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Just the First Citizen

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Atia: My congratulations, you're good as king now.
Octavian: Not king, merely First Citizen.

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

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

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

Also, it's a perfect way to escape responsibility. You don't rule anything, after all; you're "just a citizen." It can demonstrate how well you've stayed attuned to the common people and their needs, or shameless propaganda to present such an image. It may also be necessary to not violate tradition, the constitution or both. Say your country has a century old aversion to having a king. Well, if you are just the "hereditary first citizen" you are not a king, are you? Or your country's constitution has term limits on the presidency. Surely there Ain't No Rule against being "head of the national guard" forever?

The pretense that he is just a Permanent Elected Official is common. May preside over a Hereditary Republic.

This is Truth in Television, Older Than Feudalism, and much more common in Real Life than in fiction.

See also Modest Royalty and Reasonable Authority Figure. Contrast The Magnificent, I Have Many Names and Authority in Name Only.

Often found ruling a People's Republic of Tyranny.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto, Cesare hears Lorenzo de'Medici referring to himself this way in a speech, and, this being the premier manga for beautifully illustrated history lectures, tells the reader all about how that was what Augustus called himself.

    Comic Books 
  • In Über, Maria Katyusha takes over Russia after killing Josef Stalin and dissolving the Soviet Union. Given that she is a Super-Soldier with reality warping powers who could very well declare herself any grand title she wants in a god-like power trip, instead she adopts the title of "protector" since she plans to replace communism with anarchy.

    Fan Fiction 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic examples:
    • In the Pony POV Series' Epilogue/Dark World timeline, Discord constantly refers to himself by (usually random) titles that imply he's an elected official, rather than an Evil Overlord.
    • A fair amount of fanfic uses a variation of this trope to explain why Luna and Celestia call themselves "Princess", instead of "Queen" or something higher. The theory is that the land now known as Equestria — or pony civilization in some earlier form — once had a queen, but she wasn't especially popularnote  and the present royal sisters acquired a distaste for the title. A Brief History of Equestria is a prominent example.
      • This actually has support in canon. Queen Majesty, in the '80s comics, was known to do some pretty nasty stuff to deal with villains, and stories like that sometimes grow in the telling.
      • The fanfic Order and Chaos had it to where Celestia and Luna actually had an older brother named Daearen who was the heir to the crown of the alicorn. He actually became King after the alicorns were wiped out by the embodiment of Chaos, including their parents. Said brother would becomeDiscord, who became as such when he absorbed the essence of the embodiment of Chaos to seal away the embodiment of Order and thus how he and his sisters came to rule Equestria. He was the original holder of the Elements of Magic and Laughter. However, centuries of the power corrupted him and Celestia was forced to seal him away with Luna's help (it's revealed the first night that he had her promise to stop him if he went bad and that his dying smile was him briefly becoming lucid in realizing Celestia was fulfilling her promise.)
    • In Innocence Once Lost sidestory After the War the leader of the humans and his successor after the previous one is assassinated both use this title, it's implied it started as a joke but due to Future Imperfect humans use it unironically now.
  • Neomorphs: When the Visser reorganizes the Yeerk Empire into the New Yeerk Order, he refuses the position of Emperor, instead continuing to go by his rank title.
  • Timeline-191: After the End sees Japan's military government collapse at the end of the Fourth Pacific War, being replaced by a syndicalist revolution. The leader of this new government subsequently grants himself the title of "People's Friend".
  • In A Thing of Vikings, this is Played for Laughs. You see, Stoick the Vast of Berk is the chief of a small Norse tribe in the Hebrides, not some distant and aloof king surrounded by protocol. He's but a village headman in touch with his populace... except that he has an air force. His son and heir, the polymath, is leaving the underpinnings of the 11th century Eurasian economy curled up in the corner crying for their mothers. He has not only conquered southern Ireland after an unprovoked attack but also seized London by force and handed the thrones of England-Denmark to a claimant of his choosing. Unsurprisingly, it remains a low-key running gag that everyone outside of his immediate circle switches to more exalted terms of address when he is out of earshot.
  • Chasing Dragons:
    • At the height of his power while exiled in Myr, Rhaegar effectively rules the city-state, but never styles himself king. Instead, he settles for the titles of Governor of the South and Protector of the City.
    • Viserys eventually becomes King of Volantis in all but name, after being elected to a Triarch seat by huge public approval and granted direct control of all military assets, which grants him greater power than the other two Triarchs.
  • Fairies of the Shattered Moon: Lampshaded when Esper Rosenflos/Summer Rose accepts emergency powers in Atlas in the wake of the Schnee Manor bombing, the death and reanimation of General Ironwood to launch a coup against the Atlas Council, and the implication of COMMAND ESR in it all (All According to Plan since she and ESR are the same person and were prepping the kingdom to being conquered by Salem, even if she truly believes she's doing the right thing). She even quotes the trope itself.
    Robyn: I suppose the Queen of Atlas is allowed to be waited upon.
    Esper: *sighing* Just the First Citizen. That's all the vote was for.
    Robyn: I've read the amendments to the constitution. If it looks like a monarch, acts like a monarch, and wields the power of a monarch, I call it like it is.
  • Star Wars: Fallen Empire: Following Palpatine's death at Endor, the Imperial leadership eventually declares his great-niece Ederlathh Pallopides as the new Empress, but since she's only 9 years old they also appoint Grand Admiral Octavian Grant to act as her regent and de facto supreme military commander, with the simple title of "Protector", which he keeps even after Ederlathh is assassinated by fanatics opposed to anyone other than Palpatine being monarch, leaving Grant as Emperor in all but name. After Grant himself dies in battle, the title of Protector passes through a succession of Imperial leaders until Gilad Pellaeon establishes peace with the New Republic, at which point he anoints Davin Fel as the new Emperor and abolishes the Protector position.
    • The remake story, Star Wars: Rising Storms, has the title of Lord Counselor. Originally created to give Darth Vader an official position within the Empire while acting as The Dragon, after Endor it was given to Grant when he was appointed Ederlathh's regent; as in Fallen Empire, this in combination with his pre-existing position as Supreme Commander makes him de facto Emperor until his death. Years later, when Ederlathh comes of age and marries Davin, he's given the title, with everyone deciding that "Lord Counselor" is now just going to be a fancy way of saying "Imperial Consort", though in this initial case, due to Ederlathh being a hands off ruler while Davin handles political matters, he's much closer to being the actual ruler than she is.
    • Rising Storms also shows that Tarkin's tenure as Grand Moff was also an example. Officially, the position is just the first-among-equals chairperson of the Moff Council, but the restructuring of the Republic into the Empire included the merger of the Outer Rim sectors into Oversector Outer and it being placed under Tarkin's direct authority, which meant that between his personal web of allies in the region and Palpatine's focus on esoteric Force matters over actually ruling the Empire, Tarkin was essentially a co-Emperor ruling nearly half the galaxy as a quasi-independent fief. Notably, his successors as Grand Moff following his death at Yavin never had this level of power, and by the time of Ederlathh's reign the position was reduced back to its original role.

    Films — Animation 
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Vanellope ends up as this, after renouncing the throne and crown and settling for "president" instead.

     Films — Live Action 
  • A variant occurs in Downfall. After Eva Braun marries Hitler an officer briefly stumbles over what to call her, since they never bothered to come up with a title for the wife of a Führer. She tells him to just call her Frau Hitler (in English, "Mrs. Hitler").

