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Family Relationship Switcheroo

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Many family secrets are kept both in Real Life and fictionland. Orphans are one of the most popular character tropes, especially ones who turn out not to be orphans; the most famous example of this is the Luke, I Am Your Father situation wherein a thought-to-be unrelated character (often a villain, usually the Big Bad or The Dragon) turns out to be The Hero's parent. But sometimes these parents are hidden closer to home; sometimes, for some reason or other, they pose as a different relative — aunt, uncle, etc. and play a part in bringing up the child.

The most typical example of the trope would be an "older sister" who is actually a mother and "parents" who are really grandparents, a situation that was frequently Truth in Television before premarital sex and childrearing out-of-wedlock became less taboo. As such, it has been known (or suspected) to be the Awful Truth behind what's passed off as a case of Absurdly Elderly Mother. (See the Real Life section for more historical detail.) In fiction set in the past, this may still be the reason for the Switcheroo. In contemporary society, the damage done by forcing the family to lie to the child and to the outside world is generally seen as much worse than an admitted out-of-wedlock birth — even if the child is being Raised by Grandparents or other relatives, they will know who their birth mother is. Contemporary Switcheroos (both in real life and in fiction) are likely to be concealing a much darker and more potentially damaging family secret, such as a pregnancy caused by rape or incest.

What effect this has on the child varies from story to story, and how The Reveal happens. It should be pointed out that sometimes the focus of the story is the "older sister" and not the child, or the focus is on both equally.

See also: Luke, I Am Your Father, Luke, You Are My Father, I Am Not Your Father, Mum Looks Like a Sister, Supernaturally Young Parent, and Stigmatic Pregnancy Euphemism. Compare Cain and Abel and Seth. A Family Affair that leads to a pregnancy may be hidden by a switcheroo. Contrast Is That Cute Kid Yours?, which often takes the form of an older sibling being mistaken for a parent. May overlap with Mistaken for Related if an in-law or adopted child is mistaken for a blood relative.

Note that any Switcheroo is a straight use of this trope. It does not have to involve a parent in any way, and there are no inversions or gender-inversions. Also, beware of spoilers.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Air Gear Akito is Kaito's son, not his brother.
  • In Another, twin sisters Mitsuyo Fujioka and Yukiyo Misaki both became pregnant. Mitsuyo gave birth to twin girls, Mei and Misaki, but Yukiyo miscarried and fell into depression. Meanwhile, the Fujioka family was having financial problems from caring for two children, so when the twins were two, they sent Mei to the Misaki family. They presumably sent Mei because if they sent Misaki, her name would be Misaki Misaki. The switch was kept secret for several years, but their grandmother slipped up one day. The girls began to secretly spend time together, but sadly, Misaki died a few years later.
  • In the second half of the Bokurano animeIn the manga  it turns out that the parents of Jun are actually his aunt and uncle, and accordingly, his younger sister Kana is actually his cousin. This was necessary because his real father died during gang warfare and the mother entrusted her child to her relatives since she was also in danger. And although she approaches with her son and becomes a volunteer to save him, unfortunately she dies before he knows the truth.
  • Bunny Drop also plays with this. First we are told that Rin is a very young aunt of the protagonist, who was born from his grandfather's connection with a young girl who worked in his house. However, at the end of the series it turns out that his grandfather just claimed Rin as his daughter to hide that she was the result of an unwanted pregnancy and she prevented her mother from building a career.
  • In Digimon Adventure, Izzy/Koushirou Izumi overheard his parents talking one night about how they were not his biological parents, and they wanted him to remain ignorant of this until he was older. After a period of angsting about it, his parents finally had a long-overdue discussion about the adoption with him, and he found out his father was in fact his biological father's cousin — they had adopted him after his birth parents had died since they had recently lost a child of their own.
  • In the backstory of Goldfisch, the recently orphaned Morrey Gibbs met Spencer, a boy who looked exactly like him and had the same birthday. Morrey concluded that Spencer is his twin brother, and that their parents were forced to give up Spencer because they couldn't afford to raise two children. "Spencer" isn't Morrey's brother but his father, Conrad Gibbs; due to an accident with a life-granted artifact, Conrad reverted to the same age as his son. For a myriad of reasons, Conrad concluded that the best way to stay in his son's life was to live as his brother.
  • Played for drama and in general Zig-Zagged in The Irregular at Magic High School. In the 16th volume, Maya, the aunt of the protagonists Tatsuya and Miyuki Shiba, states that Tatsuya is actually her son, which turns the brother and sister into first cousins ​​and makes it possible for them to get married. However, further in the volume, it turns out that this is a lie invented for the purposes of Royal Inbreeding. Miyuki was actually a Designer Baby artificially created from the DNA of Tatsuya's parents; it is implied that as a result of this, she and Tatsuya are genetically closer to half-siblings anyway, which will ensure the birth of healthy children despite the Brother–Sister Incest. Maya was clearly not afraid that the DNA test would show anything unusual, and Tatsuya's real mother will be very difficult to identify since Maya was the twin of their mother and has identical DNA.
  • In the Junji Ito Kyoufu Manga Collection story "The Will", Hiroko's sister Taeko commits suicide, leaving a note in which she promises to curse someone from beyond the grave — but the intended victim's name is obscured by a blood stain. It's revealed that Taeko was actually Hiroko's cousin, and her "parents" were her biological aunt and uncle (leading the family to believe that the reason for her suicide was the stress of finding out she was adopted.)
  • Koi Kaze deliberately teases the reader with this, and then specifically averted to show that this is an artificial happy ending and trying to deconstruct the genre, rejecting tropes like this.
  • Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms has a variant induced by Supernaturally Young Parent. Part of Maquia's cover as an ordinary human is to use Dye or Die to make herself look like the natural mother or the ordinary human baby she adopted. However, Maquia is fifteen, the age at which Immortality Begins at Twenty kicks in for her tribe when she starts the masquerade. While her adoptive son knows the truth, the two of them are passing for siblings in public by the time he's a teenager.
  • In Mars (1996), Rei and Sei find out when they're younger that their dad isn't actually their biological father and their real dad is a man their mom had an affair with. What Rei finds out much later is that his legal dad is actually his biological uncle because his mom's affair partner was her husband's now-deceased younger brother.
  • Not Simple has the protagonist, Ian, discover that his beloved older sister, Kylie, is actually his mother, who became pregnant at 13 via Parental Incest.

    Comic Books 
  • Volume three of Green Lantern had a "Hard-Traveling Heroes" team-up between the Kyle Rayner Green Lantern and the Connor Hawke Green Arrow to search for Kyle's missing father. They end up meeting a man who claims to be Aaron Rayner and manipulates his alleged son into assisting in a domestic terrorism plot, but turns out to actually be Kyle's Uncle Zachary, not revealing the truth to his nephew until he's at death's door.
  • In the Hellblazer spinoff comic Lady Constantine, Johanna Constantine travels with her "little brother" Mouse, who's actually a girl posing as a boy. Johanna's reason for the disguise is that "bad things happen to little girls on the streets of London"... foreshadowing the reveal that Mouse is actually Johanna's daughter, and implying that the pregnancy was the result of rape.
  • In some incarnations, Barbara Gordon is the niece of Jim Gordon whom he adopted after her biological parents died.
  • Subverted in Transmetropolitan. Not only is the child entirely unwanted when it shows up—it also has no head, which fails to surprise anyone who knows the alleged father. And then it turns out to be a walking humanoid bomb.
  • Trouble (Marvel Comics), theoretically a romantic Spider-Man prequel miniseries, infamously made Aunt May the biological mother of Peter Parker. Richard Parker was still his father; in this version, Mary and May were best friends dating two brothers, but May and Richard had an affair. Mary agreed to pretend May's baby was hers, not even telling Richard the truth, and when they died little Peter was passed back to "Aunt" May and Uncle Ben anyway.
  • In Wildstorm comics' Wild C.A.T.s (WildStorm) it was revealed that Zealot, who has looked out for her "little sister" Savant since she was born, is actually Savant's mother. (And that Majestic was her father). However the Reset Button was pushed on the entire title the issue after this was revealed, so God only knows if it's still in-continuity.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Ursula Keating was raised by her Aunt Abigail, except her "aunt" has no siblings and was abandoned by her fiancee shortly before Ursula was born indicating that Ursula is actually Abigail's daughter. Ursula never confronts her on this as Abigail is a recluse who does not do well with mental stress.
  • In X-Statix, U-Go-Girl has a younger "sister", Katie, who is actually her daughter. Katie is told the truth by her mother's ghost in the 2019 relaunch.

