Secondary Character Title

Man, you should see all the stuff Godot does in this thing.

It's common for a series to be named after one or more of its main characters. Either the series title and the star's name are one and the same (as in Jane Eyre and Indiana Jones) or the names of more than one protagonist will appear in the title (as in Romeo and Juliet and Tom and Jerry). Occasionally, though, the title comes from the name of a character who is not the main protagonist, which may cause some confusion about who's who. Usually this character is pivotal to the plot or sets the story in motion. It still can cause confusion, especially when the actor playing the protagonist is billed directly above the title.

This trope sometimes leads to I Am Not Shazam, when people think the title is the protagonist's name. When the eponymous secondary character is mistaken for the protagonist, someone has committed the Protagonist Title Fallacy.

Compare Villain-Based Franchise, Antagonist Title, Supporting Protagonist, and Deuteragonist. May overlap with Trivial Title if the secondary character is especially unimportant to the story.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • AKIRA spends the entirety of the film version in a glass jar. He's somewhat more active in the manga version, but while plot-relevant, isn't much more than tertiary as a character.
  • The title character of To Aru Majutsu no Index is only the second most important character in the series; the main character is Touma.
    • Though the first story arc revolved around her, Index rarely even makes an appearance in a lot of later story arcs.
  • Not only is the main protagonist of Princess Mononoke not the character referred to by the title (it's Ashitaka), the name "Princess Mononoke" itself is only used once in the film to refer to San, as it's a nickname given to her by the residents of Irontown.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid and Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force, the two fourth season manga of the Lyrical Nanoha franchise, still keeps Nanoha's name in the title even though her main character status has been taken by Vivio and Tohma respecively. This is especially noticable in Nanoha Vivid, where multiple volumes could pass with Nanoha barely appearing on page.
  • Pokémon. Ash, first and foremost, is the main character of the series rather than the titular creatures, with Pikachu as his sidekick. In fact, as with the Transformers example below, the Mons in general take a backseat to the humans. This is somewhat true of the game series as well, but to a lesser extent due to how much the gameplay itself revolves around the titular Mons.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Rebellion has the titular character fall to a supporting role with the story being told from Homura's perspective.
  • Sankarea: The plot mainly follows Chihiro Furuya, although Rea Sanka is pretty much the central character to the plot.
  • Dororo, as Hyakkimaru is really the main protagonist.
  • In Doraemon, the protagonist is usually Nobita.
  • Dr Slump was originally supposed to be the story of the wacky inventor Senbei Norimaki (AKA. The eponymous Dr. Slump), however Robot Girl Arale ended up taking center stage, to the point that the Animated Adaptation was actually called "Dr. Slump: Arale-chan".
  • Katekyo Hitman Reborn! has Reborn, the hitman who is the tutor to the main character Tsunayoshi Sawada. Reborn does nothing except making Tsuna stronger and stronger, so the latter can beat the crap out of the enemies.
  • Guardian Fairy Michel largely focuses on Kim White, an Ace Pilot who meets the titular Michel and ends up traveling with him when her old enemies kidnap the rest of the fairies. Although Michel can do a Fusion Dance to merge with any rescued fairies and gain their powers, it's Kim who does the final blow to most monsters they fight.
  • In Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, the title "Guardian of the Spirit" actually refers to the young Prince Chagum, not the main protagonist Balsa. This is easy to mistake, as Balsa is Chagum's bodyguard, making her the Guardian of the Guardian of the Spirit.
  • The first Bleach movie, Memories of Nobody, refers to Senna, a girl who has multiple memories that weren't really hers to begin with due to being a MacGuffin Girl of different souls.
  • After being the main character of Mai-HiME, Mai Tokiha barely appears in the Elseworld spin-off Mai-Otome, relegated to a supporting role near the end. Also an example of Artifact Title.

    Comicbooks 
  • Most comic book series starring DC's Captain Marvel are named Shazam, after Captain Marvel's wizard mentor, or, more specifically, the often conflated word Billy Batson says to transform. This is actually due to an agreement with Marvel Comics over the use of the name "Captain Marvel" - it can't be used in the title of a DC book.
    • At least it was the case, since Captain Marvel was officially renamed Shazam.
  • Gear. The title character doesn't show up until the second-to-last issue. The word "gear" isn't even mentioned by name until then. The main characters are actually Waffle, Gordon, and Mr. Black.
  • X-Men: Noir, an Elseworld X-Men miniseries set in a version of 1930s New York without any superpowered heroes, is an example of this, oddly enough. Its protagonist is actually The Angel, note  a mostly-forgotten Timely Comics character who spends the story investigating the murder that kicks off the plot. "The X Men" are a fugitive gang of teenage criminals who are suspected of said murder, and end up helping The Angel take down the real criminals by the end.