  • Ambergris was founded by a whaling fleet turned pirate. So first rulers of the city-state are called the Cappan (a regional pronounciation of "Captain") which started under the captaincy of Mazinkert I and continued under his descendants.
  • Isaac Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy:
    • "The Merchant Princes": The Commdor of Korell, Asper Argo note  claims that Commdor simply means "the first citizen of our Republic". Dr Asimov spends a paragraph to comment on the phenomenon:
    Korell is that frequent phenomenon in history: the republic whose ruler has every attribute of the absolute monarch but the name. It therefore enjoyed the usual despotism unrestrained even by those two moderating influences in the legitimate monarchies: regal "honor" and court etiquette.
    • "Search by the Mule": The Mule rules a volume of space equivalent to one-tenth of the galaxy, according to the Encyclopedia Exposita prefacing this work, and goes by the title of, yes, First Citizen. Part of this stems from his innate inferiority complex, as he was aware that no matter how impressively he titled himself, he could never change the fact that he was physically misshapen and comically deformed. Instead, he is content to rule with unchallenged Psychic Powers ensuring perfect loyalty from his highest-level minions. A successor to the title appears in "Search by the Foundation", purely to preserve the illusion that they are as militarily powerful as the Mule.
    • And by the time of Foundation's Edge, the Foundation controls half the galaxy, and its highest political office is still "Mayor".
    • The ruler of the Second Foundation is known as the First Speaker. The simple title comes from the fact that he gets to speak first in all meetings.
  • Discworld:
    • The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, whose title simply means "member of a political family". The fact the Patricianship tended to be limited to certain families for some time blunts that it was technically an elected office: in Night Watch it's mentioned that the guilds elect him, and the Patrician has an official residence. But one man, one vote... he's the man, so he gets the vote.
    • The Archchancellor of Unseen University likes to describe his position as being "first among equals". Though he puts more emphasis on the "first."
    • Ponder Stibbons, who wields more-or-less absolute power over the University by virtue of being the only one who ever does any work, doesn't actually have a title at all - at least not one that explains his power. His power ultimately stems from holding seventeen staff positions simultaneously, each of which has an unimportant title associated with it, each of which gives him a council vote. By giving him more positions than the other members of the council combined they turned him into a majority voting block and quorum all by himself. This went completely unnoticed until he called attention to it to stop a wizard civil war from igniting in an emotionally charged moment, and afterwards the wizards decided something needed to be done to reduce his power... so they asked Ponder to deal with it.
    • Goes further than most with Granny Weatherwax, who doesn't even have a title. Witches don't have leaders, and while there are many idiosyncratic reasons for that one of the big ones is that Granny wouldn't approve of such a thing. She's also referred to as one of the most respected leaders they don't have.
    • The dwarfs' word for their King literally translates to "senior mining engineer" — an understated gesture of authority, given the vast network of mining communities that constitutes the dwarf homeland. Kings are elected by the senior mining leaders and are the final word in dispute resolution.
  • The Lord of the Rings:
    • Though the Stewards of Gondor aren't kings, they control the nation with the same authority the now-defunct line of kings had. Aragorn would have a harder time claiming the long-vacant kingship if not for the suicide of Denethor, the last Ruling Steward, the death in battle of his first son Boromir and near-death of his second son Faramir, although it turned out the second was fine with handing over control to Aragorn. (It probably helped in the latter case that Aragorn clearly intended to spend a good chunk of time in the north reestablishing Arnor as a kingdom, leaving his Gondorian Steward—i.e. Faramir—to run things in the south while he was away.)
    • The Lady Galadriel of Lothlórien controls everything that happens and can read the minds of intruders into her realm, keeps her people safe from Sauron, and is one of the oldest beings in the world, but is simply called the Lady or the White Lady. Though this is at least partially because her name itself is considered a Badass Boast among elves.
    • Elrond, while "mighty among Elves and Men" and fairly powerful, is simply called "Master Elrond". Elves barely have any concept of "rank"; while they attach prestige to lineage, an individual's actual power mostly derives solely from other elves being willing to follow him (though if a given leader doesn't make many mistakes, other Elves will tend to prefer status quo to revolution). Their political model is basically, in anthropological terms, a pre-chiefdom tribal one, like that of the Sioux or Apache. (Which makes sense, since most of the time they have no need for an order of succession.) Mind you, the Elves do have more traditional sophisticated monarchies, and in ages past there were many Elf kingdoms,note  but in the Third Age the only proper kingdoms of Elves remaining in Middle-Earth are that of Thranduil at the northern end of Mirkwood (Legolas's people) and Lothlórien (of which Galadriel styles herself "Lady" but everyone recognizes her as a queen in all but name). The other remaining Elven kingdoms are in Valinor.
  • The Black Company's first (arguable) Big Bad. Sorceress-queen with near-Physical God powers. Ruler of an entire continent, and conquering more. Known simply as The Lady.
  • In Stephen King's The Stand, Randall Flagg refers to himself as "Leader of the People and First Citizen" when issuing proclamations.
  • Likewise, in King's The Dark Tower series, John Farson is a warlord who accumulates a significant enough force to bring down Gilead, one of In-World's few remaining stable states. Farson is referred to in-universe by the title "The Good Man."
  • Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court styles himself The Boss.
  • In Tik-Tok of Oz, the eighth Oz book, there is a land where everyone is a king or queen except that the guy with the position of ruling over all these kings and queens is "the Private Citizen". Even he gets a fancy title, namely "the Great Jinjin," but his subordinates still get to have the regal titles that the Private Citizen doesn't.
  • In Atlas Shrugged, the top U.S. governmental position is "Head of State," and its occupant is always referred to simply as "Mr. Thompson"; unimpressive titles both. It's a matter of speculation exactly why the United States no longer has a president in this Alternate History (have they formally abolished the US Constitution?); though Rand said that she wanted characters like Mr. Thompson to seem like mediocrities, and calling him "the President" would have given him a dignity he wasn't supposed to have.
  • In Codex Alera, Alera is ruled over by the First Lord, who is presented as the "first among equals" with the rest of the Realm being ruled by High Lords who preside over each major city, and the First Lord officially being the ruler of Alera Imperia, the chairman of the Senate, and the executive commander of the combined Legions in times of war. Unofficially, the First Lord rules over all of Alera and the High Lords bow to him. This causes trouble when the Succession Crisis erupts.
  • Honor Harrington: Robert S. Pierre of the People's Republic of Haven uses the title Chairman of The Committee of Public Safety, or simply Citizen Chairman in direct address.
  • In the last book of the Mistborn: The Original Trilogy, a minor villain named Quellion has taken over the city of Urteau and turned it into a Dystopia where former nobles are gathered up, locked in a building, then burned alive, while the common people are subject to increasingly strict regulation according to Quellion's ideas of how people should live. Despite being effectively a king, due to his "anti-noble" stance claiming a noble title would be counterproductive, so Quellion instead calls himself "the Citizen".
  • In James Blish's Mission To The Heart Stars, the Hegemon of Malis objects to even being addressed as "your excellency". Hegemon is sufficient.
  • In Sarah A. Hoyt's Darkship Thieves, Earth is ruled by the Good Men.
  • The Wheel of Time.
    • Subverted. In his role as leader of the Asha'man, Mazrim Taim takes the title M'Hael, which literally just means "leader" in the Old Tongue, something that doesn't seem that impressive. However, taken without specifications, it carries the implication that he leads everyone and everything, making it a rather grandiose title after all. After Taim gets promoted to the Forsaken in the last book, he actually changes his name to M'Hael.
    • Played straight with the leader of the Aes Sedai, disputably the most powerful monarch in the land and analogous to medieval and renaissance popes, whose title of Amyrlin Seat is literally just the name of the chair she sits in. Even "Aes Sedai" itself means "Servant(s) of All".
  • In Andre Norton's Catseye, the Blue Blood customers of Kyger's have many titles; one is merely Citizen Dragur, though.
  • Robert A. Heinlein’s Friday has an especially nasty one: "(T)he father of the present First Citizen climbed to the throne over uncounted dead bodies and his son stays on that throne by being even more ruthless than his father." He later gets assassinated, ending the danger for Friday to become one of those dead bodies.
  • Not his official title, but in Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191 series, Jake Featherston prefers to be called "Sarge" even after becoming President of the CSA.
  • Revanche Cycle: Veruca Barrett insists she's merely the "mayor" of Winter's Reach, when she's actually an iron-fisted dictator with an elite force of killers under her command. She gives a speech about how she's really just an average citizen and the people of the Reach are all equal; the crowds eat it up, even though it's patently untrue.
