Follow TV Tropes

Following

Secondary Character Title

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/secondary_character_title_7.jpg
She isn't even in some of them.

"Michael Corleone is The Godfather’s protagonist. The Don gets shot about 40 minutes into the film’s three-hour running time, and while he survives and has a few scenes thereafter, virtually everything memorable about Brando’s performance occurs within the first couple of reels."
Advertisement:

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

This trope sometimes leads to I Am Not Shazam, when people think the title is the protagonist's name. On the other hand, when the eponymous secondary character is mistaken for the protagonist, someone has committed the Protagonist Title Fallacy. Often takes the form of P.O.V. Boy, Poster Girl, especially in Japanese media.

Advertisement:

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


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Animation 
  • Guardian Fairy Michel largely focuses on Kim White, an Ace Pilot who meets the titular Michel and ends up traveling with him when her old enemies kidnap the rest of the fairies. Although Michel can do a Fusion Dance to merge with any rescued fairies and gain their powers, it's Kim who does the final blow to most monsters they fight.
  • In Waltz with Bashir, President Bashir is referred to but doesn't actually appear in the movie except on posters.

    Anime & Manga 
  • AKIRA spends the entirety of the film version in a glass jar. He's somewhat more active in the manga version, but while plot-relevant (being a young psychic Person of Mass Destruction who destroyed Tokyo), isn't much more than tertiary as a character.
  • Attacker You!: This trope applies to the title in foreign adaptations, specifically European, where Name and Name titles were very common. In Italy, the anime is known as Mila and Shiro, the "Italian" names of You and Sho. Even though he is You's Love Interest, Sho is a minor character at best and his name certainly doesn't deserve to be in the title along with the protagonist.
  • Bleach: The first movie, Memories of Nobody, refers to Senna, a girl who has multiple memories that weren't really hers to begin with due to being an amalgam of different souls.
  • Captain Tsubasa. Even though the series is only Tsubasa-centric, in many European adaptations the anime is known with a Name and Name title that makes it look like that Tsubasa and Genzo Wakabayashi are both equally important protagonists (evidenced also by the theme songs). While still a major character, Wakabayashi is often kept Out of Focus (or even Put on a Bus) due to injuries or other reasons.
  • Richard of The Case Files of Jeweler Richard is actually the deutragonist. Seigi Nakata, his employee, is the protagonist.
  • A Certain Magical Index: The title character is only the second most important character in the series; the main character is Touma. Though the first story arc revolved around her, Index rarely even makes an appearance in a lot of later story arcs.
  • Chibisan Date: Despite the title, Seiji is the real main character; Chibisan is more of a mascot than anything.
  • Doctor Slump was originally supposed to be the story of the wacky inventor Senbei Norimaki (AKA. The eponymous Dr. Slump), however, Robot Girl Arale ended up taking center stage, to the point that the Animated Adaptation was actually called "Dr. Slump: Arale-chan".
  • Doraemon: Nobita is the main protagonist in virtually most stories/episodes of the series. Actually, most of the movies have Character Name and the Noun Phrase titles like "Nobita and..." or "Nobita's..."
  • Dororo: Hyakkimaru is really the main protagonist. The original anime is titled Dororo to Hyakkimaru.
  • Fuuka offers an ambiguous example; technically, the main character is neither Fuuka Akitsuki nor Fuuka Aoi. Even more so after Akitsuki dies.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya: At first glance, it may look like Haruhi is the main character (she is after all the poster girl) but she's not. Kyon serves as the narrator and POV character for the entire series, becoming more and more clearly The Hero as events progress. He is only the Supporting Protagonist in the sense that many of the events that occur are a result of Haruhi's actions or emotional state.
  • The protagonist of Helck is Red Vamirio of the Demon Empire, but most of the story revolves around the human hero Helck, who she travels together with.
  • Despite being the titular High Score Girl who drives much of the plot, legendary arcade gamer Akira Oono isn't the main character of the series. That honor goes to Haruo Yaguchi, who befriends her.
  • The main protagonist and POV character of Inuyasha is actually Kagome, though the titular Inuyasha gets almost as much screen time and serves as the deuteragonist.
  • Lu Over the Wall: The titular character is the second most important character in the film. The main character and the one whose character development drives much of it is Kai.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid and Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force, the two fourth season manga of the Lyrical Nanoha franchise, still keeps Nanoha's name in the title even though her main character status has been taken by Vivio and Thoma respectively. This is especially noticeable in ViVid, where multiple volumes could pass with Nanoha barely appearing on page.
  • Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit: The title "Guardian of the Spirit" actually refers to the young Prince Chagum, not the main protagonist Balsa. This is easy to mistake, as Balsa is Chagum's bodyguard, making her the Guardian of the Guardian of the Spirit.
  • My-HiME: After being the main character, Mai Tokiha barely appears in the Elseworld spin-off My-Otome, relegated to a supporting role near the end. Also an example of Artifact Title.
  • Pokémon: Ash, first and foremost, is the main character of the series rather than the titular creatures, with Pikachu as his sidekick. In fact, the Mons in general take a backseat to the humans. This is somewhat true of the game series as well, but to a lesser extent due to how much the gameplay itself revolves around the titular Mons.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion has the titular character fall to a supporting role with the story being told from Homura's perspective.
  • Reborn! has Reborn, the hitman who is the tutor to the main character Tsunayoshi Sawada. Reborn does nothing except making Tsuna stronger and stronger, so the latter can beat the crap out of the enemies.
  • Sankarea: The plot mainly follows Chihiro Furuya, although Rea Sanka is pretty much the central character to the plot.
  • Tenchi is the main character of Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki but Ryo-Ohki is fairly low down in his harem compared to a lot of the other characters.
  • Tensai Bakabon is initially a gag manga about a little boy named Bakabon and his adventures with his pals, focusing so strongly on his point of view that his parents don't even get names, referred to only as "Papa" and "Mama." Over time, however, Bakabon's troublemaking father becomes the Breakout Character, to the point that the series soon revolves around him and his various schemes. Bakabon himself is demoted to his occasional sidekick. Despite this, the dad is still never given a name, and is called "Bakabon's Father" on merchandise.
  • Violet Evergarden: In the first 4 chapters, Violet's clients are the main characters of each short story. Violet didn't become the protagonist until Chapter 5.
Advertisement:

