEmperor quasi-divine]] {{Winged Unicorn}}s... who call themselves princesses. They're not the bad guys, but the difference between what they could call themselves and what they do is immense.
** The Season 5 premiere introduces Starlight Glimmer, a WellIntentionedExtremist who styles herself as the "founder" of a CityWithNoName in which [[IndividualityIsIllegal everypony has surrendered their cutie marks and individual talents]] in the name of equality.[[note]]She is later revealed to be the source of the magic responsible for "freeing" ponies of the "false promise of their cutie marks".[[/note]]
* In ''WesternAnimation/AvatarTheLastAirbender'', although Long Feng had worked very hard to be RegentForLife over Ba Sing Se and the Earth Kingdom, he retained the simple title of "Grand Secretariet".
** Some seventy years later in ''WesternAnimation/TheLegendOfKorra'', Kuvira commands a massive army and is effectively the military dictator of the self-same nation - now the [[TheEmpire Earth Empire]] - but does not appear to hold any official rank whatsoever. She ''is'' referred to as the "Great Uniter", is addressed occasionally as "your Eminence", and Mako refers to her as "your emperor" in a conversation with one of her lieutenants, but those are just aliases/compliments, not actual titles.
*** As the founder and leader of [[HiddenElfVillage Zaofu]], Suyin doesn't seem to have an official title, though her seniority is clearly acknowledged by others.
* ''WesternAnimation/YogisGang'': Smokestag Smog. He lives in a castle made of smog and convinced the people of Smog City to think the smog from his factory is a good thing but, as he claims whenever someone asks if he's the Mayor, he's really just the number one citizen. Another character is later revealed to be the Mayor and Smog is never shown to have anything to do with how the city is ruled.

[[folder:Real Life]]
* TropeNamer: The first Roman Emperors called themselves simply "The First" (''Princeps'', from which the word "Prince" is derived), after the example of [[UsefulNotes/{{Augustus}} Augustus]]. The title "Caesar" was of course taken from Creator/GaiusJuliusCaesar but only applied later to the ruler (mainly because the head of the Caesar family was the guy in charge for a century, starting with Gaius and ending with Nero, so people got in the habit of believing that 'Caesar' meant the person in charge). Augustus was more of a puppetmaster than an explicit dictator (unlike Caesar) given (in the end) a dozen individual powers by the senate. I.e. he was ''de facto'' Emperor (''Imperator'', which itself means "General," not king), but ''de jure'' just "the first citizen" and the first speaker of the Senate. To paraphrase Augustus' own words 'he had no more power than any other magistrate but exceeded all in authority'. The very concept of the Roman Empire being something separate from the preceding Roman Republic was, [[Film/RevengeOfTheSith contrary to how it's often thought of in in modern times]], a very gradual process, and it took a while before the Emperors were seen as ''officially'' royal rather than simply the de facto rulers. Indeed, the standard periodization of the Roman Empire terms the period from 27 BCE (when Augustus came to power) until 235 CE (after the end of the Severan Dynasty precipitated the Crisis of the Third Century) the "Principate", characterized by the conscious efforts of the Emperors to retain the illusion of continued republican rule, and thus emphasis on the Emperor merely being ''princeps''. After the Crisis of the Third Century (at the accession of Diocletian in 284), the Empire became the openly monarchical "Dominate" (from the Latin ''dominus'', "lord"). Even when the Dominate came, it was a little while before the Emperors began to take on the trappings of monarchy or refer to themselves (loosely) as "kings"; even in UsefulNotes/TheByzantineEmpire, whose Emperors were called ''Basileus'' (Greek for "King"), the Imperial position still had many of the structures of the Roman Republican offices, including acclamation by the people, Senate, and Army, and an expectation that--unlike most other monarchies--if the sitting Emperor was incompetent or unpopular, one of those three groups could legitimately remove him.
** Augustus himself adopted the title as Rome's last king, Lucius Tarquinus Superbus ("Superbus" being historically interpreted as meaning "the Arrogant"), had de-legitimized the concept of a monarchy to the Romans by being a huge tosser (for a modern day example, Americans would never accept a king due to their memory of King George III). Augustus [[TropeNamer merely invented a new, euphemistic term]] and ruled like a king anyway.
* When the Zand dynasty ruled Persia, they never actually used the title of "Shah", instead styling themselves as ''Vakil e-Ra'aayaa'' (Advocate of the People or People's President).