  • For Want of a Nail has both of the dictators of the United States of Mexico doing this:
    • Benito Hermion spends most of his reign after seizing power referring to himself by the simple title of "Chief of State", only shifting it to "Emperor of Mexico" near the end. And interestingly enough, it's only when he does that that Kramer Associates decide he's gone too far and engineer a coup to bring him down.
    • Vincent Mercator later does this several different ways — first, after the Military Coup he engineers following the chaos of the Global War, he has his nominal superior Field Marshal Garcia rule as a Puppet King. Then, after a few years, he takes direct power but doesn't promote himself past his normal rank of Colonel. And finally, when he eventually sets up a facade of democracy, he doesn't get himself elected President, but rather settles for the position of Secretary of War (while the newly elected President is another Puppet King).
  • In the second book of Erebus Sequence, the de facto new queen disdains the title which would normally come with her role. This reflects a dislike of the traditional power structures of the kingdom rather than either humility or public relations.
  • In Stark's War, the protagonist would rather still be referred to as plain "Sergeant" than get a new title after leading his rebellion, though his fellow sergeants do manage to persuade him to differentiate himself with "Commander" ("General" being right out, even though that's the job he's now doing).
  • 1632: Mike Stearns goes through a handful of official titles, but they are mostly (at least to the ears of his 17th century contemporaries) relatively negligible. Prime Minister of the United States of Europe (before he - intentionally - loses reelection), a mere general among many in the army of Gustav Adolph of Sweden - the people however only refer to him as "the Prince of Germany" - a funny title for an erstwhile Union organizer from Appalachia. Prince also directly derives from the Latin Word princeps, the title the Trope Namer Augusts wanted to be referred to; it's no accident that the German word for it, Fürst, sounds like "first".
  • In the first two books of The Starchild Trilogy, the Planner is officially just the man in charge of making sure that the dictates of the great Planning Machine, which is in charge of protecting and preserving mankind, are carried out properly. In practice, of course, he has great latitude in interpreting the machine's instructions, and is a dictator in all but name.
  • In Shogun, Nakamura took on the title Kanpaku after uniting all Japan under his rule. It just means "Chief Advisor," since he was supposed to be the chief advisor for the Emperor. After retiring, he took on the title Taiko (meaning 'retired kanpaku'), and continued ruling Japan until his death.
  • In The Annihiliation Score, Mo mentions reporting to an Assistant Undersecretary at her briefing at the Department of the Interior, and points out that this is not a junior flunky but "a frighteningly senior civil servant".
  • In The Homestuck Epilogues' Candy Timeline, Jane becomes this. She is only techincally in charge of several corporations, but is functionally a fascist dictator.
  • In Anno Dracula, Count Dracula rules The British Empire not as a king, but as "Prince-Consort". Queen Victoria was reduced to a vampire bride and little more than a puppet to him, whose existence is the only thing legitimizing his claim. After being dethroned, he becomes supreme leader of the Central Powers while using the mere title of "Graf" (Count in German), though he is technically outranked by Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor Franz-Joseph, Sultan Mehmed V and Tsar Ferdinand, therefore is a Dragon-in-Chief.
  • Victoria: William Kraft is officially merely a state governor, and John Rumford merely Quartermaster General on the Army General Staff. Between the two of them, they nevertheless effectively control the whole Confederation.
  • Star Wars:
    • Star Wars Legends:
      • X-Wing Series: Two years after Return of the Jedi, Ysanne Isard has gained control of the largest Imperial Remnant faction and rules from Emperor Palpatine's palace on Imperial Center (i.e. Coruscant). She never changes her official title away from that of her prior post, Director of Imperial Intelligence.
      • In the Legacy of the Force novel series, Darth Caedus (formerly Jacen Solo) is effectively the absolute ruler of the Galactic Federation of Free Aliances by the last novel of the series before being cut down by his sister Jaina Solo. However, he never takes any title more grandiose than his military rank of Colonel.
    • Averted in the new expanded universe novel "Bloodline." An increasingly deadlocked New Republic Senate decides to create the office of First Senator who would lead and direct the Senate, and cut through some of the red tape hobbling the government. Senator Leia Organa is put forward as the Populist nominee for First Senator until the galaxy learns that she is the daughter of one Darth Vader which ruins her chances. After she withdraws her nomination the popular Senator Tai-Lin Garr accepts the nomination instead but is assassinated not long afterwards. In the wake of Garr's death the Senate decides not to name anyone First Senator, and eventually a new Chancellor is named to lead the New Republic.
  • Kris Longknife: Ray Longknife's rival Henry Smythe-Peterwald XII initially goes by "First Citizen", although he later declares himself a German-style emperor to one-up Ray, who has been crowned a king.
  • In John Maddox Roberts's SPQR series, the protagonist, Decius Metellus, a staunch republican living in the early years of Octavian/Augustus's reign, despises him so much that he refuses to refer to him except by his innocuous title of "First Citizen", which Decius is fully aware is a cover for the fact that the Emperor holds absolute power.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: Averted Trope with Citizen G'Kar. He was offered absolute power for organizing the Narn Resistance and participating in the assassination of Emperor Cartagia, but he refused and only accepted his old position of an ambassador. Nevertheless, his fans continue to pester him until the end of the series. Indeed, they pester him more and call him a prophet after the accidental publication of his (unfinished) memoirs (whose philosophical content leads it to be declared a holy book, much to G'Kar's embarassment if not displeasure).
  • Blake's 7: First Citizen Hower of planet Obsidian is a rare non-villainous example, or at least a True Neutral one, being the leader of a secretive colony of ostensibly Perfect Pacifist People who turn out not to be all that perfect on closer inspection after the Liberator and Servalan's ship turn up in orbit.
  • Flash Gordon (2007): In the re-imagined series, Ming is no longer "Emperor Ming the Merciless" who dressed like rulers of Ancient China. Instead, he prefers a military uniform and the self-appointed title of "Benevolent Father". His subjects, though, still occasionally call him "Ming the Merciless" behind his back. And his daughter is still called Princess Aura.
  • Game of Thrones: The obvious leader of the ruling council of Qarth refers to himself as "simply a trader of spices." Everyone else just calls him "the Spice King".
  • The Prisoner (1967): An almost literal example, where every citizen of the Village is known by number rather than by name. The official in charge of the Village is known simply as "Number Two." (The nature of Number One is one of the arc mysteries.)
  • The Prisoner (2009): The remake takes it even further, with there actually being no "Number One" and Number Two genuinely being the sole ruler. Apparently, the lack of a "Number One" is to remind the Villagers that they are all public servants, even their leader. (Apart from 2, the closest thing to a 1 is his wife, identified as M2.)
  • Revolution: President and General Bass Monroe of the Monroe Republic. The name alone is scary enough.
  • Rome: In HBO's show, this is Octavian's Insistent Terminology name for his position. A consummate politician, he knows that Romans still despise the notion of a king and thus makes himself one in all but name.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • After Gul Dukat takes over the Cardassian government, he retains the title Gul, roughly equivalent to a colonel or navy captain:
      Sisko: Still calling yourself 'Gul'? I'm surprised you haven't promoted yourself back to Legate by now.
      Dukat: I prefer the title 'Gul'; so much more hands-on than 'Legate'. And less pretentious than the other alternatives: President, Emperor, First Minister... Emissary.
      Sisko: How about "Dominion puppet"?
    • The Terok Nor novels suggest that, having served under a succession of Legates who are little more than Obstructive Bureaucrats, he's developed something of a grudge against the position. Dukat's former protege Damar and successor as the head of Cardassian government clearly didn't feel the same way; he jumped straight from Glinn (roughly equivalent to a major) to Legate, skipping the rank of Gul entirely.
    • As Sisko noted in the quote above, Dukat did hold the rank of Legate once, an award for supporting the Detapa Council's coup over the Central Command. Dukat lost that title, though, when he brought Ziyal back with him. A half-Bajoran daughter didn't exactly play over well, even with the civilian government, and he was demoted to freighter duty, and ultimately left to fight the Klingons on his own.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • In "Bread and Circuses", Kirk & co. come across a Roman Empire-analogue planet where Kirk's buddy Captain Merrick has become First Citizen Merikus. Subverted in that it's clear he has no power whatsoever. It appears the only reason for keeping him around is to lure other Federation ships to restock their gladiator supply.
    • In "Plato's Stepchildren", the leader of the powerful immortals goes simply by his name, Parmen, saying that "philosopher-kings have no need of titles".
  • The Walking Dead (2010): Philip Blake and Pamela Milton are the iron-fisted autocratic rulers of Woodbury and the Commonwealth, respectfully, and both use the title of "Governor".