    Fan Works 
  • Emilie's chapter in Adrien AUgreste: The New World After the Wish reveals that Adrien isn't her and Gabriel's biological son but rather her twin sister's Amelie son, specifically the identical twin of his "cousin" Felix.
  • Alexandra Quick has Alex herself. Her mother, Claudia, is actually her oldest sister, who walked away from the wizard world. Her real mother is Hecate Grimm, who unfortunately suffers from amnesia so severe that her sister, Lilith, turned her into a cat, which has allowed Hecate to live a moderately decent life.
  • In the Game of Thrones fanfic A Ballad of the Dragon and She-Wolf, Jon has a bit of an identity crisis when finding out none of his family were related the way he thought they were. Summed up by him: "My father is my uncle, my aunt is my mother, my lover is my other aunt, my siblings are my cousins, my grandfather killed my other grandfather."
  • Child of the Storm has this at the centre of one of its key reveals: Peggy Carter wasn't Alison Carter's older sister. She was her mother. The crucial parts, however, are the identity of the father, Steve Rogers and what this means for Alison's granddaughter, Carol Danvers.
    • It's also at the key of another reveal in Ghosts of the Past: Rachel Grey isn't Jean Grey's daughter, and Maddie Pryor isn't her clone. Instead, they're a Composite Character and Jean's stolen at birth twin-sister.
  • This is brought up in the middle of Curse of the Werepony, where it is explained that Sweetie Belle is Rarity's biological daughter, and their "parents" are actually cousins of Rarity's real parents, who disowned her.
    • Dear Sweetie Belle uses the same setup, though their "parents" really are Rarity's parents in this one.
  • Daria fanfiction sometimes reveals that Daria is Aunt Amy's daughter, due to their Uncanny Family Resemblance and similarly snarky personalities.
  • In Dark Savior, seventeen-year-old Selina Kyle was so unprepared to care for a baby that her older half-sister Lily helped by adopting her son. Even after taking the kid back, Selina cannot bring herself to tell the truth since Lily really wanted to be a mother and as such deserves the title.
  • In Empath: The Luckiest Smurf, Empath was left in the dark until his 150th birthday that he was actually Papa Smurf's only biological son, while Brainy himself grew up thinking that he was Papa Smurf's only biological son. (He turned out to be Empath's half-brother through the same mother.)
  • Eyes on Me:
    • Spinel is raised as Kimber's younger sister after the latter gives birth to her at the age of twelve.
    • In Chapter 4 of Maya and Sorcha, Roisin is revealed to actually be Sorcha's daughter and not her cousin. Sorcha's aunt and uncle decided to raise Roisin as their own child after they experienced a stillbirth.
    • Amy grows up thinking Jasper is her niece, when in reality, the latter sired her.
    • Ruby's namesake father turns out to actually be her uncle. Given that he and her biological father are identical twins, though, it might as well be nothing.
  • An entire group on is dedicated to stories where Applejack is revealed as Apple Bloom's biological mother, but passed her off as her sister. At least one of them also has Big Macintosh as Applejack's stepbrother and Apple Bloom's biological father.
    • Yes, My Lady, a crossover with Black Butler, pulls off both this and Related in the Adaptation by not only having Apple Bloom as Applejack's daughter but revealing that her father is Filthy Rich and Diamond Tiara is her separated-at-birth twin sister.
  • Has occasionally cropped up in Glee fics, after Matt Bomer was cast as Cooper, Blaine's ambiguously aged older brother.
  • The God Empress of Ponykind: Luna is technically Celestia's daughter, but Celestia insists Luna call her "sister" due to Celestia's bad experiences with having sons.
  • In Home Video of the Joestar Family Christmas, Dec. 2001, 9-years-old Jolyne is told that her 18-years-old great-uncle Josuke is her father's cousin, rather than the illegitimate child of her great-grandfather Joseph. Jolyne does suspect that Josuke isn't Jotaro's cousin (saying that he looks more like Jotaro's younger brother) but isn't aware of how they are actually related.
  • The Persona 5 fic I love you as much as I can, set during the exploration of Sae's palace, has Makoto find out that Sae is her mother.
  • This has happened in some The Loud House fanfics with Lily being the child of either Lori or Leni, such as in The Blooming Lily.
  • In The New Retcons, Michael Patterson finds out from John that he's not his biological son. His real father is Elly's first husband, Stan Watson. He was conceived as an attempt by Elly to keep Stan from traveling. It didn't work and he left shortly after Michael's birth. John married Elly when he was a toddler and Elly pretended that Stan never existed after that, lying to him that Michael hated him. This makes his sisters Elizabeth and April Michael's half-sisters and Stan the biological grandfather of Meredith and Robin.
    • According to Word of God, one of Lawrence's cousins is actually his half brother. Connie had a Teen Pregnancy and sent him to live with relatives. She met Elly at the same mother and baby home when the latter was pregnant with Claire.
  • Queens of Mewni: thanks to being started before certain revelations in Seasons 3 and 4 of Star vs. the Forces of Evil, a few canon relationships got shuffled, but it's also revealed the canon version of events were the result of one of the queens manipulating everyone's memories to try to erase her mother from history:
    • Crescenta the Eager becomes a Decomposite Character and ancestress of most of the other canon characters, rather than Eclipsa's alleged granddaughter.
    • Festivia the Fun not only is a legitimate Butterfly here but is Crescenta's granddaughter rather than mother.
    • Solaria the Monster Carver, Eclipsa's mother in canon, is her great-granddaughter here.
    • Comet is Moon's biological aunt rather than mother here: Moon's biological mother was Comet's sister, who asked Comet to adopt Moon and serve as her regent.
    • Of course the big spoilerly switcheroo is rather than being descended from an impostor and having no relation to Eclipsa at all, Moon and Star actually are Eclipsa's descendants from her first daughter, Luna the Child. When Star found out everything she did was Based on a Great Big Lie, she had a Heroic BSoD of epic proportions.
  • RWBY: Qrow turning out to really be Ruby's biological father instead of an Honorary Uncle is a fairly common Fandom-Specific Plot due to Ruby looking nothing like her blond father and half-sister.
    • Linked in Life and Love plays with this, as Yang and Ruby are still half-sisters, just not in the same way as in canon. Raven and Summer were together, with Taiyang never being in a relationship with either. He served as a sperm donor so Raven could become pregnant, giving birth to Yang. Two years later, scientific advances made Homosexual Reproduction viable, allowing Summer to get pregnant via Raven and give birth to Ruby. Raven had to flee to keep her family safe, and asked Tai and Summer to pretend Tai was the girls' father so Yang and Ruby wouldn't accidentally attract Raven's enemies. This makes Ruby and Yang half-sisters through Raven, not Taiyang.
    • RWBY: Scars pulls this twice. Ruby only finds out she and Yang are half-sisters during the events of the story when Yang accidentally slips the name of her birth mother Raven. Then Chapter 71 reveals to the audience that Raven's twin brother Qrow is Ruby's biological father, which means Yang and Ruby are actually cousins. Raven tries to reveal this information to Yang, but Qrow immediately denies it and claims his sister is lying like she usually does.
    • The oneshot To Claim a Rose has Ruby herself worry about this, but subverts it by having Qrow dismiss her fears. Though he privately muses that he wishes Ruby was his daughter, as he was in love with her mother Summer, but she only had eyes for Taiyang.
  • Sam & Mickey's Barbie parodies depict Barbie's "little sisters" as the illegitimate daughters of Barbie and Ken, whom Barbie publicly refers to as her sisters.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: A fan theory that crops up often in Star Wars fanfics is that Korkie Kryze isn't Satine's nephew but her son with Obi-Wan. It's one of those fanons that appear so often and are so taken for granted that you might think it's canon (it's not).
  • Warriors: The Power of Three (Rewrite/AU): Jayfeather and his two siblings grew up believing that Hollyleaf was their aunt through their mother Squirrelflight. Later on, they met their paternal aunt Mothwing as well. As it turns out, Hollyleaf and Mothwing are actually Jayfeather's biological parents. Hollyleaf gave her kits to her sister Squirrelflight because they were forbidden for various reasons.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Black Angel Vol. 1, Chiaki and Ikko believe they are half-sisters. In fact, they are mother and daughter. Ikko was Chiaki's Child by Rape. Chiaki's father removed the baby at birth and told her that the baby had died. He gave the Ikko to his mistress, and she was raised believing that she was their natural child.
  • Chinatown, though here they were both sisters and mother and daughter; the father, Noah Cross had raped his daughter, and she gave birth to a girl.
  • In Cookie's Fortune, Emma (Liv Tyler) finds out her mother is not Cora (Julianne Moore), but her "aunt" Camille (Glenn Close).
  • Daylight (2013): Iris is raised as the daughter of Ageeth. As an adult, she learns that she has an autistic half-brother named Ray. In fact, Iris is the biological daughter of Ray and a prostitute named Rosita, making Ageeth her grandmother.
  • In the book and film versions of Devil in a Blue Dress, White Daphne and Black Frank are assumed to be lovers when they are spotted meeting in secret. In reality they are half-siblings, sharing the same mother but with different fathers.
  • In Digging To China, the protagonist learns that her sister is really her mother after her grandmother (who she thought was her mother) dies.
  • In Father Of The Bride Part II, George is growing increasingly embittered over his wife being pregnant with them both in their fifties, and while revealing the pregnancy to their adult daughter, snarks that their child will probably call them "Grandma and Grandpa" in public to avoid embarrassment.
  • In Immortal Beloved, Beethoven's "nephew" Karl turns out to be his son.
  • In Jenny Juno, Jenny's older sister suggests that they hide Jenny until she's had her baby, and then send it to be raised by a relative in America who recently gave birth. The relative can then claim to have had twins. The mother dismisses the idea as too much like a soap opera.
  • In Jumping the Broom, Sabrina, the protagonist, learns that her Aunt Geneva is actually her mother, having become pregnant as a teen and abandoned by a man who turned out to be married. Sabrina was adopted by Geneva's older sister Claudine and her husband.
  • In Madea's Big Happy Family, it is revealed that Byron's "older sister" Kimberly is actually his mother (she was raped at 12 and gave birth at 13, making Byron a Child by Rape as well) and thus his "mother" Shirley is actually his grandmother.
  • In Mothers And Daughters, Beth confesses to being the real mother of her "sister," Becca, at her mom's funeral. Becca (and Beth's teenage son Tony) are understandably angry about this. Becca is also surprised to learn that Beth's husband is her father; supposedly the couple had first met after his tour in the military when they actually been together as teenagers first.
  • In Run Lola Run, during Lola's second run she ends up in a slightly agitated situation with her father and the following conversation takes place.
    Father: Besides, I could never have fathered a freak like you.
    Lola: Yeah... but you did, you Jerk!
    Father: No, I didn't!
  • Shara: A teenage girl's mother tells her she's actually her aunt.
  • Russian comedy Shirly Myrly is this trope taken to the extreme. Not only the main character, Krolikov, was raised by his aunt pretending to be his mother, but he also has a number of twin brothers who are also raised by various stepmothers. Also played for An Aesop, since Krolikov is an outspoken anti-Semite early in the film, so when his birth father is revealed to have been Jewish, it strikes him worse than the earlier revelation he's actually a stepchild. Each of his twins also believed himself to be a descendant of some other ethnic group, such as Jews, Romani, or African. They all have some racist sentiment against each other, which they have to overcome upon learning they are brothers and actually hail from a very mixed common descent.
  • Soapdish includes an example as part of its parody of soap opera conventions. Though 1970s The Sun Also Sets co-stars Celeste Talbert and Jeffrey Anderson's relationship was public knowledge, they were not married when he got her pregnant. To protect her "America's sweetheart" image, she broke up with Jeffrey and had his character killed off, then had her own character written out for a few months while she spent her pregnancy at her parents' house in Iowa. She claimed that her daughter Lori was actually the daughter of her twin sister Simone and her husband, who were killed in a car accident when Lori was too young to remember them. But when first Lori and then Jeffrey are added (re-added in the latter case) to the cast of The Sun Also Sets and not only seem to be developing a romantic interest in each other off-camera but are given a kissing scene in the show, Celeste is forced to confess everything to prevent them from committing accidental incest.
  • In the 1978 Superman: The Movie, Martha Kent suggests that she and Jonathan tell people that the baby boy they found was "a child of my cousin's... and just now orphaned."
  • Travels with My Aunt: The aunt turned out to be the mother, while his 'mother' really was his aunt taking responsibility for her sister's mistake.
  • In Tromeo and Juliet, the title characters find out they are, in fact, brother and sister. They decide to continue their romantic relationship anyway. It is a Troma movie, after all.