* UsefulNotes/JosefStalin [[ZigZaggedTrope zig-zags]] this trope. For all his power, all the control, all the spy networks and the state he built, he was simply the General Secretary of the Communist Party; his rivals during his rise to power jokingly called him "Comrade Card-Index", as the official role of the General Secretary in the early party was keeping the membership rolls. [[note]]Because of Stalin's use of this trope, the de facto leader during the history of the U.S.S.R. was always the person filling this post, regardless of whether or not that person was also the Premier.[[/note]] Someone stated that a title that would reflect his ''real'' power would have to be something like "Pope of the Communist church; Czar of Russia; CEO of Soviet Inc." In addition, he also allowed himself to be called simply "Vozhd" (leader/boss/chief) after his fiftieth birthday celebration in 1929, and was given the title "Generalissimus" (the highest possible military rank), although he never wore the insignia. On the other hand, years before becoming General Secretary he changed his birth name from Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili to the Russian equivalent of [[AwesomeMcCoolname Joe Steel]]. During his personality cult he also accepted an immense number of grandiose titles, including "Coryphaeus of Science", "Father of Nations", "Brilliant Genius of Humanity", "Great Architect of Communism", "Gardener of Human Happiness", and many more.
* UsefulNotes/MaximilienRobespierre, deputy and Member of the Committee of Public Safety.
** And shortly thereafter, First Consul UsefulNotes/NapoleonBonaparte. He later gave up all pretense and just crowned himself Emperor.
* After Deng Xiaoping retired from his last formal position as the chairman of the military commission, he only kept the title of Honorary Chairman of the China TabletopGame/{{Bridge}} Association. Until his death, however, everyone knew who was the real leader of Peoples' Republic of China.
** For that matter, Chairman UsefulNotes/MaoZedong. His actual office was called "Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China".
* Kim Jong-il was merely the chairman of the North Korean National Defense Commission; the actual office of president gets cycled round other people every year or so. He also used "Supreme Commander", "''Party'' Chairman", "Dear Leader", and "Great Leader". His father holds the post of Eternal President, even though he died in 1994. Basically the exact opposite of this trope.
* The United States "President" (i.e. "the one who presides") was originally conceived as one of those, and the title had previously been mostly used for chairmen of committees. The style of the King was "By the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, Prince-Elector of Hannover, Duke of Brunswick". The longest title the President gets is "the President of the United States" and is generally addressed merely as "Mister President".
** The style of "Mister President" was chosen by UsefulNotes/GeorgeWashington. (This was in response to the attempts of his vice-president, UsefulNotes/JohnAdams, to get the Senate to vote Washington the title of "His Democratic Highness" or possibly "His Elective Majesty". The Senate eventually resolved that Adams would receive the title of [[CrowningMomentOfFunny "His Rotundity"]]. Adams did not make friends easily [[Theatre/SeventeenSeventySix Because he was obnoxious and disliked!]]
** The German title "Kanzler" (often translated as chancellor) did not originally mean "head of the government" either. The term originated in the medieval period derived from Latin canellarius and initially described a glorified clerk. And as a matter of fact, the German federal chancellor (Bundeskanzler or in case of a woman holding that office Bundeskanzlerin) is ''not'' the first citizen. In the official order of protocol the Bundespräsident is the undisputed number one, with the number two being either the President of the parliament or the President pro tempore of the Bundesrat (the upper chamber made up of appointed representatives of TheSixteenLandsOfDeutschland; the position of president pro tempore rotates among the heads of the sixteen states) and the Bundeskanzler being somewhere down the line. As a further emphasis how "unimportant" the office of Bundeskanzler is, their official residence, the Bundeskanzleramt in Berlin is both lower and within viewing distance of the parliament (Bundestag). Given however, that the Bundeskanzler almost always has the support of the majority of the Bundestag, and is often the leader of one of the major parties, the real power is usually reversed.
* "Prime Minister", in those countries where the government leader has that title, is just the first minister among equals (''primus / prima inter pares'') in parliament, no matter how much power (s)he actually has. In the UK, the title was originally meant as an insult despite also carrying the title "First Lord of the Treasury".
** TheNewRussia is a presidential republic, but during the Medvedev presidency, the guy in power was still Prime Minister UsefulNotes/VladimirPutin. Not because he was the Prime Minister, but because he was UsefulNotes/VladimirPutin. Since then, he's back to being President, since the Russian constitution only has a limit on the number of ''consecutive'' terms in office. Basically, he can fairly easily be President for 2 terms, then put a puppet in his place for a term, and get "re-elected" after that.