    Tabletop Games 
  • Earthdawn sees the leader of the globe-spanning Theran Empire being named the First Governor instead of "emperor." However, this is an Enforced Trope — one of the founders of Thera summoned several massive earth elementals to create a Sphinx statue that would sit outside the First Governor's palace, watching him for signs of corruption (including making Thera into an empire), and would go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge at its discretion. Not taking up the Name of Emperor is a safeguard against that, even though Thera essentially HAS become The Empire. They also make sure to make the expansive First Governor's Mansion is mostly invisible from the outside, though it's unlikely such a powerful magical construct would be fooled.
  • A slight variation occurs in Exalted; while the Scarlet Empress herself has the usual fancy titles, her Dynasty is a different matter. Although being a member of one of the Great Houses confers significant opportunities for and possession of power as a matter of course, there are no titles that automatically come with it (and even the titles one gains from taking actual positions in government are fairly humble; Senator, Satrap, Minister, etc.). The heads of each House are some of the most powerful people in the Realm, but are known merely by their personal names.
  • In GURPS Alternate Earths, on the timeline of Cornwallis, the totalitarian Russian Dominate is headed by First Citizen Boris Gromov.
  • Warhammer 40,000
    • The Tau apparently have a dozen words for variations on "First among equals". The Ethereals especially are just one of five equal castes, and definitely not a ruling class of any kind.
    • Also, the Emperor of Mankind. Even though his soul is literally crafted from the human sacrifices of thousands of psychics, deep down he's just another human who has his seriously dickish moments. He established himself as the Be-All-End-All messiah of Mankind while explicitly declaring that he was NOT God, that a God of Humanity NEVER existed, and that the reason why he is in charge is because he's the most powerful human in the galaxy, period. Unfortunately, this goes horribly wrong, especially when it came to his overly-religious son Lorgar. 10,000 years later, the inverse has happened; everybody worships him as a god, so he now has the power of one, but he's also dying.
    • His "son" Roboute Guilliman took the title of "Lord Commander of the Imperium" following the Emperor being placed in the Golden Throne, and effectively ruled the Imperium as a second emperor for a time until he was fatally wounded in battle. He reclaimed the position after being revived 10,000 years later.
  • Citizen Dawn, from Sentinels of the Multiverse, is a superhuman supremacist worshipped by her followers as a god. Nonetheless, all superhumans in her faction, including herself, are merely called "citizen." This actually has a gameplay effect; if you're unlucky enough to flip her card to the Nigh-Invulnerable side, she'll only flip back once enough citizens are in play - which is one fewer than the card would have you believe, because she counts as one.
  • Many of the leadership titles in Battletech are somewhat modest for rulers who hold executive power over dozens and sometimes hundreds of worlds and billions of citizens. While the Lyran "Archon", the FedSun "First Prince" and the "Captain-General" of the Free Worlds League are somewhat impressive, the Draconis Combine is ruled by a "Coordinator" and the rulers of the Capellan Confederation are simply referred to as "Chancellor" (both are military dictatorships where the ruler holds absolute power). Inverted with the "Lord Protector" of the Taurian Concordat, as the protector only has power over the Concordat's protection through the Taurian armed forces and the Taurian constitution (and a very powerful legislative and judicial system) heavily limits their power over civilian life.
    • The title of "First Lord of the Star League" started out that way: A news broadcast graphic during the intro cutscene of the most recent game adaptation even outright describes him as "first among equals". Although despite the fact that the setting had been a Feudal Future for two hundred years at that point, the post didn't become a truly straight example until much later; initially there was a council of "High Lords" made up of the rulers of what would go on to become the Successor States, and the First Lord's ability to overrule them was greatly limited. The day when that ceased to be true is generally agreed to be the point when the Star League started to fall apart.