  • In the 100 Cupboards trilogy, protagonist Henry is sent to live with his aunt (his mother's sister), uncle, and cousins while his parents are traveling. Throughout the course of the story, it is revealed that Henry is a magical Doorstep Baby obliviously adopted by his Muggle Foster Parents... which causes him to suddenly lose his connection to the only loving family he's known until it is further revealed that his uncle is actually the younger brother of Henry's real father, making his relatives still his aunt, uncle, and cousins, just through the other side.
  • Some of the twists in the Abram's Daughters series by Beverly Lewis feature this. For instance, Leah Ebersol eventually learns her biological mother is her "Aunt" Lizzie, while her biological father is the local (non-Amish) doctor. Likewise, Jake Mast isn't told until the series' final book that his fiancée is actually his biological aunt.
  • In the Alex Delaware novel Blood Test by Jonathan Kellerman, The older sister is the mother of the younger and both of them have the same father.
  • In The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Tommy Clay knows that Sammy Clay isn't really his dad, but it takes a while for him to figure out that Joe Kavalier is his real father and not his cousin.
  • Very common in the works of V. C. Andrews:
    • In The Wildflowers series, Cat is raised as her sister Geraldine's daughter. She is initially led to believe that she is Geraldine's biological daughter, then her adoptive daughter. It turns out neither is true — Geraldine's mother gave birth to Cat, and they are half-sisters.
    • In the Cutler series by the same author, Lillian discovers that her mother Georgia is actually her aunt — Lillian's birth mother was Georgia's sister who died shortly after Lillian was born. Later, when Lillian is raped and gives birth to Charlotte, the family pretends that Georgia is Charlotte's mother too.
    • Also in the Cutler series, protagonist Dawn was abducted as a baby and is returned to her real parents, the wealthy Randolph and Laura Sue Cutler. However, it turns out Randolph isn't her father at all — Randolph's own father had raped Laura Sue and is Dawn's biological father. Randolph is really her half-brother.
    • In the Casteel series, Heaven Casteel learns that her supposed step-grandfather is actually her father, thanks to him raping her mother, meaning that she isn't related at all to any of the people that she thought were her siblings. In a later book, her daughter Annie is horrified to find herself developing feelings for her half-brother Luke (the result of her father's drunken one-night with Heaven's "sister" Fanny), only to have it turn out that she is the result of her mother's own adulterous liaison, meaning she and Luke aren't related at all.
    • The Dollanganger series reveals that Chris Sr's mother Alicia was raped by his older half-brother Malcolm, leading to the birth of Corrine. Therefore, while Chris Sr and Corrine married believing themselves to be "only" (half-)uncle and niece, they were in fact also (half-)brother and sister.
    • In the Logan Series, Melody Logan's mother Haille was raised as the adoptive daughter of Olivia and Samuel Logan, but her biological mother turns out to be Olivia's sister Belinda. This also means that Melody and Cary are second cousins rather than first cousins, paving the way for them to marry.
    • My Sweet Audrina: Vera is revealed to be Audrina's half-sister as well as her cousin, due to Damian Adare having had an affair with Elisbeth. This is arguably what caused the entire book; Vera's resentment at not being acknowledged by her father and at his affection for Audrina led her to have Audrina raped, which ultimately led to everything else in the book.
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm has a faked case relying on a polygynous Exotic Extended Marriage. The commoner protagonist's noble identity is passed off as the daughter of her father and one of his wives, but her real mother is another wife of her father's. She's actually related to neither woman.
  • In Torey L. Hayden's Beautiful Child, it is revealed that one of a poor mother's large brood is actually the product of her boyfriend and her mentally retarded teen daughter. The child herself is unaware of this. This is a true story.
  • Ella from Bright Lines was taken in by her aunt and uncle as a child. Ella herself doesn't view her cousin Charu as her little sister, but Charu sees Ella as her sister. To complicate this further, Ella is in love with Charu.
  • In Amy Tan's novel The Bonesetters Daughter, the protagonist LuLing is raised by her biological father's brother and his wife and her real parents are her "babysitter" Precious Auntie, the titular character, and her murdered fiancé. This explains why her "younger sister"/cousin GaoLing is pampered like an eldest daughter.
  • In A Brother's Price, the Whistlers suspect that the younger Brindle sisters were actually not fathered by their alleged father, but by Balin Brindle, the son of the family. There's a twelve-year gap in births, and the father is described as very frail and feeble. And then there is Kij Porter's daughter Eldie, whose father, too, is someone other than is officially claimed.
  • The children's novel Bud, Not Buddy revolves around a young African-American orphan named Bud in The Great Depression running away to track down a musician who he believed was his father named Herman. At the end of the novel after finding him, Herman gets tired of his antics and demands to know his mother's name. Upon being told, he reveals that he's in fact not Bud's father but his grandfather and is devastated to learn that his long-lost daughter has been Dead All Along. The novel ends on a more positive note with Herman adopting Bud.
  • The Cat in the Stacks Mysteries:
    • Justin Wardlaw, supporting character throughout the series, learns early in book 1 that his biological father is supposedly famous writer Godfrey Priest. Godfrey ends up the book's Victim of the Week when he figures out he was lied to and who Justin's actual birth father was — it's Godfrey's older half-brother Rick Tackett, making Godfrey into Justin's uncle instead. Justin's mother, who was the one lying about Justin's parentage so that he'd inherit Godfrey's millions, is the killer.
    • In the final chapter of book 3, Charlie receives a letter from the book's now arrested murderer, in which Sarabeth Conley (née Norris) confesses that the book's other arrested murderer, her supposed younger brother Levi, is actually her son. His father is not identified.
    • In Book 4, while researching the Ducote family, Charlie discovers the diary of Katherine Cecelia Ducote in the archives and from it learns that she was left unable to safely have children after a miscarriage, so her husband turned to Cecelia's cousin Esther (AKA "Essie Mae"). Essie Mae thus became the mother of Miss An'gel and Miss Dickce, but they were raised by Cecelia as her own. Charlie turns the diary over to the sisters by the end of the book, allowing them to learn the truth as well while swearing never to reveal it without their say-so.
  • Codex Alera has Tavi's "aunt", Isana, who hides their real relationship from everyone (including her son). She had a damn good reason to do so, though, given that the boy's father is the presently deceased heir to the realm, meaning that he's now the sole legitimate heir to the throne. Since Septimus was assassinated, she felt that the only way to protect Octavian was via obscurity; as part of this, she suppressed his growth to make it appear that he was born too late to be Septimus' offspring. Unfortunately, this accidentally suppressed his Person of Mass Destruction-level Elemental Powers as well, leaving him as the only person in the country with absolutely no powers. He finds out the truth in Book 4, which is also when he discovers his Furycrafting powers are finally coming in.
  • Crazy Rich Asians: In the third book Rich People Problems, Nick discovers that his aunt Catherine was born of an affair between his grandmother and a Thai prince. Nick's grandfather, being the Nice Guy he was (as he is now deceased), raised Catherine as his own child.
  • Chris Crutcher did this in two of his stories. In Deadline, Dallas is really the mother of her younger brother; this is kept a secret because he was the result of being raped by her uncle at a young age. In Chinese Handcuffs, Stacy Ryder's younger brother is really her and Preston's son.
  • Deep Secret has an atypical version: Maree and Nick are cousins, though Maree knows that she was adopted. However, we eventually learn that Nick's father is actually his stepfather (something that he didn't realize), and he happens to have the same birth father as Maree: the recently-assassinated Koryfonic emperor. Apparently the only one in the family who knew that they were half-siblings was Nick's mom, who also happens to be the Big Bad.
  • Cryptid Hunters: Twin protagonists Marty and Grace O'Hara discover that they aren't actually twins; Grace is really Marty's younger cousin, the daughter of Marty's uncle Travis Wolfe and his late wife Rose (Wolfe gave her to his younger sister and her husband to raise after her mother's death, in part because he wasn't able to raise a child on his own and in part to protect her from Rose's father).
  • In the Deryni book The Bishop's Heir, said heir abruptly discovers that his parents are his grandparents, that his twin sister is in fact his aunt, and that another sister, now long dead, was actually his mother. When she was a teenager she secretly married a young man who has become a bishop in the present day. The emotional impact of the discovery is cushioned by the fact that the boy has known and been fond of his biological father since he was six, and the fact that he will fall heir to a second earldom and a duchy if his friends and allies (who include the bishop in question and the king himself) can only prove his parents were legally married probably doesn't hurt.
  • The Diminished: While going through one of his late father's journals, Bo discovers that his great-aunt the Queen may actually be his grandmother, and that she gave birth at her sister's house in order to cover it up. In addition, Bo discovers, after his mother's death, that she was actually his stepmother, as he was brought in as a baby to replace the original Ambrose Trousillion, who died when he was a few months old, because his parents were having fertility issues.
  • A bizarre example occurs in Dragon Bones, where Oreg is actually related to the Hurog family (he's the bastard son of some ancestor, several generations removed). When he needs a cover identity, because the truth is too strange, Ward opts for introducing him as a "cousin" which is the usual euphemism for bastard offspring fathered by some male family member. So the people who see through the euphemism know the truth, namely that Oreg is a bastard son... just not whose bastard son.
  • In the Maeve Binchy book Evening Class, Kathy Clarke is stunned to realize that her older sister Fran is actually her mother. Ironically, she is told this by someone who was completely unaware of the secret—she merely saw the two together and assumed. When Kathy confronts Fran and asks her point-blank if she's her mother, Fran's silence is, of course, her answer. Despite the Irish/Catholic setting of Binchy's books and the time period the book is set during, it's revealed that this was NOT done out of shame because of the situation—the woman explains that her mother's reaction to her pregnancy was to simply say "won't it be grand to have another baby around here", thus revealing that she had her family's unconditional love and support. The "deception" simply came about because no one ever bothered to explicitly tell the girl what the situation was—indeed, they thought that she already knew.
  • This is one of the main plot points in Catherine Forde's Fat Boy Swim. Jim Kelly's Aunt Pol is his mother, and "Mum" is his grandmother.
  • The Gardener: A respectable Englishwoman raises her dead brother's son on her own (although she does say he can call her "Mummy"), until he's killed in WW1. She goes to the cemetery in France, asks the titular gardener about her nephew's grave, and the gardener takes one look at her and says:
    "Come with me and I will show you where your son lies."
  • Girl Waits With Gun is the story of three sisters who live alone on a farm and are harassed by a local criminal. Based on reality, the youngest sister doesn't know that her grandmother adopted her to avoid the scandal of her own daughter's pregnancy.
  • Marcus LaGrone's The Highlands of Afon: In Dawn, the titular character discovers that her "uncle" and adoptive father Lewellyn is actually her biological father, and the actual arrangement requires Exotic Extended Marriage. Her biological mother had a nervous breakdown after he killed her brother, and Lewellyn's sister's family took her in as a fourth mother. Also note that in their culture children typically don't know or care which of their father's wives is their biological mother.
  • In His Dark Materials, Lyra's "Uncle" Lord Asriel is actually Lyra's father, her mother is Mrs. Coulter, making Lyra have a case of both this trope and Luke, I Am Your Father. This masquerade was to cover up an affair.
  • Incarnations of Immortality: When Niobe was in her early twenties, she had a son named Cedric Jr., but his father Cedric died shortly after. When she was in her forties, she remarried and had a daughter named Orb at about the same time that Cedric Jr. had a daughter named Luna. Cedric Jr. gave Luna to Niobe to raise since he and his wife's jobs made them too busy. Since Orb and Luna look almost identical, they were passed off as twins. The two were later informed of their real relationship as Niobe's daughter and granddaughter when they were older.
  • In Ishq And Mushq, Sarna's illegitimate daughter, Nina, was raised by Sarna's mother as her own daughter.
  • In the Janie series, the titular character is raised by two people she believes are her parents. As it turns out they believe they are actually her grandparents and she is the daughter of their estranged daughter when in reality, both are incorrect, and she was actually kidnapped from a third, unrelated family.
  • Occurs twice in The Lightbringer Series. The story opens with Gavin finding out he has a bastard son. However, Gavin is not the real Gavin, but Gavin's brother Dazen in disguise. The real Gavin is implied to be Kip's father, making Dazen his uncle. Later on, it is revealed that their father Andross may actually be Kip's father, making him Gaven and Dazen's half-brother.
  • In Madeleine L'Engle's A Live Coal in the Sea, one character is raised by his sister and brother-in-law after his mother dies and it turns out that his father is not his mother's husband.
  • Maximum Ride: Jeb Batchelder is Max's biological father as well as her guardian, and Dr. Martinez is her biological mother.
  • Ravensong: Due to A Family Affair, Stacey and her siblings' biological father is actually the twin brother of their legal father:
    Grampa Thomas told a story of twin brothers, one the father of children, the other the woman's husband. Stacey choked. She isn't going to tell me that Jim is not my father. Momma's monologue softened, became reverent, telling Stacey precisely what she did not want to hear. To prevent divorce and still have children she had spent time in the city with Ned-four times, in fact. It had hurt Jim but he had to decide between no wife and no children or a wife and his twin brother's children.