    Comic Books 
  • Barbe-Rouge: The actual protagonist of the series is Eric, Barbe-Rouge's adopted son. Barbe-Rouge himself is absent from half the stories.
  • Elfes et Nains: Derdhr of the Talion is actually a direct sequel to Ordo of the Talion focusing more on the latter than on the title character.
  • Gear. The title character doesn't show up until the second-to-last issue. The word "gear" isn't even mentioned by name until then. The main characters are actually Waffle, Gordon, and Mr. Black.
  • Sha: The main character is a witch named Lara; Sha is the protector deity of witches who makes Lara remember her past life.
  • Most comic book series starring DC Comics' Captain Marvel are named Shazam!, after Captain Marvel's wizard mentor, or, more specifically, the often conflated word Billy Batson says to transform. This is actually due to an agreement with Marvel Comics over the use of the name "Captain Marvel" — it can't be used in the title of a DC book. At least it was the case, since in 2011 Captain Marvel was officially renamed Shazam.
  • Superman:
  • Tintin: The story King Ottokar's Sceptre is a tertiary character title where one might expect a secondary: the king in the story is named Muskar. (The eponymous sceptre was named for his ancestor Ottokar.)
  • X-Men: Noir, an Elseworld miniseries set in a version of 1930s New York without any superpowered heroes, is an example of this, oddly enough. Its protagonist is actually The Angel,note  a mostly-forgotten Timely Comics character who spends the story investigating the murder that kicks off the plot. "The X Men" are a fugitive gang of teenage criminals who are suspected of said murder, and end up helping The Angel take down the real criminals by the end.

    Comic Strips 
  • Barney Google, after some years, focused on Barney's hillbilly cousin. Eventually, the series was renamed after the latter, Snuffy Smith.
  • Blondie is the wife of the main character, Dagwood, though she was the lead during the strip's start.
  • Funky Winkerbean really did once star the title character, but as time went on, he was Demoted to Extra.
  • In some countries, Peanuts is known as Snoopy, because "Peanuts" sounds silly when translated and Snoopy is probably the most marketable character for merchandising, even though Charlie Brown is clearly the protagonist.
  • Polly and Her Pals ultimately became this. Initially, Polly was the main character, until Cliff Sterrett (the artist) decided that her father, Paw Perkins, had more comedic potential and made him the star of the strip.