    Fairy Tales 

    Films — Animated 
  • In Finding Nemo, the main character is Marlin, Nemo's father, with Dory as the Deuteragonist. The titular Nemo is actually the tritagonist.
  • None of the Robinsons in Meet the Robinsons is the main character. But they do welcome the actual orphaned protagonist - Lewis - into their family, though. Technically a subversion, since a future version of Lewis is the Robinson patriarch.
  • The titular character in My Neighbor Totoro refers to the creature the main characters, Satsuki and Mei, meet after moving to their new home.
  • President Bashir in Waltz with Bashir is referred to but doesn't actually appear in the movie.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Roger Rabbit is not actually the main character of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He's just the one who solicits the services of the story's actual protagonist, human detective Eddie Valiant. Roger steals every scene he's in and is pivotal to the case, though.
  • Beetlejuice has less screentime in his own movie than any of the other characters. This is not the case in the animated series that followed, though, where he is undoubtedly the star.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Extra points for sounding like a Word Salad Title, rather than anything to do with the characters at all, to people who aren't very familiar with the plot.
  • The title character from 1991 film Oscar doesn't actually show up until the last minute or two of the movie. While some of the earlier events of the film do revolve around him in some way, the real point of the title is as a nod to Oscar Wilde, whose style of humour the film (and the play it's based on) pays homage to.
  • The protagonist of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is the young son of a Nazi officer who becomes acquainted with the boy of the title, who's a prisoner in a concentration camp. Some people were annoyed about this.
  • The Big Lebowski refers to Jeffrey Lebowski, a millionaire with whom the protagonist (also christened Jeffrey Lebowski, but goes by "The Dude") is mistaken. Walter refers to the former as "the other Lebowski, the Big Lebowski" in one line.
  • TRON and TRON: Legacy are about Kevin Flynn and his son. Tron is a minor character in both of them.
  • In all three Re-Animator movies, the main character is Herbert West's protege, not Dr. West himself.
  • The live action Transformers movies. The fact that the Transformers are secondary characters in the movies named after them is a frequent subject of mockery, due to the fact that they were the main characters in other incarnations of the franchise.
  • The Last Samurai does not, as many people seemed to think, refer to the main character Nathan Algren, but to the rebelling group of samurai lead by Katsumoto. This is not helped by the fact that "samurai" can be either singular or plural in Japanese.
  • John Tucker is not the main character in John Tucker Must Die. Kate is.
  • Amy is only mentioned off-screen in Chasing Amy as the ex-girlfriend of another secondary character.
  • The protagonist of Rachel Getting Married is Rachel's younger sister.
  • My Week With Marilyn is told from Colin Clark's perspective.
  • The protagonists of Horrible Bosses are their respective employees.
  • Paul is a CGI alien. The protagonist are the Graeme/Clive duo.
  • The Focker juniors in Little Fockers have neither much lines nor screentime.
  • The protagonist of I Love You Phillip Morris is Steven Russell, who loves Phillip Morris.
  • Though the plot of Rebecca has very much to do with her, Rebecca was already dead before the movie even began and is only talked about.
  • The 4th entry in The Bourne Series - The Bourne Legacy. Bourne will only be mentioned off-screen as the movie leaves the main character's seat to (who else?) his legacy.
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme's character is not the eponymous Cyborg, it's the woman who was taken captive by the bad guys.
  • The Thin Man: The man of the title is the victim, not one of the protagonists or the villain. This didn't prevent the sequels from using him as an Artifact Title, even though his deceased character has nothing to do with their plots.
  • Harvey does not even conclusively establish Harvey's actual existence until well into the film, though he does drive a lot of the plot.
  • In Laura, Laura is the name of the woman whose murder the detective is investigating.
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall: The titular character is the ex-girlfriend of the protagonist whom spends about a quarter of the film trying to get over.
  • In The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow Johnny Hollow is unseen, as the photographer who took the photo that's the subject of the film. His only "appearance" is via the text of a letter, warning the recipient, an Occult Detective viewpoint character, to "look closely."
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: Although not the case in the original book or the second adaptation of it, in the 1971 film the titular Wonka, though an important character, is the owner of the titular factory that the main protagonist Charlie wins a trip to.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier: while Winter Soldier plays a major part, he's mostly The Dragon to the villains.
  • The protagonist of The Strong Man is Paul, Zandow the strong man's bumbling assistant, who has a series of misadventures while trying to find his pen pal girlfriend. Zandow is only in four scenes.
  • Ken Park kills himself at the start of the movie. The rest of the movie is about his classmates.
  • Ruby Sparks is the girlfriend of the main character Calvin who made her from his imagination.
  • (500) Days of Summer follows Tom, the main character, as he tries to get over the fact that he and the titular character is/was never meant to be.
  • In Fido, the titular character is the zombie butler of the main character and his family.
  • The Princess Bride: Buttercup, the titular bride, is the Love Interest of both The Hero Wesley and the Big Bad Prince Humperdick.
  • In Mud, the titular character is only the Deuteragonist who is hiding from mercenaries/bounty hunters and is found and befriended by the Kid Hero protagonist and his Lancer.
  • The Kids Are All Right: The Kids refers to Joni and Laser, but the story focuses on their mothers and their Glorified Sperm Donor.
  • Junebug is the name the Supporting Protagonist's sister-in-law wants for her child once she (the sis-in-law) gives birth. She suffers a miscarriage.