  • In the third book of The Ruby Red Trilogy it is revealed that Grace, the woman who raised main protagonist Gwyneth, is actually the aunt of Gwyneth's biological mother Lucy. Lucy had to flee from the Count only days after giving birth and couldn't take her baby with her. Grace kept it a secret to protect Gwyneth.
  • In Shanghai Girls, which takes place in the 1920s, May's daughter is raised by her sister Pearl as her child since even though May was married, she had never had sex with her husband.
  • The Sherlock Holmes Stories of Edward D. Hoch: In "The Adventure of the Anonymous Author", Holmes deduces that the girl Catherine Crider claims is her younger sister is actually her daughter, and the reason that Miss Crider is keeping her identity secret is in case the girl's father should read her name and come looking for them.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • The Baratheon children Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen learn that their uncle Jaime Lannister is their biological father...but still also their uncle. They reject this notion, as their mother vehemently denies it as a scandalous rumor meant to cheat them out of their inheritance.
    • Similarly, Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, the uncle of King Daeron II Targaryen "the Good" on both sides (due to Daeron's parents being siblings, as per Targaryen tradition) may have actually been his father. However, many think it is more likely that Aemon's brother, Daeron's father King Aegon IV Targaryen "the Unworthy" began the rumors himself out of spite at his only legitimate son, as Aegon wanted to make one of his bastard children, Daemon Blackfyre, his heir instead, and did everything short of openly proclaiming him so (giving him the family sword, Blackfyre, for example, and making him and all his other bastards legitimate on his deathbed), leading to multiple generations of civil wars called the Blackfyre Rebellions with Daemon, his descendants and their supporters attempting to seize the throne.
    • There are rumors around the Twins that Lord Walder Frey's seventh wife Annara Farring conceived her children with Black Walder, Lord Walder's great-grandson via his first wife Perra Royce. If that's the case, it means Arwyn, Wendel, Colmar, Waltyr, Elmar, and Shirei's great-nephew is actually their father, while their father is actually their great-great-grandfather. Black Walder is also rumored to have had affairs with many of the women round the Twins (such as both of his brothers' wives), even those who are also descended from Lord Walder. As if the Frey family tree weren't already bizarre and tangled enough.
    • Historically, Corlys Velaryon claimed Addam of Hull and Alyn of Hull as his grandchildren. However, Corlys's son Laenor was in the Transparent Closet, so it's much more likely that the boys were actually Corlys's own sons. To make things more complicated, Alyn, who succeeded Corlys, married his cousin Baela Targaryen, who if the rumors were true was actually his half-niece.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: A Stitch in Time details how Elim Garak first learned that his real father was Enabran Tain, the head of the Obsidian Order. Tolan Garak, the man who raised him, reveals on his deathbed that he's actually Elim's maternal uncle, meaning Tolan and his sister Mila were merely playing the part of husband and wife to protect Tain's secret.
  • Stravaganza: The first book, City of Masks, has a very traditional example when Arianna discovers that her "parents" are actually her aunt and uncle, and her mother is really the Duchessa of Bellezza. Oh, and her father? Senator Rodolfo, who finds out partway through the book himself.
  • In A Suitable Boy Saeeda Bai was raped at a young age by the Nawab Sahib of Baitar, resulting in a daughter, Tasneem. To protect the Nawab Sahib's reputation, they pretend Tasneem is Saeeda's sister. This comes back to haunt the Nawab Sahib when his son falls in love with Tasneem.
  • In the Sweet Valley High series, a secondary character is shocked to learn that her "aunt" is really her mother, who lied because she was conceived out of wedlock. As well, in The Wakefields of Sweet Valley saga novel, Ted Wakefield is equally shocked to learn the same thing about his "aunt", who lied for the same reason.
  • In To Hear A Nightingale by Charlotte Bingham, Cassie grows up being abused by her grandmother and told what a slut her mother was. When her grandmother dies she finds out that her "grandmother" was really her mother. The woman had had an affair when in her 40s and hadn't ever accepted having a child. This nearly destroys Cassie.
  • In the Colleen McCullough novel The Touch, it is decided that Elizabeth will serve as her granddaughter Dolly's mother as it becomes quite clear that the child's real mother, her mentally retarded daughter Anna cannot. As both women gave birth at very young age—Elizabeth at 17, Anna at 13—this is completely believable. Unusually, the book ends with Dolly still unaware of her true parentage.
  • Jayfeather, Lionblaze, and Hollyleaf of the Warrior Cats series are raised as Squirrelfight's and Brambleclaw's kits. However, Leafpool, the sister of Squirrelflight and Jayfeather's mentor is their real mother. When this is revealed to the three, Hollyleaf doesn't take it well.
  • We Can't Rewind: Mostly back story, but Don grimly notes that being "a grandmother not yet turned thirty" made it pretty easy for Denise's mother to pose as Jaymee's mother too. Later on, due to a "Freaky Friday" Flip, Don and Denise are easily able to pass themselves off as the family's children and pass their actual children Jackie and Jaymee off as their parents while getting them married to each other. When Jaymee in her mother's body gives birth to little Jubilee, they decide rather than try to sort out the complicated disparities between her biological and emotional relation to them, they'll just think of her as the whole family's daughter and raise her together accordingly.
  • When visiting her "older sister" who is comatose in hospital, Kit, the main character of Maureen McCarthy's When You Wake And Find Me Gone, receives a letter written by her "sister" which reveals that she is really Kit's mother and that her father is somewhere in Ireland.
  • In While Were Far Apart by Lynn Austin, Penny needs her birth certificate for a new job, and in the process of tracking it down, finds out that her emotionally distant and critical elderly parents are really her grandparents, and her much older big sister is actually her birth mother. She has always wanted someone to appreciate her and be proud of her, and finally finds that at the end of the book when she is reunited with her birth mother.
  • In the Wings of Fire series, the HiveWing dragon Cricket finds out that there's a reason their mother and father have always been so distant from them. Her real mother is her "elder sister," whom she's always had a loving relationship with. Her grandparents weren't jazzed that their daughter had an egg while still a dragonet.
  • In Witches Rings by Kerstin Ekman, Tora was raised by her grandmother, Sara Sabina, as one of her own children. Unlike many of the examples on this page, this was done to hide a tragedy rather than a scandal: Tora was the result of a pregnancy by rape, and her biological mother was a young teenager who died shortly upon giving birth.
  • A slightly confusing example occurs in the novel A Yellow Raft in Blue Water: Christine is really the daughter of Ida's father and her aunt Clara on her mother's side, making her technically Ida's three-quarter sister (or something like that) but Christine was raised to believe she was Ida's in order to cover up the affair that created her. This is made even weirder by Ida's insistence that Christine call her "Aunt Ida". In the end, only Ida and the reader know this.
  • In the Romance Novel Whisper To Me Of Love, the hero believes the heroine, Morgana Devlin, to be the illegitimate daughter of Stephen Devlin, the Earl of St. Audrie's, and therefore the illegitimate half-sister of Stephen's son Julian. However, during a meeting with several other key players in the book, on of them insists that she can't be Stephen's child, as he was away traveling when she would have been conceived. They realize that she's the long-lost daughter of Stephen's late brother Andrew and therefore actually Julian's cousin. When Julian goes to confront his father about this. Stephen cruelly informs him that Morgana actually is his sister—Julian is the illegitimate one, the result of an affair Andrew had with his mother, meaning that the man he thought was his father is actually his uncle.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In one episode of 2point4 Children, Rona's about to lose her council house unless she can provide her birth certificate to have the tenancy transferred to her as the daughter of the previous tenant. The birth certificate forces "Aunt" Pearl to reveal that she is Rona's real mother, but Rona grew up with Pearl's childless sister and brother-in-law since Pearl wasn't married at the time.
  • One episode of the court show Ana Rules involved a teenage girl asking to live with her sister instead of her overprotective mother. As it turns out, her sister was really her biological mother. She had her at age fourteen so her mother decided to raise the baby as her own instead.
  • The First-Episode Twist of Andi Mack is that Andi's Cool Big Sis Bex is really her mother.
  • Arrested Development: Michael, GOB, Lindsay, and Buster are introduced at the start of the show as the children of George and Lucille. It's eventually revealed that Buster was fathered by George's twin brother Oscar, and Lindsay is Lucille's half-sister, making them half-brother and aunt respectively to Michael and GOB.
  • Beverly Hills, 90210: Gina was introduced in the show's ninth season as Donna's cousin and caused much havoc within the group. In Season 10, the audience discovered that Donna's father had an affair with Gina's mother in the 1970s, resulting in her birth, making Gina her half-sister in addition to being her cousin. Donna's father, Dr. Martin, discovered this and was quick to accept Gina as his daughter, though he later died soon after accepting her into the Martin family.
  • In the second season of Castle Rock we are led to believe that Annie is Joy's mother, when in fact they are half-sisters (Annie's father had an affair with her tutor).
  • Double for the money example in Chinese Paladin: Ah Nu discovers that her sensei is actually her mother, and discovers her long-lost father's identity at the same time.
  • Subverted on a Ripped from the Headlines episode of Cold Case "Boy In The Box", a 6-year-old orphan, who is found dead with his head shaved, is passed off as the brother of a girl who was at the same orphanage, it's later revealed that he actually was the son of a younger nun who had an affair with a lab assistant.
  • In the Criminal Minds episode "Taboo", the unsub knew he was adopted. What he didn't know was that his "older sister" was actually his mother, who'd gotten pregnant at sixteen. He grew up attracted to his "sister" because he believed they weren't biologically related, so it would be okay for them to have sex. Finding out the truth led him to snap.
  • Days of Our Lives loves doing this to John Black. Due to his Mysterious Past, at various times he's been "revealed" to have been an Alamain, a Brady (twice if you consider the original reveal he was Roman Brady), and a Dimera.
  • Desperate Housewives: Bree hides the pregnancy of her teenage daughter Danielle and pretends to be the mother of her grandson.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances" involves a young woman who is haunted by a little boy zombified-by-nanotech, who she claims is her brother but turns out to be her son. He is only healed of his zombification after Nancy admits to him that she is his mother, and the nanogenes recognize the literal "mother genes" and heal him and everyone else based on their new knowledge. Prior to this he'd been walking around spreading The Virus and calling out "Are You My Mummy?" (and being pretty damned creepy while doing so), hence the former trope name.
    • In "Knock Knock", the Landlord lures people into his house so they can be fed to the woodwork filled with alien insects whom he needs to keep his ill daughter alive. When the Doctor meets the daughter, who has been turned into wood by the insects as a means to survive, he concludes that she has lived too long to be the Landlord's daughter. Indeed, she is his mother, who thinks she's his daughter because her condition acts like a form of dementia, which he uses to convince her he knows what's best. Upon learning the truth, she choses not to go along with it anymore.
    • Spinoff Torchwood gets into the act as well. Captain Jack Harkness (who was introduced in the above Doctor Who two-parter, and who has since become immortal) ends up masquerading as his daughter's "brother" once she grows up — she knows, but her son (Jack's "nephew"/grandson) doesn't.
  • EastEnders:
    • The following famous interchange between the Slater "sisters" (though The Reveal for the audience had happened a few months before, this was when Zoe found out). This was due to Kat having been raped by her uncle at the age of 13.
      Zoe Slater: You can't tell me what to do, you ain't my muvver!
      Kat Slater: Yes I am!
    • In 2010, a storyline revealed that Shirley Carter's brother Mick was really her son.
  • In Emmerdale Rishi Sharma decides to pretend he's the father of his grandson Archie in order to save his son Jai's marriage to Charity by covering up the fact that Archie was the result of a one-night stand affair Jai had with Rachel Brickle. In this case, however, it doesn't take all of the stigma away from the situation. The child is still known to be the result of an extra-marital one-night stand, but Rishi's marriage is already in the gutter anyway, so he thinks it will be better to protect Jai this way.
  • In the pilot of Endeavour, a murdered girl's "older sister" is revealed to have secretly been her mother. This becomes relevant when she discovers that the girl's father had gotten the girl involved with a sex ring, and beats his brains in with a crowbar.
  • After her irresponsible sister abandons her daughter, ER's Susan Lewis becomes the baby's foster mother and is in the final stages of formally adopting her and becoming her legal mother despite actually being her aunt when her sister resurfaces, having finally cleaned up her act.
  • In Forever (2014), Henry Morgan and Abigail adopted Abraham in 1945, but because Henry permanently looks 34 years old, they've had to adapt their public relationship over time. Abraham had to start calling Henry by his first name when he started looking more like an older brother than father, then a younger brother, and now Abe's ex-wife (who had never met Henry to avoid her discovering he doesn't age) assumes Henry is secretly Abraham's son.
  • Frasier discussed this trope when Roz got pregnant and decided to raise her kid on her own.