    Fairy Tales 

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Batman: Assault on Arkham focuses on the Suicide Squad more than Batman.
  • The Boss Baby: The Boss Baby is the title character, but his older brother, the Unreliable Narrator Tim, is really the protagonist.
  • Coco: The protagonist is Miguel, Coco is his great-grandma.
  • Corpse Bride: The real hero is Victor. Emily, the titular "Corpse Bride", is the Romantic False Lead.
  • Finding Nemo: The main character is Marlin, Nemo's father, with Dory as the Deuteragonist. The titular Nemo is actually the tritagonist.
  • Gisaku: The main character is actually Yohei. Gisaku is little more than a pet for most of the film.
  • A Goofy Movie: The story of the film focuses more on Goofy's son Max than it does on Goofy. It shows Max's premonition of taking after his father, trying to become popular, attempting to get the girl of his dreams to notice him, and struggling to cover up his lie to both Roxanne and Goofy. The one time we actually get to see a scene that focuses on Goofy's perspective alone is when he discovers that Max changed his directions on the map.
  • The Iron Giant is the Deuteragonist.
  • Leroy & Stitch: The more marketable Stitch has more of a supporting role in this film than a leading role, and fellow title character Leroy is only a secondary antagonist who gets cloned in short order. The film is really about Lilo having to come with terms that she needs to say goodbye to Stitch, Jumba and Pleakley after they persue their apparent dream jobs (or, in Jumba's case, return to his old job), only to reunite with them when main Big Bad Hämsterviel is broken out of prison by Gantu and forces Jumba to create Leroy. She also gets the help of Experiment 625, who she finally names "Reuben", after he was abandoned by Gantu.
  • Meet the Robinsons: None of the Robinsons is the main character. But they do welcome the actual orphaned protagonist—Lewis—into their family. This is technically a subversion since a future version of Lewis is the Robinson patriarch.
  • My Neighbor Totoro: The titular character refers to the creature the main characters, Satsuki and Mei, meet after moving to their new home.
  • The Pagemaster: The Pagemaster is the all-powerful wizard who sends Richard on a journey to overcome his fears. While he sets the plot in motion, he only appears in two brief scenes.
  • Princess Mononoke: Not only is the main protagonist not the character referred to by the title (it's Ashitaka), the name "Princess Mononoke" itself is only used once in the film to refer to San, as it's a nickname given to her by the residents of Irontown.
  • The Prophet: "The Prophet" refers to Mustafa, and while he's the primary focus, the protagonist is Almitra.
  • Sleeping Beauty: "Sleeping Beauty" refers to Aurora, but she's just a Decoy Protagonist and the real protagonists are the three fairies. Aurora has a total of eighteen lines of dialogue in the entire movie and the shortest screentime for any Disney heroine. The fairies, despite being treated as if they were sidekicks, have much more screentime (and dialogue) than Aurora and basically, do everything for both Aurora and Phillip.
  • Superman/Batman: Apocalypse would have made more sense if it were called Superman/Supergirl: Apocalypse. Batman gets nowhere near as much screen time and Wonder Woman appears as often as he does.
  • Waltz with Bashir: President Bashir is referred to but doesn't actually appear in the movie (except as a poster).
  • When Marnie Was There is about a girl named Anna who befriends the titular Marnie.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • (500) Days of Summer follows Tom, the main character, as he tries to get over the fact that he and the titular character is/was never meant to be.
  • To the extent that there is a main character in The Baker's Wife, it's the baker himself. His wife kicks off the plot by running off with another man, and the film doesn't focus much on her afterwards.
  • Beetlejuice has less screentime in his own movie than any of the other characters. This is not the case in the animated series that followed, though, where he is undoubtedly the star.
  • The Big Lebowski refers to Jeffrey Lebowski, a millionaire for whom the protagonist (also christened Jeffrey Lebowski, but goes by "The Dude") is mistaken. Walter refers to the former as "the other Lebowski, the Big Lebowski" in one line. This one gets it bad enough that even fans of the film who know there are two Lebowskis and that Bridges's character is primarily called the Dude, still talk about Jeff Bridges being "The Big Lebowski".
  • The Bourne Legacy. Jason Bourne is only be mentioned off-screen as the movie leaves the main character's seat to (who else?) his legacy.
  • The protagonist of The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is the young son of a Nazi officer who becomes acquainted with the boy of the title, who's a prisoner in a concentration camp. Some people were annoyed about this.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:
    • Although not the case in the original book (which had a different Protagonist Title), in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the titular Wonka, though an important character, is still just the owner of the titular factory to which the main protagonist Charlie wins a trip.
    • Ironically, the book's second adaptation Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is also an example because it kept the book's original title but changed the focus so that Wonka now is the main character.
  • Amy is only mentioned off-screen in Chasing Amy as the ex-girlfriend of another secondary character.
  • Children of the Night refers to the kids the villain used to feed while he was imprisoned.
  • In Claire's Knee, Claire doesn't show up until about halfway through and she's the least developed of all the major characters.
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme's character is not the eponymous Cyborg, it's the woman who was taken captive by the bad guys.