* The title of "Führer", which UsefulNotes/AdolfHitler adopted when he became leader of the Nazi Party and elevated to a government title when they took power in Germany can be simply translated to "guide", although it is generally translated as "leader", which is more in line with fascist philosophy. Although not even nearly as ubiquitously used as Führer, Hitler also awarded himself a number of bombastic titles over the years designed specifically to invoke this trope, including "First Soldier of the German Reich", "First Worker of the New Germany", and "Supreme Judge of the German People". In something of an overlap with ModestRoyalty, Hitler's ceremonial uniform was also much more staid than you would expect from a man in the process of conquering the world. He wore a plain uniform with only the awards that he earned in UsefulNotes/WorldWarI, which looks funny in contrast to, say, Goering, who {{bling|OfWar}}ed it up with silks and furs and every medal he could lay his fat hands on.
** [[OlderThanTheyThink Before him]] we have UsefulNotes/BenitoMussolini, who started out calling himself "Duce del Partito Fascista", meaning "Leader of the Fascist Party". "Duce" itself was just a fancy way to say "leader" (coming from the Latin "[[PretentiousLatinMotto dux]]", from which also the Italian "duca" and its English equivalent "duke" are derived), before his use of it ruined the title in the eyes of most Italians. As for the titles he used to rule, he was merely the "President of the Council of Ministers of the Kingdom of Italy", or Prime Minister for short (officially the king was still in charge, and had the power to dismiss him... As he actually did in 1943), and, during the German occupation, he was the "Duce e Capo del Governo", "Leader and Chief of the Government". After the conquest of Ethiopia, however, he gave himself a couple of bombastic titles, changing his title as chief of the Fascist Party into "Leader and Founder of the Empire" and appointing himself as "First Marshall of the Empire" together with the king (a move to put the prime minister, that is himself, on the same rank of the king in the military chain of command).
* In 1653 the English Parliament offered UsefulNotes/OliverCromwell the crown and, after two weeks of deliberation, he turned it down (twice) and instead accepted a republican office with equivalent powers - Lord Protector. This was mainly to try and bring in more support for the deeply unpopular parliamentarians (most of whom had not gone into the civil war wanting to remove Charles I, Cromwell included) by creating a more monarchical system to bring in more and broader civilian political support, while not provoking the army who were dead set against any revival of the monarchy by that point. The post was still referred to as 'His Highness', and a second investiture of Cromwell was a royal coronation in all but name. After he died, [[HereditaryRepublic the post passed on to his son]], and the English decided that since they had already gone this far, they might as well bring the monarchy back; cue the Stuart Restoration.
* The ''shogun'' of feudal Japan, whose title simply meant "general" and was condensed from a longer one meaning roughly "commander-in-chief against the Eastern Barbarians" (i.e. the poor, beleaguered [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ainu Ainu]]).
** Take note that besides RegentForLife, another precedent in Japanese politics is the position holder will ''retire'' from the position to hold ''real power''.
** UsefulNotes/ToyotomiHideyoshi, disqualified by his humble birth from becoming ''shogun'', had to settle for ruling Japan under the title ''kampaku'' (imperial regent), and later as ''taikō'' (retired regent). These positions would have made him subordinate to the ''shogun'', had one existed at the time; he made damn sure that one didn't for his lifetime.
* The original [[UsefulNotes/{{Islam}} Muslim]] state, the Caliphate, was one of these: "Caliph" comes from the Arabic word "''Khalifah''", which is Arabic for "successor" (to the Prophet, that is). Ruling an empire that stretched from Spain to Central Asia, the Caliph was constantly reminded that he was just a half-decent replacement for the plain illiterate orphan who had founded the religion.
** In the early days of the Caliphate, humility was taken seriously. Omar, the second Caliph, used to tool around Medina in a shabby old robe and gave away nearly all of his (gigantic) income to the relief of old soldiers and their orphans.
** Prophet Muhammad himself. "Messenger of God" was the only title he held. And even then, he wasn't even the Head of State. The Qur'an explicitly states that GOD holds the title "King of the Realm"[[note]]Well, "Sovereign of Sovereignty"; it's only considered ''shirk''--association with God--if you call yourself "king of kings". "King" is vaguely OK, as long as you mean it as a purely secular title and claim no special spiritual authority (other than that which is the "natural" authority of any leader of Muslims--the right to lead the people in prayer). The Prophet, however, ''was'' asserting extraordinary spiritual authority, so he had to make it clear that he was acting on God's behalf.[[/note]] Meaning that the Prophet ruled as the equivalent of a Governor-General (like in Australia).
*** A common title used by Muslim rulers- up to and including the Ottoman Sultans at the height of their power- was "Slave of God" or some variation thereof.