    Martin: Boy, things have really changed since my day. Back then, if a girl got in trouble, her family would send her away to relatives in another state, and if anybody asked, just lied and said she went to Europe. Then when she came back, they'd raise the baby as a little sister. Not like today-we had morals and values back then.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Since Season 1 we have the knowledge that Jaime Lannister is actually the father of Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen Baratheon, instead of just their uncle (though he's also that, too, due to Brother–Sister Incest).
    • Like it's hinted in the books, Season 6 confirms that Ned Stark passed Jon Snow off as his bastard son instead of his nephew (Jon being his late sister Lyanna's son with Rhaegar Targaryen) to conceal his Targaryen legacy from Robert Baratheon.
  • On General Hospital it was revealed that Claudia Zacchara was not actually Johnny Zacchara's sister but his mother, making Anthony Zacchara his grandfather (his real father was Gino).
  • Godiva's: A secondary character named Chantal shows up to stay with Simone, her estranged older sister. Turns out Simone is actually her mother. (Coincidentally, Simone "deflowers" a young busboy named TJ in a much earlier episode — the same TJ that Chantal now starts dating.)
  • Haven has a supernatural variation. Audrey has spent much of seasons 1-3 trying to solve the murder of the Colorado Kid, and in the process has discovered she has fake memories and several past lives. When she is told that Lucy, her most recent incarnation, loved the Colorado Kid, she assumes that means romantically. However, late in season 3 she finds out he's actually her son, the result of a time traveling liaison with another past life, Sarah, and Audrey's Will They or Won't They? detective partner, Nathan.
  • In Hollyoaks, Peri Lomax turns out to be her "sister" Leela's daughter, raised by her grandparents Sam and Danny as their own daughter because Leela was only fourteen years old and the father, Cameron, was a dangerous criminal (whom Sam framed for murder in order to keep him away from the family). However, Peri continues to consider Sam and Danny her real parents even after the truth is revealed.
    • There have been at least two cases on the show of cousins turning out to be siblings because of parental affairs: Rhys Ashworth is actually Josh and Hannah's half-brother, and Kathleen McQueen claims that she slept with Jacqui and Mercedes's father meaning Theresa is their sister as well as cousin (although whether she was telling the truth is questionable.)
  • In the Australian soap Home and Away, Charlie is revealed to be Ruby's mother, born after Charlie was raped. Charlie's parents raised the baby as their daughter. When Ruby finds out, she goes ape about it, before finally forgiving Charlie for the deception.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, Barney grew up believing (for a time) that Bob Barker (yes, The Price Is Right Bob Barker) was his father, since when he asked once, his mother pointed to the show and said that it was him. He finds out later that his "Uncle," Crazy-Jerry Whitaker, is his actual father, who left because his mother didn't want him to grow up the same.
  • Justified: Kendal Crowe is introduced as the youngest brother of the family; he's actually the son of his "sister" Wendy.
  • In Lab Rats, Adam, Bree, and Chase are under the impression that Donald is their biological dad. They find out that he's really their uncle who adopted them because their real dad, his brother Douglas, created them to be weapons. They also find out that Marcus, who they thought was just a classmate turned enemy, is really their brother as Douglas is his father too.
  • Original Law & Order has it in the episode "Merger" in 1999, where the teenage murder victim was the daughter of the wealthy family's older child and not a sister.
  • Occasionally encountered in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
    • Fin's nephew, and cousin of Fin's son Ken, Darius (played by Ludacris) forces Finn's ex-wife to reveal in court that he is actually her son, a half-brother to Ken, the result of being raped by her own father (though Darius refused to believe the latter part). He was raised by his grandmother, who told him on her death bed.
    • In another episode, they found out the adopted son of a judge was actually his biological child via his stepdaughter, who he'd raped when she was eleven.
    • In one episode centered around a Duggar-Expy family, it's revealed that the family's youngest son is actually the child of one of the older daughters. The daughter had gotten pregnant from sexual abuse by the family pastor, but never told her parents that; the parents instead thought the daughter had been sneaking around with a boyfriend, so they covered up the "indescretion" by passing the kid off as one of their own. When they learn what actually happened, the family decides to come clean in order to help their daughter get justice.
  • An episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent had the detectives realizing — and telling their murder suspect — that he was actually the father of the young man he had thought was his younger half-brother. (His stepmother had seduced him when he was 14 and she was so desperate to cover this up that she had labor induced and passed off the baby as full term — thus allowing her husband to believe it was his — when it was actually 2 months premature.)
    • Another episode has the troubled stepdaughter of a wealthy man revealing that her alleged half-sister is actually her daughter, the product of her being raped by her stepfather and that both the rape and the true parentage of the girl were hidden to avoid scandal.
  • Lip Service: Frankie's "uncle" is really her father. He blackmailed her into giving up Frankie because he'd got evidence she was involved with a murder (her friend really did it, but that couldn't easily be shown). Then after the deaths of his brother, sister-in-law, and their child, he passed Frankie off as his niece.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "Death and the Divas", it is revealed that when a younger sister had an illegitimate baby, her older married sister registered the baby as hers and raised the girl as her own.
  • Midnight Sun (2016): Nadji, Kahina's estranged son, was raised by her mother as Kahina's younger brother.
  • Discussed in an episode of Modern Family, where Alex asks her mother if this would happen if her older teenage sister got pregnant from her boyfriend.
  • A major arc on Moesha involves Dorian discovering that his uncle, Frank, is really his biological father, born from a relationship he had while he was separated from his first wife. His mother was thus really his aunt.
  • Murder, She Wrote: In "Unauthorized Obituary", Jessica discovers that the sister of the Victim of the Week was really her daughter, with the mother having given birth when she was fifteen. This explains why she was so protective of her 'sister'.
  • Neighbours:
    • Lyn Scully discovered that her Aunt Valda was actually her mother, who had gotten pregnant with her at a young age and been forced by her family to give baby Lyn to her older, married sister.
    • The EastEnders example above was parodied in EastErinsborough a tribute video made for that show's 30th anniversary (EastEnders would return the favour a month later): Susan Kennedy has a dream where she sees Naomi Canning and Paige Smith recreating the scene between the Slaters, the joke being that not only are Paige and Naomi not related in the actual show, but Paige had been part of a Luke, You Are My Father storyline the previous year, and her mother Lauren interrupts to point this out.
  • Nirvana in Fire: Jingrui has two surnames. His mother gave birth on the same night as her friend at the temple they were staying at. That same night they were attacked and the two baby boys were mixed up in the darkness and confusion, making it impossible to tell which baby belonged to which mother. When one of the babies died after a few days, things became even more complicated. With no way to decide which family the baby belonged to, the emperor declared that he should belong to both of them and be given both their surnames. Then it turns out Jingrui's real mother Princess Liyang was pregnant with her lover's baby and then was forced to marry Marquis Xie. She realized her husband was trying to kill her illegitimate son but had actually killed her friend's baby by accident. She perpetuated the confusion with the Zhuo family in order to protect Jingrui from the Marquis.
  • An episode of NUMB3RS revolving around a polygamist cult features a pair of women who are sisters and mother and daughter (unknown to the daughter until some way into the episode).
  • On One Life to Live, Destiny Evans was raised by her paternal grandparents but believed they were her parents. She later learned that her real father was her "older brother" Greg, who accidentally killed her mother Charlene, the girlfriend of his brother Shaun, and then gave Destiny to his parents to raise.
  • On Orange Is the New Black, Cindy "Black Cindy" Hayes has a daughter named Monica. She was a teenager when she was pregnant with her. Cindy gave Monica to her mother to raise her as Cindy felt she wasn't responsible enough to raise Monica on her own. Monica grew up believing Cindy is her "older sister" and her "mom" is actually her grandmother. In Season 7, Monica finds out the truth about who Cindy is to her via a letter Taystee, Cindy's former prison friend, wrote as revenge for Cindy testifying against her in court.
  • On The Parkers (a spin-off of Moesha, above), Nikki is shocked to discover (on a family trivia game show, no less) that she was adopted. Her biological mother turns out to be her aunt.
  • In Patriot, Efram is Edward's biological son but has been raised to think of Edward as a Big Brother-type mentor, because Edward is a Senator and might lose his job if people found out that he had a kid out of wedlock.
  • The 1990 TV miniseries version of The Phantom of the Opera, with Charles Dance. In it, it is revealed that the Opera House's old manager is Erik's father, but he has pretended to be a more distant relative, "out of cowardice". Towards the end, he reveals the truth to Erik, who, in a slight subversion, says he'd known it and wondered when he would tell the truth. The same thing happens in the Yeston-Kopit musical version, which had the same writer.
  • Similarly on Playing the Field, a BBC TV drama series about a women's football team. Two of the team members were actually mother and daughter and not sisters as the younger one thought. (The mother wasn't raped, except in the statutory sense; she had an underage but fully consensual affair with a much older man and refused to identify him when she fell pregnant. Naturally, he's about the place in the series too.)
  • In Princess Returning Pearl, for a long time, it was kept a secret that Xiao Jian was Xiao Yan Zi’s brother, and the person who basically caused their entire family’s death is Qian Long, who is not only Xiao Yan Zi’s adoptive father but also the father of her sworn sister and best friend, and of her fiancé. There is a big reveal eventually that basically accumulates to become a Drama Bomb.
  • Pushing Daisies: Chuck was raised by a single father, Charles, and after his death went to live with her father's stepsisters Lily and Vivian. Chuck knows that Charles was engaged to Vivian before his relationship with her mother but what neither Chuck nor Vivian know is that Lily is actually Chuck's mother and Vivian is actually her biological aunt.
  • In The Republic of Sarah, young Josh's Honorary Aunt Sarah is actually his biological aunt; his biological dad is Sarah's brother Danny, who left his mother Corinne just after getting her pregnant.
  • Subverted in Rome. When Niobe's husband comes back after years of absence to see her holding a baby she has some explaining to do. She claims it's the son of their 13-year-old daughter. Given how well the secret was kept it seems they must have kept the neighbours in the dark too and planned the substitution from the start or invoked this trope.
  • Saturday Night Live had an "Inside Barbie's Dreamhouse" sketch in which Barbie (Amy Poehler) confesses to her "kid sis" Skipper (Britney Spears) that she's actually Skipper's mother, as well as Kelly's and Krissy's mother; their illegitimate fathers include action figures of Han Solo and two Power Rangers.
    Barbie: Haven’t you ever wondered why we look so much alike? Or why we’re both double-jointed?
    Skipper: Oh, my God! You told me mom died in an Easy-Bake Oven accident.
  • The Janitor in Scrubs claims to have made several traumatic discoveries along these lines. He's a compulsive liar, though.
  • In the final season of The Sopranos, it is revealed that Paulie Walnuts has been raised by his aunt his entire life to avoid disrupting the plans of his real mother (whom he believed to be his aunt), who wished to become a nun but got pregnant out of wedlock prior to Taking the Veil. He only finds this out on the latter's deathbed, and initially disowns his adoptive mother and feels that both of them betrayed him, although he makes it up with her before she also dies of old age.
  • In Supergirl (2015), Lena Luthor is introduced as the adopted sister of Lex Luthor. About halfway through the season, her adoptive mother Lillian reveals that her adoptive father Lionel was also her biological father. He'd had an affair and "adopted" Lena after her mother died.
  • In Time Gentlemen Please, it is greatly implied that the Guv's "Uncle" Barry is actually his real father.
  • Trace: In "The Two Sisters", after Tamara gets pregnant by a classmate and gives birth, her mother claims the child has died instantly and pretends to adopt a little girl from the orphanage in consolation (actually Tamara's daughter). It backfires spectacularly: Tamara has no wish to love an alleged adopted sister, and the two sisters hate each other with a passion; even worse, Tamara actually gave birth to twins, but her mother could only afford one more baby and left the boy in the foster system, so many years later, Surprise Incest between the twins ensues, and then a murder spree once they learn about it.
  • Tyrant (2014): Leila reveals to Cameron that she had an affair with Barry, who is really his father, but let Jamal think he was his.
  • On The Vampire Diaries, Elena learns that her uncle is actually her biological father; she was born when he was a teenager, and after the mother left town, he gave his daughter to his much-older brother and his supposedly infertile wife to raise as their own child.
  • Vera: In "Protected", this kind of relationship lies at the bottom of the murder. The Victim of the Week was actually the son of his elder 'sister'; having been born when she was 15. Although estranged from her family, and married with a family of her own, she remained close to her son. She finally tells him the truth, which sets in motion the chain of events that results in his murder.
  • On Veronica Mars, Jackie's "younger brother" is revealed to be her son — a fact he is not aware of, as he calls his grandmother "mom".
  • In Workaholics Adam's "father" (played by Jack Black) admits to actually being his older brother, having literally assumed the role of father after their real father ran off. Adam doesn't really mind though as he was a horrible father and it would make more sense if he was his brother.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Chris Rock has a bit about this, saying "If the kid calls his grandmama 'Mommy' and his mama 'Pam', then he's going to jail."