    Literature 
  • Moby-Dick is really about Ishmael and Captain Ahab.
  • The Three Musketeers is about D'Artagnan, the fourth musketeer.
  • Alexander Pushkin's The Captain's Daughter is named after the main character's love interest.
  • The Giver is about the boy who's been selected to replace the Giver.
  • The Indian in the Cupboard is about the kid whose cupboard the Indian is in.
  • Flowers for Algernon refers to the protagonist's fellow test subject - a white rat. Perhaps to avert the trope, the film adaptation was renamed Charly.
  • The protagonist of Daisy Miller is Frederick Winterbourne, who falls in love with Daisy.
  • The Prisoner of Zenda: The protagonist is the man attempting to rescue the prisoner, who barely features.
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel: The protagonist is the eponymous hero's wife Marguerite.
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe pulls a trifecta by being titled after a secondary character, the villain, and a gateway to another dimension.
  • The protagonist of Rebecca is the second Mrs. de Winter (whose first name is never given). Rebecca herself is a Posthumous Character.
  • The protagonist (and narrator) of Lorna Doone is her love interest John Ridd.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Lord of the Rings is the villain. The volume Return of the King refers to the Supporting Leader.
  • The protagonist of Aimee is not Aimee but her best friend who is accused of killing her. In fact, the protagonist isn't named until the end of the book. Her name is Zoe.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was never the protagonist, but he is an important character who helps actual protagonist Dorothy get home (just not in the way Dorothy expected). He becomes a very minor character in later books in the series.
  • Looking for Alaska. Whilst Alaska is a main character, the focus is more on Pudge.
  • In Saving Zoë, Zoë is the main character Echo's late sister, who was murdered. The book revolves around Echo finding Zoë's diary and reading it.
  • The Thin Man is not detective Nick Charles, but Clyde Wynant, the man he is looking for. The confusion was not helped by the fact that the movie version spawned a series of sequels, all of which included "the Thin Man" in their title.
  • The unfinished epic Titurel by medieval poet Wolfram von Eschenbach was named by scholars after the first name mentioned in the surviving text. Titurel does not actually appear in the story, he is merely one of the protagonist's ancestors.
  • Constance Greene's young adult novels in the "Alexandra" series (such as Al(exandra) the Great) are all named after the narrator's best friend. The narrating character is never even given a name.
  • George Mac Donald Fraser's McAuslan series has Lt. MacNeill as the protagonist, and there are stories where McAuslan plays only a minor role at best.
  • The Skulduggery Pleasant books are mostly told from the point of view of his protegee, Valkyrie Cain.
  • Common in crime fiction where the detective is the protagonist. Where there is a title character, they may well be Dead to Begin With.
  • The young adult novel Amandine by Adele Griffon is named after the protagonist's eccentric (and later somewhat antagonistic) friend.
  • The Millennium Trilogy: Regardless of the title of each installments, the protagonist of the series has always been Mikael Blomkvist.
  • Hawthorne Abendsen, The Man in the High Castle, is a minor character.
  • Gives Light is the surname of the main character's best friend and love interest, a Plains Shoshone boy. It's also the surname of his father, a serial killer who murdered the main character's mother years ago.
  • The bride in Bride of the Rat God refers to the actress Christine, but her cousin Norah is the central character.
  • The Butterfly Kid is named for a very minor secondary character—albeit one who gets the plot rolling. Its sequel, The Unicorn Girl, is also named for a secondary character, though a much more important one: the hero's potential love interest.
  • Several of H. Rider Haggard's novels are named after the the hero's love interest, even if she is not the main focus. For example, Nada the Lily is about the hero Umslopogaas, the illegitimate son of the great Zulu king and general Chaka.
  • The Red Vixen Adventures: The series as a whole and half the individual titles refer to the Red Vixen, a character with very little actual screen time and most of it as her Secret Identity Lady Melanie and the story is never told from her perspective.
  • Arguably, The Lord Of The Flies. The Lord of the Flies may only be introduced late in the story, but [[spoiler: the idea of the 'beast' which, in one scene where he (even though he's a pig on a stick) speaks, he claims he is, is a very important idea in the story, so much so that it could even count as a character.