* Popes have always signed their letters as "the servant of the servants of Christ," even back in the days when they ruled half of Italy and were [[TooImportantToWalk carried around everywhere]] in fancy thrones/sedan chairs.
** This title comes from an instruction of Jesus to the Apostles: "The greatest among you must be the servant of all."
* In French absolutism (UsefulNotes/LouisXIV etc.), the king was also called the first servant of the country.
** UsefulNotes/FrederickTheGreat also called himself "the first servant of the state".
* Taken to its LogicalExtreme by [[UsefulNotes/MuammarGaddafi Muammar al-Gaddafi]], who hadn't held any formal position of power since resigning as prime minister of Libya in 1972 -- however, he was dictator all the way up until 2011, and was often referred to as [[TryToFitThatOnABusinessCard "Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya"]] or "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution." This was taken to absurd levels during the recent civil war. Gaddafi kept insisting that he could not step down because there was nothing to step down from.
* The Medici family ruled Florence like this during the Italian Renaissance. Florence was a republic, and its people took pride in their freedom and democracy; which didn't stop the Medicis from becoming ''de facto'' monarchs, since they used their enormous banking finances in order to buy the loyalty of every important office-holder. Hence, Cosimo and Lorenzo made all of the decisions without ever holding a public office. (However, after 1530, the Habsburg family gained political control over Florence, and thus turned the Medicis into hereditary dukes, thus shattering the illusion of "just the first citizen".)
* In ancient Macedonia the king was the "First among equals", and the king's Companions tended to simply address them by name. People kicked up a big fuss when UsefulNotes/AlexanderTheGreat adopted the customs of the defeated Persians (i.e. asking them to bow etc...)
* "King" at its root means "offspring of a family" -- that it was of RoyalBlood, a ''good'' family, is implied, but it comes from the same root as "kin". "Queen" at its root means "woman."
* Hungary, back when it was a kingdom, had an interesting variant of this. The ruler of the country was the crown, the physical object, itself, having something which would be called today a legal personality / corporate personhood. The king himself was merely acting as its regent, subjected to strict rules by an assembly of nobles. This went so far that there was a king who had to be coronated again with the right crown, because he didn't possess it the first time (or the second time; he got it right on the third attempt), and people didn't accept him as a ruler because of this. Of course, depending on the person of the king and the circumstances, his de facto power ranged all the way from a puppet to an absolutist monarch.
* Thomas Pendergast, [[UsefulNotes/AmericanPoliticalSystem boss]] of the Kansas City-area Democratic political machine in the early-mid 20th century, the one who maneuvered UsefulNotes/HarrySTruman into the Senate seat that put him on the road to the White House, never held elected office himself. "Boss" Tweed, of Tammany Hall in UsefulNotes/NewYorkCity, served [[http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=T000440 one unremarkable term]] in Congress in the 1850s, before his rise to power.
* Nicaragua is ripe with this trope. Back in the 1930s, rebel leader Augusto C Sandino who had no official title whatsoever and started out with a RagtagBunchOfMisfits for an army (he borrowed his starting capital from local prostitutes) came to control half the country, until he was murdered by Anastasio Somoza, who went on to become "Head of the National Guard", and even though he (and later his two sons) were in and out of the presidency due to constitutional constraints on infinite reelection, nobody was fooled as to the true ruler of the country until the fall of Anastasio Somoza jr. in 1979. Current (as of 2016) President Daniel Ortega abolished the rule that a President cannot be reelected with the InsaneTrollLogic that this part of the constitution is unconstitutional, but he himself has stated that as a sign of feminism he has given half his power to his wife, Rosario Murillo, yet some observers say, she is really the ManBehindTheMan or in that case the woman behind the man, despite being the ''de jure'' President of jack squat. Her only official title being "Chairwoman of the Citizen's Councils" something the Sandinistas made up. However, for the November 2016 election the official FSLN presidential ticket is... Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. Yep, the man has his wife as his running mate.
* During the so-called Age of Liberty in Sweden, the single most powerful man in Sweden was, for the most part, not the King but the Chancery President (though their power were ''far'' from as large as the monarchs had been, as they were ultimately responsible to the Estates). Formally they headed the Chancery College, the central coordinating bureaucratic agency, and in that role were a delegate to the ruling Council of State. In practice, they had a leading position in the Council of State to the point of being a de facto head of government, as well as having responsibility for foreign affairs.
* Godwin of Bouillon was the ''de facto'' first king of the [[UsefulNotes/TheCrusades crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem]], but refused the title, believing that only Christ could truly be called king of Jerusalem. Instead, he used the title "Defender of the Holy Sepulcher." His successors were less scrupulous and did refer to themselves as kings.