  • In The Maid of Pskov and its prequel, The Noblewoman Vera Sheloga, Nadezhda claims Vera's daughter Olga (born after an extramarital affair) is her own child, to protect Vera from her husband's wrath. Nadezhda and her own husband Yuri raise Olga as their own child even after Vera dies, and the girl only learns the secret by accident.
  • Top Girls by Caryl Churchill: Angie is really Marlene's daughter, but was raised as the daughter of Marlene's sister Joyce. Poignantly played upon in the last scene when Angie calls for her mother and Marlene responds "No, it's Aunt Marlene."

    Video Games 
  • In supplementary material for Devil May Cry 5 it's mentioned that Nero had assumed his Cool Uncle Dante was his father as a result of their Strong Family Resemblance but was uncomfortable with asking him about it. It's for this reason that he takes it much harder than he should when Dante calls him "dead weight" at the start of the game. When Dante finally reveals to him that Vergil was his real father after they'd known each other for years, he's a little shaken.
  • In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Flayn and Seteth are introduced as siblings, but it's revealed in their side-chapter that Flayn is actually Seteth's daughter, and they keep their true relationship secret because they're both Really 700 Years Old and carry an extremely rare bloodline that certain groups could use for nefarious purposes. The fact that they are really Saint Cethleann and Saint Cichol is only revealed in their A support, albeit hinted at elsewhere.
  • In the The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, Rufus Alberea is initially presented as Jusis' older half-brother. Just before his boss fight at the end of the third game, however, Rufus reveals that he was actually conceived from an affair between the wife of Jusis’ biological father (Duke Helmut Alberea) and Helmut’s brother, making him the Duke's nephew and Jusis' cousin in reality.
  • In Umineko: When They Cry, Battler's family is noted to consist of himself, his father Rudolf, stepmother Kyrie, and half-sister Ange. In the last arc, it's revealed that after Rudolf's first wife Asumu gave birth to a stillborn son, he switched the babies, thinking it would be easier since Asumu was his wife while Kyrie was his mistress. Rudolf married Kyrie shortly after the death of his first wife Asumu, driving his son to live with his maternal grandparents. In other words, Battler's stepmother and half-sister are actually his mother and full-sister.

