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Unknown Relative

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Being unusually unaware of another character's familial relationships to enable the reveal

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
lakingsif on Jan 26th 2018 at 4:09:30 PM
Last Edited By:
JohnBenccsonn on Apr 15th 2018 at 6:31:59 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

Most people know who they are related to. Most people know their friends' family, too. However, in fiction there are many ways to create story tension by having a relative be unknown before leading into a reveal.

The work has Alice, who has been friends with Bob for a long time. In season 4, Bob's sister Claire comes to visit and Alice does not know who she is, despite it being a reasonable expectation for her to be acquainted with Claire after knowing her brother so long. Bob may be on vacation and doesn't introduce them, leading to awkward hijinks occurring before it is revealed who Claire is to both the characters and audience. Perhaps Alice has been dismissive of Claire, or mentioned how much she feels threatened by her friend's sisters.

This is not the only circumstance, but is a common one. Another common variation is the character themselves not knowing of a relative of their own, that person then coming to meet them — in these cases it is more likely that the audience already knows.

A character may also be hiding their relationship to a family member from their friends for a good reason, though that family member may be frequently present.

May be foreshadowed by having the same surname. The interactions may go on for a significant length of time before the reveal, sometimes with everyone but the relative not knowing, though usually the identity will gradually be told to more people.

See also Remember the New Guy, when a never-before-seen character is treated as if they've been through the story with everyone else (making them an unknown relative to the audience, rather than the characters).

Super Trope to Long-Lost Relative, for specific cases of when both parties do not know they are related, Your Son All Along, when the relationship is a father-son one that the father doesn't know about and Luke, I Am Your Father for the other way around, and Relative Error, when someone doesn't know that two people are siblings and thinks they are dating.

This is not for examples of when two people have alternate identities and don't know that their masked partner/villain is related to them.

The unknown relative may be played by an actor who's a relative unknown, but you may be looking for Darkhorse Casting.


Examples

Anime and Manga

  • One Piece: Luffy apparently never even thought of having a father (he only remembered having a grandpa) until his grandpa Garp points it out. It, of course, enables a reveal: that Luffy's father is an infamous criminal (the most wanted man in the world, in fact) named Dragon. It is implied that Dragon never raised Luffy and just left him in his hometown in East Blue.

Film — Live-Action

  • In Wanted, Wesley doesn't realize that Cross is his father until after he kills him. This is foreshadowed by the fact that Cross seems bent on killing everyone but Wesley.

Live-Action Television

  • House of Anubis:
    • Though Patricia had been in Anubis House for what's implied to be several years, only her best friend Joy seemed to be aware of the existence of her Polar Opposite Twin, Piper. This allowed for a subplot where Piper stayed at Anubis House in secret, inadvertently tricking people like Alfie into thinking Patricia was suddenly being nice (and thus into thinking the crush he had was on her rather than on Piper). The moment when she revealed to everyone in the house that Piper existed was full of shocked reactions that could've only happened had Patricia simply never mentioned Piper's existence. It's implied her jealousy of Piper's talents and social skills were why she kept everyone but Joy in the dark.
    • Season two introduced Jerome's younger sister, Poppy. While he'd been secretive about his poor relationship with his parents until he opened up to Mara in the first season, he never mentioned having a little sister until she appeared at the school. Poppy herself exploited this, as she used Jerome's unwillingness to admit her existence to his friends as a way to blackmail him at the beginning of the season.
  • Grey's Anatomy:
    • Arizona picks up a girl at Joe's and takes her home, and it looks like it could be a successful one night stand for her to get over Eliza and finally uncomplicate her love life... until her long-time roommate and good friend, Andrew, comes home and scurries past — but the girl notices him and calls his name. She reveals that he is her little brother, something you would imagine Andrew would have probably mentioned to Arizona (since they have lived together for a few years and he testified for her at her daughter's custody hearing), or if not to have at least had a photo around that Arizona would have recognized.
    • Meredith started the show as an only child, discovering over many seasons that she has at least three half-siblings that her parents didn't even hide from her (Molly and Lexie from her dad, Maggie from her mom). She visited her dad a few times before meeting his daughters, apparently just never bumping into them or seeing photos, and was there for Maggie's birth but... forgot? So that Maggie could dramatically reveal it when she gets hired as Cristina's replacement and give Meredith the realization that Maggie's father is Richard Webber, which neither of them know. It's surprising that Meredith's mom's Alzheimer's didn't have her ever mention it.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Journey to Babel" Kirk is surprised to meet Spock's parents. It's a little unrealistic that a Starfleet captain tasked with transporting a distinguished delegation to a vital conference would have no idea that Vulcan's ambassador to the Federation is his first officer's father.

Visual Novels

  • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Junpei was childhood friends with Akane but is unaware that Aoi (aka Santa) is her brother. In the sequels, Sigma and Diana don't know that Phi is their daughter, but due to alternate universe and time travel shenanigans they technically don't become her parents until one of the bad endings in Zero Time Dilemma.

Western Animation

  • In Coco, Miguel spends most of the movie unaware that Hector is his great-great-grandfather.
  • Meet the Robinsons: It isn't until the start of the third act that Lewis discovers that Wilbur Robinson will be his son.


Feedback: 27 replies

Jan 28th 2018 at 2:48:36 AM

"Neophyte actor Tom auditioned for the play, but since he was a relative unknown he didn't get the part." :)

Jan 27th 2018 at 3:30:24 AM

I don't think the name of the trope is bad. We've had terms which could be confused before, and I like the wordplay in taking a known expression to make it into a trope.

What I do have a problem with is that no examples have been given. While I can think of at least one example, shouldn't the sponsor provide at least one to support the basis of the trope? Until a couple of examples are brought forth, I can't offer my hat.