    Live-Action TV 

    Music 
  • "There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis" by Kirsty Maccoll. The protagonist is the narrator's probably unfaithful lover; the guy down the chip shop ("he's a liar") is just someone the real protagonist gets compared to.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Polly and Her Pals ultimately became this. Initially, Polly was the main character, until Cliff Sterrett (the artist) decided that her father, Paw Perkins had more comedic potential and made him the star of the strip.
  • In a similar vein, Funky Winkerbean really did once star the title character, but as time went on, he was Demoted to Extra.
  • Blondie is the wife of the main character, Dagwood, though (similarly to the above example) she was the lead during the strip's start.

    Theatre 
  • Waiting for Godot
  • Bye Bye Birdie: The title refers to rock star Conrad Birdie, who plays a major role, but Conrad's manager, Albert, and his secretary are the main characters.
  • Gypsy refers to Gypsy Rose Lee, the stage name Louise acquires halfway through the second act. Her mother is the principal character.
  • Several Shakespearean examples.
    • Cymbeline: The main character is Imogen
    • Henry IV parts 1 and 2: The main characters are Prince Hal and Falstaff),
    • Julius Caesar: Caesar dies less than halfway through; the main character is Brutus
    • The Merchant of Venice: Most people assume that the title refers to the villain, Shylock, but it actually refers to Antonio. The actual protagonist of the play is up for debate.)
    • Othello: Iago is arguably the Villain Protagonist, since he gets twice as many lines as Othello, though Othello usually gets top billing.
    • It is actually important to note that in Shakespeare's time, the character of the highest rank got the title, not the main character. This includes King Henry IV, Caesar, etc.
  • Marvin's Room. Marvin has absolutely no lines (he's senile and bedridden, you see), and the story is about his two daughters and one of his grandsons.
  • The title character of Fiddler on the Roof never speaks, and only appears a few times in the show. Tevye is the main character.
  • The Barber of Seville also applies. Figaro is a relatively major character, but Almaviva is the protagonist.
  • The principal characters of the ballet Don Quixote are the young lovers, Basilio and Kitri. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are secondary mime parts. Not surprising, as the adaptation is In Name Only, anyway.
  • The opera Paul Bunyan introduces Paul Bunyan as the hero of its story, but he remains Shrouded in Myth and never appears onstage. The real protagonist is Hel Helson.
  • Iolanthe gives the title character less to act and sing about than other major characters, despite her importance in the plot.
  • In The Mikado, the title character doesn't make his entrance until well into the second act.
  • The Nibelung in Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung is Alberich, but the central character of the tetralogy as a whole is Wotan, even though there is no character who appears in all four parts. Brünnhilde, the titular character of The Valkyrie, is also probably an example as the opera is mostly about Wotan and his mortal children Siegmund and Sieglinde (the latter is the only character who appears in all three acts), while Brünnhilde in this opera is primarily defined as Wotan's alter ego - she tries to do what he can't because he is constrained by his obligations to treaties and the law.

    Videogames 

    Web Animation 

    Webcomics 
  • Schlock Mercenary: The main character is arguably Tagon, or possibly Kevyn for a few arcs. Schlock is disproportionately important for his lower rank, but he still has little influence on the plot or the decision-making of the company.
  • Rusty and Co.: A party member, but the lead character is clearly Mimic.
  • Zelfia: The character Zelfia has appeared exactly three times. The title refers more to the series' Arc Words
  • Unicorn Jelly: The real main character is arguably Chou, who does most of the heavy lifting and gets most of the focus, especially towards the end. The POV character is Lupiko (most of the time). Uni, the title character, is just the supporting Team Pet.

    Western Animation 
  • TRON: Uprising is about Beck acting as Tron under his order, not about Tron himself.
  • Family Guy is well on it's way to becoming this. The majority of episodes focus on Brian and Stewie, with Peter, the titular "family guy", generally taking a backseat most of the time.
  • Wat's Pig. Wat is the protagonist, his brother the king is the deuteragonist, and the pig... is present.