  • In Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto, Lorenzo de'Medici calls himself this, but the other leaders in Italy — namely, Cardinals Rodrigo Borgia and Giuliano Della Rovere — see through it, fearing the destabilizing effect his death will have on the political situation. The play ends before he dies, but he is known to be very ill.
  • The titular hero of Lohengrin refuses the title of "Duke of Brabant" in favor of the more functional "Protector." (In Wagner's original script the title was "Leader" — Führer — but that is usually changed these days for obvious reasons.)

    Video Games 
  • Colonel Santiago from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, leader of the Crazy-Prepared Spartan Federation. Other examples include Chairman Yang, Commissioner Lal, Sister Miriam, Captain Svensgard, CEO Morgan, Provost Zakharov, Foreman Domai... Big-shot titles are more of an exception than the norm, even by the leaders of the alien factions.
    • Zakharov's actual title in-game is Academician, which is the Russian equivalent of the Western honorific Doctor or Professor.
    • Chairman is a typical title of Communist leaders, like Mao and Khrushchev.
    • Given the Data Angels' anarchistic nature, it can be assumed that Sinder Roze's title Datajack just means "hacker."
    • The only true grand title is Prophet Cha Dawn. Prime Function Aki Zeta-Five is debatable, given that these are machines with no delusions of grandeur.
    • The reason Domai is only known as a Foreman (he doesn't even get a first name) is because his faction is made up of escaped drones (i.e. lowly workers). Naturally, they wouldn't accept anything higher than a title equivalent to "shift supervisor", meaning he's their immediate superior, but that's it.
    • Given that the Morganites are, essentially, a Mega-Corp, Morgan's title of CEO means quite a lot.
    • The Spiritual Successor Civilization: Beyond Earth largely averts this either with non-stated titles or fairly big titles (e.g. Commander Rejinaldo Leonardo Pedro Bolivar de Alencar-Araripe, General Vadim Petrovich Kozlov). However, Samatar Jama Barre of the People's African Union prefers that his people call him Kubwa Mjomba ("great uncle" in Swahili). Naturally, this helps to inspire great loyalty for their leader.
  • Lynette, First Citizen of Vault City in Fallout 2. Lovingly referred to as "First Bitchizen" by the fan community.
    • Oddly enough, while the title fits, she makes it very clear that she is the leader (more clear than it seems she actually is - she says autocratic rule is absolutely necessary for a government to function, yet she can be overruled by a Council).
    • Joshua Graham from Fallout: New Vegas denies being in charge of the Dead Horses, saying that he is only their warchief. However, it becomes clear to the Courier that they respect and fear him in equal measure to the point where if he told them to "Jump", they would have done so immediately without bothering to ask "How high?"
    • Also in New Vegas, played for laughs in the case of Tabitha. As a crazed Super Mutant who controls the State of Utobitha (a.k.a. Black Mountain), her self-appointed title is "Best Friend Tabitha".
  • Chairman Drek from the first Ratchet & Clank game. Runs an organization that may as well run the entire Blarg homeworld, not to mention is in charge of a lot of their military power. Subverted more and more during the course of the game as he keeps getting more and more prefixes until he's "Ultimate Supreme Executive Chairman Drek", despite how he's not actually gaining anything for the title promotion.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, Nines Rodriguez is very insistent that he is not a leader of the Anarchs, but just a soldier that's survived longer than any other (given that the Anarchs are, well, anarchists, pretending otherwise would be very hypocritical). Despite this, he's obviously the de facto leader of the Anarchs in downtown L.A., since they all look to him for leadership and follow his advice.
    • Of course, given how the anarchs operate, he didn't exactly pick his role or take the position by free will, and is instead thrust into his position through respect from the other anarchs in Los Angeles. For a bit of contrast, we do have Isaac, the Baron of Hollywood, and he doesn't hold nearly as much authority over the Anarchs as Nines does, even with a title.
  • In Half-Life 2, the leader of the entire Earth is Administrator Breen. This may be an aversion, though, since Breen turns out to be just a figurehead of the alien conquerors with very little actual power. Gordon Freeman is an inversion, as his crimes have earned him the label Anti-Citizen One.
  • In Allods Online, Yasker, the ruler and archmage of the Empire, is styled simply "Leader". Not Emperor, not even Archmage.
  • In Back to the Future: The Game, Marty returns to an alternate 1985 in which Dr. Emmett Brown started a romance with teetotaler Edna Strickland in 1931, never saw Frankenstein, and instead used his enormous brain to create Edna's version of the perfect society in which alcohol and all other vices are illegal, all activity is monitored by cameras, and "troublesome" people are brainwashed into compliance. This version of the Doc calls himself "First Citizen Brown" and genuinely believes he is the benevolent leader of a utopia, until the Marty from the original timeline snaps him out of it.
  • Played straight in Champions Online. In Multifaria, the Big Bad, Shadow Destroyer, is called "Citizen Harmon".
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy XII: Vayne's official title is "Consul", but he insists that the citizens of Rabanastre don't even use that to address him. Instead, he requests that they address him as "Vayne" and treat him like any other citizen.
    • In Final Fantasy XIV, the Crystal Exarch's epithet is a result of his refusal to be called a "king" despite earning himself unquestioned authority over the Crystarium. The people wound up calling him the Crystal Exarch for his ties to the Crystal Tower and his leadership.
  • The version of King Louis Philippe in Aviary Attorney both tries to claim this trope and constantly shows that he doesn't believe in it at all.
  • While the default leader titles in Stellaris don't fit this, at least contextually (High Technician sounds a lot more impressive in a society centered around powerful computers calculating the most efficient ways of governance), they are subject to player customisation — so it is entirely possible to design a People's Republic governed by a First Citizen and have the government type be Despotic Empire
  • Superman in Injustice: Gods Among Us rules over a totalitarian Regime that had previously dissolved all of governments in the world and ceded all authority to him, but his official title is that of "High Councilor". In the tie-in comic, Plastic Man accurately calls him a despot who is even sitting on his own throne.
  • Ulfric Stormcloak in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is effectively the ruler of half the province of Skyrim at the start of the game and can potentially rule over all of it after the Civil War questline is completed, depending on which side you support. Yet, his official title is that of Jarl (the ruler of a single hold) instead of High King. He insists on being called that because he wants to wait for the moot to officially elect him as High King, as per tradition.
  • In Metal Gear Naked Snake goes through a lot of military organisations (most of them NGO Super Powers) as their leader, first is the Mercenary outfit MSF (Military Sans Frontiers) until it's blown up, then the Diamond Dogs which is basically a beefed up version of the previous organisation, both are situated on oil rigs out at sea. Then he goes on to be in charge of Special Operations FOXHOUND and a large military fortress on the southern tip of Africa known as Outer Heaven, and then his own nation of Zanzibar Land. Throughout all of this he takes no military or political rank, simply being known as Big Boss.
    • Revolver/Liquid Ocelot himself manages to become the most powerful man in the world by taking control of every weapon in the world using his GoP system. Yet he never takes any kind of rank or title, only ever being mentioned or addressed by his code name.
  • Meredith Stannard in Dragon Age II during the game's Act 3. On paper, she is merely the Knight-Commander of the Templars in Kirkwall, but following the Qunari invasion which results in the murder of the local ruler, she takes control of the free city as an transitional leader, but prevents elections to select a proper replacement to turn Kirkwall into a Police State. The only person capable of reining her in is Grand Cleric Elthina, and even she is very hands-off and mostly allows Meredith to do what she wants.
  • Streets of Rogue is an odd case, possibly being an aversion in-universe but certainly appearing to play this trope straight by real world expectations. The city has a mayor like any other and the mayor goes by their title of mayor, nothing unusual there. However, the mayor in this setting is effectively an omnipotent dictator with complete authority to decree anything on a whim and who has an army of police willing to kill anyone on command. Due to the intentional ambiguity of the setting it's anyone's guess whether they should have a more impressive title and are just sticking with "mayor" to downplay their position or if that is just the average expected level of power for any given mayor in that world.
  • Crusader Kings II: If the Germanic (Norse/Saxon) pagan faith is reformed into an organized religion (The Old Gods DLC), the ruler who does the reforming almost always becomes a religious leader with secular power not unlike an Islamic caliph. The title of "fylkir" will display on their and their successors' character sheet in preference to any other title, and simply means "leader" in Norse. Other pagan reformers (available with the Holy Fury DLC) generally get a title meaning something like "high priest", e.g. Slavic pagans "velky volhv".
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons: The player, who has near-absolute control over the layout of the island and the locations of nearly all of its buildings, is simply known as the Resident Representative.
  • Wasteland 3: Within the game's Alternate History, after completing his second term as President, Ronald Reagan remained in power under the newly-created office of "Elder Statesman". Numerous attempts on the Elder Statesman's life were made, enough that the US Government developed a presidential limo that was basically KITT from Knight Rider.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: Darth Marr is only one of approximately a dozen Lords of the Dark Council at any given time, but is their de facto leader, which in turn makes him essentially the regent of the entire Sith Empire when Emperor Vitiate is silent. The reason for this is that he does his level best to stay out of the chronic backstabbing of Sith politics and focuses on keeping the Empire itself intact, which means the other Lords of the Council mostly trust that he isn't secretly trying to undermine them. With the death of the Emperor's current host body in the Jedi Knight storyline, he becomes even more powerful, and forms a Big Bad Duumvirate with the Sith Inquisitor PC after Rise of the Hutt Cartel, which lasts until his death in Knights of the Fallen Empire.
    • Despite being a Sith Lord, Lana Beniko goes by her full name rather than a Sith title/name. Occasionally she'll be referred to as "Lord Beniko" or "Minister Beniko" but more often than not everyone just calls her Lana.
  • A variation in Overlord as the title of lord is still a noble one, an overlord is simply meant as a lord that has power over other lords. In the games however the Overlord ends up ruling much of the known world, so whilst technically correct that he would have power over other lords, in practical terms he would have power equal to that of The Emperor.
  • Dwarf Fortress: Rulers immediately lose their titles upon death and don't really reclaim them if reanimated as they aren't part of the civilization (which already has a ruler, on top), so the game has to resort to job titles. As a result, no matter how opulent the tomb or how important the interred one was to that civilization's history, disturb them and the mummy that rises to curse you for disturbing their peaceful slumber just bears a title like Beekeeper Mummy, Clothier Mummy or even Peasant Mummy.