    Web Animation 
  • My Story Animated: In "I Found Out That My Sister Is My Mother", a girl finds out as a teenager that her biological mother is a sister she's never known. She had always thought that her mother Carol just had her at a late age. Her older sister and biological mother Melanie had her when she was a troubled teenager and let her mother raise the baby.
  • Yang from RWBY spent a good chunk of her childhood under the impression that her stepmother Summer Rose was her biological mother, not learning the truth until after Summer's disappearance/death.

  • In Aki-chan's Life Shinji and Asuka attempt this with their daughter. It doesn't work, as Aki immediately exclaims that she is "Mama's cousin."
  • In Dragon City, Beatrix's case is a little different. She and her "older sister" Erin traveled back in time to when Beatrix's egg was laid. It was at this point that Erin lays Beatrix's egg, though she ends up getting raised by their mother of that time period (who mistook it for one of her own eggs).
  • In Drowtales, it turns out that Ariel is not really Quain'tana's daughter, but is actually Mel'arnach's, who she's been raised to think of as a sister. And just to further complicate matters, Ariel's father is Zhor, a dark elf who was transformed into a frickin' giant spider.
  • Homestuck: Quite a few examples, due to ectobiology (i.e., cloning) and Time Travel mismatching generations and ages.
    • Dave's older brother is actually his genetic father. Ironically, Bro Strider is about the same age as Mom Lalonde, making it all the stranger that he tells Dave they're brothers instead of father and son.
    • Jade's grandfather is actually her genetic father. John's long-dead grandmother is his genetic mother and his father is actually his half-brother.
    • Averted with Rose: Mom Lalonde IS her genetic mother.
    • And then after the scratch, we have the original kids swapped with their genetic parents. Jane Crocker was raised by Dad, whose exact genetic relation to her is unclear. Jake was adopted by his genetic daughter, Jade, who called herself his grandmother. Dirk and Roxy refer to their genetic son and daughter respectively as older brother and mother. Time fucking shenanigans.
  • Shotgun Shuffle has oldest daughter Ginger adopt middle daughter Juniper's son after Juni's teenage pregnancy. (And by "middle", we mean "4th of 7", not "2nd of 3".)