Jan 27th 2018 at 2:09:34 PM

^^ intentional pun, slightly snowclone of Incest Is Relative and Relative Error; open to suggestions

^ I wouldn’t want a hat until it is launchworthy, which it is not. I would like the example, though. I’m switching between phone and work computers so I can’t always get everything up at once.

Jan 28th 2018 at 10:09:47 AM

  • In Coco, Miguel spends most of the movie unaware that Hector is his great-great-grandfather.

Jan 28th 2018 at 5:09:47 AM

  • In Wanted, Wesley doesn't realize that Cross is his father until after he kills him.This is foreshadowed by the fact that Cross seems bent on killing everyone but Wesley.

Jan 28th 2018 at 11:37:55 AM

Whilst not a hard rule, if a sponsor is active on the site and abiding by Rolling Updates (as in, there have not been a large number of suggestions without response), it is considered very rude to edit their draft.

Heads up for next time, especially since you may be editing at the same time they are; and since TLP history is less easy to track than on the main site, you can be erasing edits that will not later be able to be retrieved.

Jan 28th 2018 at 11:38:59 AM

^ Indeed, but another rule is to add examples to a recently-uploaded draft.

You didn't add any examples when you uploaded this draft, so I added examples to keep it from getting bombs.

I was just trying to help you.

Jan 28th 2018 at 11:49:26 AM

Thanks, and you can see I was being polite to whomever (I didn't know it was you) because it was genuinely a warning that it can effect edits and some people do get angry and possessive.

Jan 28th 2018 at 2:16:29 PM

In the Star Trek The Original Series episode "Journey to Babel" Kirk is surprised to meet Spock's parents. It's a little unrealistic that a Starfleet captain tasked with transporting a distinguished delegation to a vital conference would have no idea that Vulcan's ambassador to the Federation is his first officer's father.

Jan 28th 2018 at 7:50:54 PM

  • In Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors, Junpei was childhood friends with Akane but is unaware that Aoi (aka Santa) is her brother. In the sequels, Sigma and Diana don't know that Phi is their daughter, but due to alternate universe and time travel shenanigans they technically don't become her parents until one of the bad endings in Zero Time Dilemma.

Jan 28th 2018 at 8:24:19 PM

If In Universe examples count, then Star Wars The Force Awakens might be this, because while it's revealed early on that Kylo Ren is Han Solo's son, neither Rey nor Finn seem to know this for a while after, despite both of them traveling with him for most of the film.

Jan 28th 2018 at 8:53:42 PM

In Universe examples” are the examples- it is not based on audience knowledge

Jan 29th 2018 at 6:32:19 AM

In The Force Awakens, how would Rey and Finn have found out about the relationship? Did I miss the scene where Han pulled out the family photograph album?

Jan 29th 2018 at 9:53:14 AM

^ good point. I thought I probably missed something because I watched the film at a summer party (not great for paying attention). Like it's not unusual that Luke's friends didn't know his father. I'd more expect them to know about the Han/Leia relationship, but even if it's common knowledge Rey and Finn don't have the most informed backgrounds.

Jan 30th 2018 at 6:43:22 AM

No, you didn't miss anything. Both Han and Leia know that Kylo is their son, so it's not this trope.

The reveal in The Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader is Luke's father, and the reveal in Return Of The Jedi that Leia is Luke's sister, are better fits.

Feb 1st 2018 at 1:30:25 PM

Yeh, I'd assumed maybe because Rey knew about the Falcon there was a scene saying she knew Han a long time, or a scene with Kylo where someone implies or says that everyone knows who he is and who his parents are.

Feb 1st 2018 at 3:46:28 PM

  • Meet The Robinsons: It isn't until the start of the third act that Lewis discovers that Wilbur Robinson will be his son.

Apr 2nd 2018 at 6:54:04 PM

  • House Of Anubis:
    • Though Patricia had been in Anubis House for what's implied to be several years, only her best friend Joy seemed to be aware of the existence of her Polar Opposite Twin, Piper. This allowed for a subplot where Piper stayed at Anubis House in secret, inadvertently tricking people like Alfie into thinking Patricia was suddenly being nice (and thus into thinking the crush he had was on her rather than on Piper). The moment when she revealed to everyone in the house that Piper existed was full of shocked reactions that could've only happened had Patricia simply never mentioned Piper's existence. It's implied her jealousy of Piper's talents and social skills were why she kept everyone but Joy in the dark.
    • Season two introduced Jerome's younger sister, Poppy. While he'd been secretive about his poor relationship with his parents until he opened up to Mara in the first season, he never mentioned having a little sister until she appeared at the school. Poppy herself exploited this, as she used Jerome's unwillingness to admit her existence to his friends as a way to blackmail him at the beginning of the season.

Apr 2nd 2018 at 11:47:44 PM

  • One Piece: Luffy apparently never even thought of having a father (he only remembered having a grandpa) until his grandpa Garp points it out. It, of course, enables a reveal: that Luffy's father is an infamous criminal (the most wanted man in the world, in fact) named Dragon. It is implied that Dragon never raised Luffy and just left him in his hometown in East Blue.

Apr 3rd 2018 at 12:38:30 AM

  • In Game Of Thrones, all of the Lannister children seem to be unaware of the fact that their "uncle", Jaime Lannister, is actually their father, because of their mother Cersei's incest relationship with him.

Does this count?

Apr 12th 2018 at 4:57:23 PM

Examples haven't been added yet.

Apr 12th 2018 at 8:05:59 PM

Would this count orphans who never knew their parents were until later?

Apr 15th 2018 at 6:31:59 PM

^ I guess not knowing your family comes with being an orphan.

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