  • Girl Genius:
    • Baron Klaus Wulfenbach:
      • Despite reluctantly controlling most of Central and Eastern Europe, Klaus Wulfenbach seems content with the lowly title of Baron. For those of you unfamiliar with noble titles, this is like the Chief of Naval Operations insisting on being called Lieutenant; in most systems of nobility it's not the absolute lowest title, but it's close.
      • He also uses this to rub everyone's noses in the fact that yes, they're princes and dukes and whatnot, and according to their rules of succession he wasn't eligible to assume the title even of Baron Wulfenbach (due to being the patched-together and reanimated remains of three Wulfenbach brothers killed in a lab accident), but an illegitimate heir to a minor house was the one who ended the Long War which was destroying Europa.
      • Would-be king of Europa Martellus claims that this was the Baron's biggest mistake, saying that if he had crowned himself Emperor, all of the nobles would have gladly followed him. Refusing the title was refusing to play the game, an insult the noble houses couldn't forgive. It's unclear if he's right, but it turns out that Klaus had a plan for that too—his son is Skifander royalty, on his mother's side.
    • The von Mekkans are seneschals of Heterodyne Lords, and this responsibility includes running the city of Mechanicsburg. They are heads of the shadow government since Wulfenbach conquered the city, but their only official title is "Doom Bell Ringer." To give an idea of just how humble this title is, the Doom Bell is automated. (This is not to mention that it never rings when there's no Heterodyne in residence.) Vanamonde, the current Seneschal, doesn't even seem to have an office, as he prefers to do all of his work at his favorite coffee shop.
  • S.S.D.D.: The Anarchists take this a step further. The highest leadership position is Acting First Advisor; the position of First Advisor is reserved for their founder, who is still officially missing in action and has never been formally declared Legally Dead even centuries past his natural lifespan. (And it's none-too-subtly suggested that there might be more to this than sentimental reverence.) Position is obtained purely by merit, and the ability to get people to follow suggestions. Disregarding advice can get a person promoted, or demoted, depending on how it works out. Anyone trying to politic their way into position is promptly shot.
  • In The Order of the Stick, General Tarquin likes to publicly claim he is simply the top general of the Empress of Blood. He and his priest friend really run the empire and their four other friends (formerly the other members of their evil adventuring party) run two other empires, making them the de-facto rulers of a third of the continent altogether. The empress being a particularly dimwitted dragon helps with that charade, and they kill anyone who is too close to finding out that Tarquin has more powers than "just a general" should.
  • In Nip and Tuck, the Show Within a Show Rebel Cry features a Royal Brat who, though calling all the shots, is merely "Madame Chairwoman".
  • General Maximillianna in Fans! is the military dictator of her timeline, and has conquered who knows how many more, but she still only wants to be addressed by her rank or the honorific associated with it ("Sirrah"). She has no interest in self-bestowed titles, taking satisfaction only in those she's earned or taken by conquest.

    Web Original 
  • The Big Bad of Madness Combat is a Humanoid Abomination made of darkness who runs multiple extensive paramilitary facilities, a huge organization of Super Soldiers, a nigh-unlimited arsenal, and multiple Reality Warping engines; and whose rogue employees are One Man Armies in themselves. He's called The Auditor. Presumably, "Somewhere in Nevada" takes tax evasion very seriously.
  • Paulo Abacar the Elder of Malê Rising, though he'd spit in your eye if you told him that. As the founder of the Sokoto Republic, Paulo was the man who held the nation through despite his aversion of absolute power.
  • In Look to the West, Rodrigus Alfarus, the de facto leader of the Societist Combine in its early years, has the title of "Kapud", commander of the Celatores (which looks a lot like an army, but Societism teaches that war is always wrong, so it can't be), and is outranked by the Zonal Rejes, except that he's the one that appoints them. Combine diplomats claim bewilderment when countries negotiating with them ask for confirmation by such a minor civil servant, although this is probably an affectation. This comes back to bite him when the Danubian Societists — who follow a heterodox version of Societism, and appointed their own Rej unilaterally — also pretend to believe he's a minor civil servant.

    Western Animation 
  • Gargoyles provides a less villainous example with Oberon, whose sole title is Lord of Avalon, even though for all intents and purposes he's a Physical God who rules the Third Race as King (and allows his wife Titania to use the title "Queen"). His sense of egalitarianism seems especially odd, since as a rule he's not exactly humble. Word of God is that the title is Oberon's attempt at humility, and he does consider himself to be humble - he's just too arrogant to be any good at it. The rest of the Third Race puts up with him because their previous ruler, Oberon's mother Queen Mab, was The Caligula outright, and even Oberon looks good next to her. He was also actually pretty reasonable compared to Titania, originally; her being a Royal Brat led him to divorce her and exile the whole race from Avalon for several centuries. However, the centuries among mortals caused her to mellow and develop while he remained the same because he didn't think he had any lessons to learn.
  • Dolf in Alfred J. Kwak does this when he creates a National Crows Party and uses it to seize power in Great Waterland, in a clear satire of the rise and fall of Nazism. Like Hitler's Führer, he demands that others refer to him exclusively as "The President" or "President Dolf". Note that he does this in a country that has apparently been a monarchy for many hundreds if not more years, and where this title doesn't seem to have been widely if at all used prior to Dolf's adoption of it.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic:
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Although Long Feng had worked very hard to be Regent for Life over Ba Sing Se and the Earth Kingdom, he retained the simple title of Grand Secretariat.
    • Some seventy years later in The Legend of Korra, Kuvira commands a massive army and is effectively the military dictator of the self-same nation - now the Earth Empire - but does not appear to hold any official rank whatsoever. She is referred to as the "Great Uniter", is addressed occasionally as "your Eminence", and Mako refers to her as "your emperor" in a conversation with one of her lieutenants, but those are just aliases/compliments, not actual titles.
    • One benevolent example is Suyin Beifong: as the founder and leader of Zaofu, she doesn't seem to have an official title, though her seniority is clearly acknowledged by others.
  • Yogi's Gang: Smokestag Smog. He lives in a castle made of smog and convinced the people of Smog City to think the smog from his factory is a good thing but, as he claims whenever someone asks if he's the Mayor, he's really just the number one citizen. Another character is later revealed to be the Mayor and Smog is never shown to have anything to do with how the city is ruled.
  • Hank Scorpio in The Simpsons is the an evil corporation executive and a supervillain that ultimately takes over the East Coast of the United States, but he claims to dislike being called Boss or anything that elevates him above others, so he insists his employees call him by his first name.