    Western Animation 
  • In Adventure Time, it is revealed that Jake's mother actually had no blood relationship to him, and he was conceived when his father was attacked by an Eldritch Abomination and had a child grow parasitically on him that apparently shared his genetics. This is the true origin of his powers, and not falling into a magic puddle as a baby as his parents told him.
  • In BoJack Horseman, when Hollyhock (who notes that people always said she resembled BoJack) meets BoJack, BoJack concludes that Hollyhock must have been the result of a one night stand he had with a woman, and they try to bond as father and daughter. It's eventually revealed that they're actually half-siblings, from an affair BoJack's father had with the maid. BoJack finds the birth certificate confirming that and gives it to Hollyhock, and they start bonding as the brother and sister they truly are.
  • Discussed in The Cleveland Show:
    Donna: This isn't going to be easy to hear...
    Rallo: Roberta's actually my mother?
    Donna: Don't ever say that again!
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Little Big Girl" has Bart (pretending to be older) date a fourteen-year-old girl who turns out to be pregnant. After being assured he can't be the father ("Wow, you are only ten") he agrees to marry her anyway to hide the truth. When the girl's mother announces that she's pregnant too, the family (with sort of creepy cheerfulness) agrees to pretend the mom has twins. It is therefore implied that The Reveal will occur some years later.
    • In decidedly non-canon Bizarro Episode "Lisa the Boy Scout," which is framed as a series of clips from unaired Simpsons episodes kept under wraps by Disney as they're considered bad enough to kill the show, one clip depicts a dying Selma telling her sister Marge that she's her real mother.
      Selma: I was young and briefly hot. It was a different time. Back then, we solved things with huge lies.
  • Comically invoked in the Star vs. the Forces of Evil episode "Britta's Tacos", in which Marco is repeatedly mistaken for the father of his newborn sister Mariposa, with all his old friends assuming that he and Star have been gone for the past year to hide that she had a Teen Pregnancy. Attempts to clarify the situation do not help, with them believing he just doesn't want his ex-girlfriend to know.
    Sensei: I see you're a dad now... figures.
    Marco: Dude this is—this is my sister.
    Sensei: Ooh, I get it; you're hiding it from Jackie. Don't worry! Your secret is safe with me.
    Marco: I'm not hiding anything! This is my sister!
  • The Venture Bros. has the reveal that Dermott is the son of Rusty Venture and the fifteen-year-old president of his fanclub, and was raised by the mother of his biological mother.

    Real Life 
  • Up until the 1970s (when the Pill and legalized abortion became available and cohabitation as well as single parenthood became acceptable), it was common for young women pregnant out of wedlock to be "sent away" before they started to show and to give birth in secret. "Homes for wayward girls" were essentially private maternity wards where women were heavily pressured to give their children up for adoption (as long as they were white — at the time the adoption prospects for nonwhite babies were... pretty grim). Birth mothers might not even be allowed to see their babies before they were taken away to their adoptive parents. Faced with losing her child forever, it's not hard to see why a mother might prefer becoming an "older sister" who could still be part of the child's life. The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler is a good source for those looking to learn more about maternity homes and forced adoption. While many children of young unwed mothers are still raised wholly or partially by their grandparents, it's much less common for families to bother concealing the underlying biological relationships.
  • Jack Nicholson's "older sister" was really his mother while the woman who was allegedly his mom was actually his grandmother. His real mother did it because she had sex with a man (both were unmarried) who ended up leaving her and she didn't want anyone to know that she was an unwed mother (both Nicholson's grandmother and mother died before he found out this family secret). In a height of coincidence, he learned this just as Chinatown — in which he starred — was about to open in theaters.
  • Eric Clapton was born when his mother, Patricia Clapton, was 16 years old; his father was a Canadian soldier who shipped off to World War II before Eric's birth and then went back to Canada. He was raised believing Rose and Jack Clapp, his mother's mother and stepfather, were his parents.
  • Bobby Darin's mother, Nina Cassotto, was 17 and unmarried when he was born, and he grew up thinking his parents were Nina's parents (even though her father died of pneumonia a year before he was born) and that Nina was his older sister. He didn't learn the truth until he was 32 years old, and the identity of his biological father remained a very closely-guarded secret right up to Nina's death in 1983.
  • Australian singer David Campbell's real father was Jimmy Barnes, who would go on to become an Australian rock icon, but he was raised by his mother's parents, believing them to be his own parents.
  • Serial killer Ted Bundy suspected for years that his older sister was in fact his mother, finally learning it for a fact in 1969. Even worse, she might very well have been his sister after all, given the heavy, yet unproven speculation that he was the result of Parental Incest between her and his grandfather.
  • Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Sir Paul Nurse was conceived out of wedlock, and was raised by his grandparents in the belief that they were his real parents and his birth mother was actually his sister. They took the secrets to their graves, and Nurse only discovered the truth in his fifties, upon being appointed president of Rockefeller University; his application for a green card was denied as his birth certificate did not name his parents, and when he applied for a replacement that named them, the truth came out.
  • Civil Rights/gay rights activist Bayard Rustin grew up believing Janifer and Julia Rustin, the parents of his biological mother Florence Rustin, were his parents and that Florence was his older sister.
  • Novelist Catherine Cookson was raised believing her parents were Rose and John McMullen, who were in fact the parents of her real mother, unmarried alcoholic Kate Fawcett (it didn't help that her father, Alexander Davies, was a bigamist and a compulsive gambler).
  • Anglo-Indian actress Merle Oberon likely saw no reason not to believe that Charlotte Selby was her mother, as she was only in her mid-twenties when Oberon was born. However, her real mother was Selby's illegitimate daughter Constance, who had been born when Charlotte was fourteen years old and whom Oberon believed to be her sister; Oberon herself had been born when Constance was twelve years old. Her father was listed on her birth certificate as Charlotte's partner Arthur Thompson, but he was neither her father (whose true identity remains unknown) nor her grandfather (who was an Irish tea plantation foreman named Henry Selby).
  • Guinness World Records refuses to accept many well-known historical claims for "oldest mother to successfully carry a child to term" out of suspicion that they were examples of this trope.
  • Jaycee Lee Dugard's two daughters, (who she gave birth to at ages fourteen and seventeen) by her rapist and kidnapper Phillip Garrido believed their whole lives that Jaycee was their older sister and that Garrido's wife was their mother. They had to find out the horrible truth after the police finally caught and arrested Garrido.
  • Throughout her life, Marion Davies's "niece" Patricia who she had a close relationship with was rumored to actually be her own daughter with her long-time lover William Randolph Hearst, who the girl bore a suspicious resemblance to. Whether the rumor was true remains unknown, but on her deathbed, Patricia publicly claimed that Davies and Hearst were indeed her parents.
  • Upon the announcement of her candidacy for Vice-President of the United States in the 2008 elections, rumours began to circulate that Gov. Sarah Palin was actually the grandmother of her youngest son and that his oldest sister was actually his mother. Subverted, as the rumours were soon proved completely unfounded; one of the giveaways was that the boy, Trig, had Down's Syndrome, which is far more common with older mothers. Her eldest daughter Bristol would later get pregnant out of wedlock, but the Palins decided to be public about it.
  • In the Middle Ages, it was not unusual for popes to have illegitimate children (such as Pope Alexander VI's children, Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia) that they bestowed favors upon, although it was considered gauche to publicly acknowledge their paternity. Instead, they were referred to as "nephews" or "nieces" of the pope. This is the origin of the term "Nepotism".
  • In 1939, a then-5-year-old girl from Peru named Lina Medina was taken to the hospital for a tumor in her belly. During the examination, it turned out that she was pregnant (she had gone through puberty at an unusually early age). She gave birth via c-section to a young boy, but was told her whole life that he was her younger brother — and, according to some claims, Lina was told the same — she did want a brother, so people told her she's fulfilling her own wish. It is not certain whether it actually was a lie; relatives do tend to be prime suspects in such cases, and Lina's father was jailed on suspicions of incest, but released for lack of evidence, while Lina herself wouldn't say who had done this to her. She lived a pretty normal life otherwise, and later married and had another son (this time one that she actually knew was her son).
  • William Moulton Marston (creator of Wonder Woman) was legally married to a woman named Elizabeth but had another “wife” named Olive Byrne.note  As this would have been extremely scandalous at the time (he died in 1947), his kids by Olive were told that he was their uncle who adopted them and took care of their mom when their dad died. They didn’t know he was their dad until they were adults, long after his death.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Are You My Mommy, Grandmama Babymama Switch, Are You My Mummy, Related But Differently


Cindy and her mother

Cindy has a daughter named Monica, but she gave her to her mother because Cindy felt she wasn't responsible enough to take care of her own daughter. Monica grew up believing Cindy is her sister and the woman she called "Mom" is her grandmother.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / FamilyRelationshipSwitcheroo

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