    Real Life 
  • Trope Namer: Pericles, the statesman in the Greek city-state of Athens who first established democracy as an effective system of governance, was described as the "First Citizen of Athens" by the contemporary historian Thucydides.
  • The first Roman Emperors called themselves simply "The First" (Princeps, from which the word prince is derived, originally from the historical honorary title Princeps Senatus, that is, the person allowed to speak first, which by the late Republic evolved into a post not unlike the modern Speaker position), after the example of Augustus. The later emperors, while finally acknowledging that the Republic effectively no longer existed, styled themselves by the equally generic Dominus (master of the house).
    • The term "Emperor" was initially an example of this. The word "Imperator" was a military title, meaning simply "Commander". It was used due to the Roman aversion to kings, so Augustus was referred to as the commander of the country. The term stuck.
    • For that matter, the term "Caesar" was just a family name. So using that title initially just meant that they were the head of that family. After a century of being ruled by various Caesars, the people of Rome got used to the notion that the head of said family was in charge, and the title stuck even after a new dynasty stepped in.
    • Augustus famously publicly declined the title of king ("Rex"), likely because the title had been so associated with tyranny by Tarquin the Proud, saying he was "just" the Imperator — a title which, at the time, still had its ordinary-soldier, temporary-commander associations.
  • When the Zand dynasty ruled Persia, they never actually used the title of Shah, instead styling themselves as Vakil e-Ra'aayaa (Advocate of the People or People's President).
  • Josef Stalin zig-zags this trope. Despite the almost absolute power Stalin wielded over the Soviet State, his official title was simply, "General Secretary of the Communist Party." He was also awarded the rarely used highest military rank, "Generalissimus" after the war. His rivals during his rise to power jokingly called him "Comrade Card-Index." He also allowed himself to be called simply Vozhd ("chief" or "boss") by his personal staff or others close to him. On the other hand, he unofficially allowed all kinds of grandiose epithets and decorations to be awarded to him, such as, "Father of Nations," "Brilliant Genius of Humanity," "Great Architect of Communism," "Gardener of Human Happiness," and "Coryphaeus of Science."
  • Because of Stalin's use of this trope, the position of General Secretary became the de facto leader of the Communist Party, which itself became de facto leader of the entire country, even if on paper the offices of state indicated otherwise. This has carried on to the present day. Officially in China the office of Prime Minister is the head of government, with the office of President as head of state in a ceremonial role. Unofficially, the real power in China is the office of General Secretary of the Communist Party... who is always also the President (at least since then-General Secretary Jiang Zemin took the presidency in 1993).
  • Maximilien Robespierre, deputy and Member of the Committee of Public Safety.
  • First Consul Napoléon Bonaparte. There were two other junior consuls, both of them experienced statesmen, but it was clear who was in charge of the triumviraate. He later gave up all pretense and just crowned himself Emperor. Demonstrating the importance of this trope, this actually did tarnish him in the eyes of many admirers, from Ludwig van Beethoven, who scratched out Napoleon's name from his Symphony No. 3's dedication and rededicated it to "the memory of a great man," and Simón Bolívar, who, sadly, would himself travel the ambitious road from republican revolutionary to would-be dictator before coming to a tragic end.
  • After Deng Xiaoping retired from his last formal position as the chairman of the military commission, he only kept the title of Honorary Chairman of the China Bridge Association. Until his death, however, everyone knew who was the real leader of the Peoples' Republic of China.
  • For that matter, Chairman Mao Zedong. His actual office was called "Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China". Since there's no one specific office that every leader of the PRC has held, in the West the term "Paramount Leader" was invented to refer to whoever is obviously in charge of China.
  • Kim Jong-il was merely the chairman of the North Korean National Defense Commission; the actual office of president gets cycled round other people every year or so. He also used "Supreme Commander", "Party Chairman", "Dear Leader", and "Great Leader". His father holds the post of Eternal President, even though he died in 1994. Basically the exact opposite of this trope.
  • The United States "President" (i.e. "the one who presides") was originally conceived as one of those, and the title had previously been mostly used for chairmen of committees. The style of the King was "By the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, Prince-Elector of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick" and he was addressed as "Your Majesty". The longest title that the President gets is "the President of the United States", and they are generally addressed merely as "Mister President".
    • The style of "Mister President" was chosen by George Washington. (This was in response to the attempts of his vice-president, John Adams, to get the Senate to vote Washington the title of "His Democratic Highness" or possibly "His Elective Majesty." The Senate eventually resolved that Adams would receive the title of "His Rotundity." Adams did not make friends easily because he was obnoxious and disliked!)
    • The German title Kanzler (often translated as chancellor) did not originally mean "head of the government" either. The term originated in the medieval period derived from Latin cancellarius and initially described a glorified clerk. And as a matter of fact, the German federal chancellor (Bundeskanzler, or in case of a woman holding that office,note  Bundeskanzlerin) is not the first citizen. In the official order of protocol the Bundespräsident is the undisputed number one, with the number two being either the President of the parliament or the President pro tempore of the Bundesrat (the upper chamber made up of appointed representatives of The 16 Lands of Deutschland; the position of president pro tempore rotates among the heads of the sixteen states), with the Bundeskanzler being somewhere down the line. As a further emphasis how "unimportant" the office of Bundeskanzler is, their official residence, the Bundeskanzleramt in Berlin, is both lower and within viewing distance of the parliament (Bundestag). However, given that the Bundeskanzler almost always has the support of the majority of the Bundestag, and is often the leader of one of the major parties, the real power is usually reversed.
    • The POTUS's top ministers, despite the enormous power they wield, are generally only referred to as "Mister/Madam Secretary", which sounds almost implausibly innocuous (especially since "secretary" is also the title used for a variety of common jobs). These include the Secretary of State (representative of the US to foreign countries and fourth in the US line of succession) and Secretary of Defense (second only to the President themselves as head of the strongest military in history).
  • "Prime Minister", in those countries where the government leader has that title, is just the first minister among equals (primus / prima inter pares) in parliament, no matter how much power (s)he actually has. (And "minister," itself, etymologically means "servant.") In the UK, the title was originally meant as an insult despite also carrying the title "First Lord of the Treasury".
    • The New Russia is a presidential republic, but during the Medvedev presidency, the guy in power was still Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Not because he was the Prime Minister, but because he was Vladimir Putin. Since then, he's back to being President, since the Russian constitution only has a limit on the number of consecutive terms in office. Basically, he can fairly easily be President for 2 terms, then put a puppet in his place for a term, and get "re-elected" after that. In 2021 he had the constitution amended to extend the limit on consecutive terms to four.
  • The title of Führer, which Adolf Hitler adopted when he became leader of the Nazi Party and elevated to a government title when they took power in Germany, can be simply translated to "guide", although it is generally translated as "leader", which is more in line with fascist philosophy. Although not even nearly as ubiquitously used as Führer, Hitler also awarded himself a number of bombastic titles over the years designed specifically to invoke this trope, including "First Soldier of the German Reich", "First Worker of the New Germany", and "Supreme Judge of the German People". In something of an overlap with Modest Royalty, Hitler's ceremonial uniform was also much more staid than you would expect from a man in the process of conquering the world. He wore a plain uniform with only the awards that he earned in World War I, which looks funny in contrast to, say, Goering, who blinged it up with silks and furs and every medal he could lay his fat hands on (even though the awards that Goering had legitimately won as an Ace Pilot in World War I would've been sufficiently impressive on their own).
  • Before him, we have Benito Mussolini, who started out calling himself Duce del Partito Fascista, meaning "Leader of the Fascist Party". Duce itself was just a fancy way to say "leader" (coming from the Latin dux, from which also the Italian duca and its English equivalent duke are derived), before his use of it ruined the title in the eyes of most Italians. As dictator, he simply held the position of Prime Minister of Italy note  – officially the king was still in charge, and had the power to dismiss him... as he actually did in 1943. After that, as leader of a German-occupied puppet state in northern Italy, Mussolini's title was Duce e Capo del Governo (Leader and Chief of the Government).
    • After the conquest of Ethiopia, however, Mussolini also gave himself a couple of bombastic titles, changing his title as chief of the Fascist Party into "Leader and Founder of the Empire" and appointing himself as "First Marshall of the Empire" together with the King. (This was a move to put himself as Prime Minister on the same rank as the King in the military chain of command.)
  • In 1653 the English Parliament offered Oliver Cromwell the crown and, after two weeks of deliberation, he turned it down (twice) and instead accepted a republican office with equivalent powers— Lord Protector. This was mainly to try to bring in more support for the deeply unpopular parliamentarians (most of whom had not gone into the civil war wanting to remove Charles I, Cromwell included) by creating a more monarchical system to bring in more and broader civilian political support, while not provoking the army who were dead set against any revival of the monarchy by that point. The post was still referred to as 'His Highness', and a second investiture of Cromwell was a royal coronation in all but name. After he died, the post passed on to his son, and the English decided that since they had already gone this far, they might as well bring the monarchy back; cue the Stuart Restoration.
  • The shogun of feudal Japan, whose title simply meant "general" and was condensed from a longer one meaning roughly "commander-in-chief against the Eastern Barbarians" (i.e. the poor, beleaguered Ainu).
    • Take note that besides Regent for Life, another precedent in Japanese politics is that the position holder will retire from the position to hold real power.
    • Toyotomi Hideyoshi, disqualified by his humble birth from becoming shogun (that position required descent from the Minamoto clan), had to settle for ruling Japan under the title kampaku (imperial regent), and later as taikō (retired regent). These positions would have made him subordinate to the shogun, had one existed at the time; he made damn sure that one didn't for his lifetime.
  • The original Muslim state, the Caliphate, was one of these: "Caliph" comes from the Arabic word khalifah meaning "successor" (to the Prophet, that is). Ruling an empire that stretched from Spain to Central Asia, the Caliph was constantly reminded that he was just a half-decent replacement for the plain illiterate orphan who had founded the religion.
    • In the early days of the Caliphate, humility was taken seriously. Omar, the second Caliph, used to tool around Medina in a shabby old robe and gave away nearly all of his (gigantic) income to the relief of old soldiers and their orphans.
    • Prophet Muhammad himself. "Messenger of God" was the only title that he held. And even then, he wasn't even the Head of State. The Qur'an explicitly states that GOD holds the title "King of the Realm"note  Meaning that the Prophet ruled as the equivalent of a Governor-General (like in Australia).
      • A common title used by Muslim rulers - up to and including the Ottoman Sultans at the height of their power – was "Slave of God" (abd-allah) or some variation thereof. (All those Arabic names that begin with Abd? They all mean 'slave of [some synonym for God]', e.g. Abd al-Rahim = Slave of the Merciful One.)
  • Popes have always signed their letters as "the servant of the servants of Christ," even back in the days when they ruled half of Italy and were carried around everywhere in fancy thrones/sedan chairs.
    • This title comes from an instruction of Jesus to the Apostles: "The greatest among you must be the servant of all."
    • The title of Pope is an example as well, being derived from the Greek word for "Father", the traditional title for any Catholic priest.
    • Another name for the pope is Pontifex, builder of bridges; that's a relic of an office of the Roman Republic, whose job was to bless bridges. Julius Caesar held this title, and later it became attached to the Emperors.
    • Prior to the East-West Schism, the role of Pope was merely seen as first-among-equals in the East. This carries over to modern day with the Ecumenical Patriarch inheriting the title from the now-excommunicated Patriarch of Rome.
  • In French absolutism (Louis XIV etc.), the king was also called the first servant of the country.
  • Frederick the Great also called himself "the first servant of the state".
  • Taken to its Logical Extreme by former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who hadn't held any formal position of power since resigning as prime minister of Libya in 1972; however, he was dictator all the way up until 2011, and was often referred to as "Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" or "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution." This was taken to absurd levels during the civil war that ousted him: Gaddafi kept insisting that he could not step down because there was nothing to step down from. He was alternatively known as "Colonel Gaddafi", his last legal military rank.
  • The Medici family ruled Florence like this during the Italian Renaissance. Florence was a republic, and its people took pride in their freedom and democracy; which didn't stop the Medicis from becoming de facto monarchs, since they used their enormous banking finances in order to buy the loyalty of every important office-holder. Hence, Cosimo and Lorenzo made all of the decisions without ever holding a public office. (However, after 1530, the Habsburg family gained political control over Florence, and thus turned the Medicis into hereditary dukes, thus shattering the illusion of "just the first citizen".)
  • In ancient Macedonia, the king was the "First among equals", and the king's Companions tended to simply address them by name. People kicked up a big fuss when Alexander the Great adopted the customs of the defeated Persians (i.e. asking them to bow, etc.).
  • King at its root means "offspring of a family"— that it was of Royal Blood, a good family, is implied, but it comes from the same root as kin. Queen at its root means "woman" (like Swedish kvinna; the sense evolution is "woman -> wife -> wife of someone important -> wife of the king -> female monarch").
  • Hungary, back when it was a kingdom, had an interesting variant of this. The ruler of the country was the crown, the physical object, itself, having something which would be called today a legal personality / corporate personhood. The king himself was merely acting as its regent, subjected to strict rules by an assembly of nobles. This went so far that there was a king who had to be crowned again with the right crown, because he didn't possess it the first time (or the second time; he got it right on the third attempt), and people didn't accept him as a ruler because of this. Of course, depending on the person of the king and the circumstances, his de facto power ranged all the way from a puppet to an absolutist monarch.
  • Thomas Pendergast, boss of the Kansas City-area Democratic political machine in the early-mid 20th century, the one who maneuvered Harry S. Truman into the Senate seat that put him on the road to the White House, never held elected office himself. "Boss" Tweed, of Tammany Hall in New York City, served one unremarkable term in Congress in the 1850s, before his rise to power.
  • Nicaragua is ripe with this trope. Back in the 1930s, rebel leader Augusto C Sandino who had no official title whatsoever and started out with a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits for an army (he borrowed his starting capital from local prostitutes) came to control half the country, until he was murdered by Anastasio Somoza, who went on to become "Head of the National Guard", and even though he (and later his two sons) were in and out of the presidency due to constitutional constraints on infinite reelection, nobody was fooled as to the true ruler of the country until the fall of Anastasio Somoza Jr. in 1979. After Somoza was ousted in 1979, a five member "provisional government junta"note  which was ostensibly intended to keep the Sandinista (leftist, pro-Cuba, later Soviet-allied) and liberal-conservative factions of the Anti-Somoza movement from fighting one another, but it became apparent pretty quickly that the Sandinistas, and Daniel Ortega chief among them, were the real power, which first led to the resignation of the non-Sandinista members of the junta and by 1984 to Presidential elections which confirmed in title what had been clear in fact for a while by then— that Daniel Ortega was the leader of Nicaragua, no matter what title he did or did not have.
  • During the so-called Age of Liberty in Sweden, the single most powerful man in Sweden was, for the most part, not the King but the Chancery President (though their power was far smaller than that of the monarchs had been, as they were ultimately responsible to the Estates). Formally they headed the Chancery College, the central coordinating bureaucratic agency, and in that role were a delegate to the ruling Council of State. In practice, they had a leading position in the Council of State to the point of being a de facto head of government, as well as having responsibility for foreign affairs.
  • Godfrey of Bouillon was the de facto first king of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, but refused the title, believing that only Christ could truly be called king of Jerusalem. Instead, he used the title "Defender of the Holy Sepulchre". There was also the issue of him being unmarried and without known children. His successors were less scrupulous and did refer to themselves as kings.
    • This is somewhat comparable to how today's Saudi monarchs (and previous Ottoman sultans after Selim I) proudly claim the title خادم الحرمين الشريفين‎‎ (Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques/Servant of the Two Noble Sanctuaries/Protector of the Two Holy Cities— depends how you translate it) but not "King of Mecca".
  • While there is disagreement on this point, one theory (popularized by The Cartoon History of the Universe) about the ritual anointing of kings in ancient Judea was that it was derived from the Egyptian practice of anointing (placing or pouring sanctified oil on the head) of royal governors. The theory holds that this was meant to reinforce in the king's mind that he was only acting as The Lord's governor.
  • Albanian national hero Skanderbeg united the squabbling feudal lords into the League of Lehze, gave his people a sense of national unity, and could have very well considered himself a king by his own right, specially since he was technically a prince from a Principality. The only official title he ever took was Dominus Albaniae - "Lord of Albania" - and always signed himself in documents using this title.
  • Initially inverted with the title King in Prussia held by the Electors of Brandeburg in the Holy Roman Empire. Though they were awarded with a sovereign title, they were still technically vassals of the King of the Romans (i.e. the Holy Roman Emperor), hence they were Kings in Prussia, not of Prussia. It was only under Frederick the Great that Prussia became a great power and he could formally crown himself as King of Prussia.
  • In Mycenaean Greece, the title "qasireu", whence comes the modern "Basileus", referred to a local chieftain, with the title "Wanax" being used to refer to a king. Following the Bronze Age collapse, it was the title "Basileus" that was used by kings (Wanax or Anax being reserved exclusively for Zeus), up to and including the Byzantine Emperors. Thus, the main title used by the leader of what was at one time the superpower of Europe, originally referred to a local chieftain.
  • The Nahuatl word for the Aztec emperors was tlatoani, which simply means "speaker."
  • Some parties that have "collective leadership" or "no leader" appoint a "speaker" to communicate with the press "on behalf of the party" the same way that a party head would for traditionally led parties. That office may or may not coincide with what is commonly seen as the most important person in the party. Or a "simple member" may instead have that role; for instance, during most of his political career, Joschka Fischer - who, while being a Minister in the German government, held no special party office besides "member" - was seen as the de facto leader of the Green Party, despite the party always having a two-leader team elected by the relevant party bodies and never including Fischer in any capacity.
  • The Valve employee handbook supposedly describes Gabe Newell this way:
    Of all the people at this company who aren't your boss, Gabe is the MOST not your boss, if you get what we're saying.
  • The rulers of the Old Assyrian Empire styled themselves as "Issi'ak Assur", meaning "steward of Ashur". (In theory, the actual king was Ashur, the Assyrian patron deity, and the empire's mortal ruler was just filling in for him.) The later Neo-Assyrian monarchs Averted and outright Inverted this trope, however, as they styled themselves "king of the universe" among other bombastic titles.