  • DC Extend Universe: Birds of Prey was more of a Harley Quinn movie with the rest of the Birds being minor characters.
  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb: Dr. Strangelove is only in two scenes. Doesn't mean he didn't make a hell of an impact.
  • In The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow Johnny Hollow is unseen, as the photographer who took the photo that's the subject of the film. His only "appearance" is via the text of a letter, warning the recipient, an Occult Detective viewpoint character, to "look closely."
  • In Fido, the titular character is the zombie butler of the main character and his family.
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall: The titular character is the ex-girlfriend of the protagonist, who spends about a quarter of the film trying to get over.
  • Frankenstein: The titular Bride of Frankenstein doesn't appear until the last four minutes of the movie.
  • Gord's brother Freddy doesn't appear much in Freddy Got Fingered and Gord's pretense that their father molested him is only a minor plot point.
  • The General's Daughter: Captain Elizabeth Campbell is the impetus for the plot, but since it revolves around the investigation of her murder, she's neither one of the leads (Brenner, Sunhill), nor one of the bad guys (Kent, General Campbell).
  • Golden Swallow: The titular heroine in this sequel to Come Drink With Me has been greatly Demoted to Extra, playing second fiddle to the new hero Silver Roc.
  • Harvey does not even conclusively establish Harvey's actual existence until well into the film, though he does drive a lot of the plot.
  • Heathers: The three "Heathers" (Heather Chandler, Heather Duke, and Heather McNamara) who lend the film its title are actually supporting characters, as Veronica is the protagonist and J.D. is the antagonist.
  • The protagonists of Horrible Bosses are their respective employees.
  • The protagonist of I Love You Phillip Morris is Steven Russell, who loves Phillip Morris.
  • While several James Bond movies have a title in connection to the main villain, Octopussy has the distinction of being the only one named after the Bond Girl.
  • The title character of Johnny Guitar played by Sterling Hayden is the Deuteragonist, and in narrative terms the third most important character after The Hero Vienna and the Big Bad Emma Small.
  • John Tucker is not the main character in John Tucker Must Die. Kate is.
  • Junebug is the name the Supporting Protagonist's pregnant sister-in-law wants for her child once she gives birth. She suffers a miscarriage.
  • Ken Park kills himself at the start of the movie. The rest of the movie is about his classmates.
  • The Kids Are All Right: The Kids refers to Joni and Laser, but the story focuses on their mothers and their Glorified Sperm Donor.
  • The Last Samurai does not, as many people seemed to think, refer to the main character Nathan Algren, but to the rebelling group of samurai led by Katsumoto. This is not helped by the fact that "samurai" can be either singular or plural in Japanese.
  • In Laura, Laura is the name of the woman whose murder the detective is investigating.
  • The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob: The eponymous Rabbi Jacob doesn't have much screentime, it's all really about Victor Pivert (Louis de Funès) impersonating him.
  • In Shaw Brothers' take on Marco Polo, Marco Polo is a spectator at most. The main heroes are the four brothers defending the Shaolin temple from Mongols, whose heroism are noted by Polo on his journey to China.
  • Marketa Lazarová doesn't play very large role in the plot. Mikoláš is the actual protagonist.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: In a subtitle case, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as it might be an Antagonist Title, but it's not of the main villain. Then again, the main villains — who are employing the Winter Soldier's services — are a big twist with franchise-wide impact, so focusing on the secondary antagonist makes for a lesser Spoiler Title.
  • Meet the Parents: The Focker children in Little Fockers have neither many lines nor much screentime.
  • Mr. No Legs is titled after the main villain's enforcer, who is killed just before the climax.
  • In Mud, the titular character is only the Deuteragonist who is hiding from mercenaries/bounty hunters and is found and befriended by the Kid Hero protagonist and his Lancer.
  • In Mon Oncle Antoine, Antoine is a significant character, but the protagonist is his nephew Benoit and the story is told from Benoit's perspective.
  • My Week with Marilyn is told from Colin Clark's perspective.
  • The title character from 1991 film Oscar doesn't actually show up until the last minute or two of the movie. While some of the earlier events of the film do revolve around him in some way, the real point of the title is as a nod to Oscar Wilde; both the film and the play on which it's based pay homage to his style of humour.
  • Paul is a CGI alien. The protagonist is the Graeme/Clive duo.
  • The People Under the Stairs: The titular people are the Robesons' previous victims, trapped under the stairs after being mutilated.
  • The Pink Panther:
    • There no panthers, pink or otherwise, in the first movie or any of its sequels, outside of the animated opening credits, which are not part of the plot. The title especially does not refer to Inspector Clouseau, the moronic detective central to (most) of the films' plot. The title refers to a giant pink diamond with a panther-shaped flaw, and even the diamond only appears in two films: The Pink Panther and The Return of the Pink Panther.
    • The second film in the series, A Shot in the Dark, shows that the Panther was not intended to be the series' title, but the third film features the return of the diamond, and thus uses the Panther in its title. After that, it was inescapably known as the "Pink Panther series", and thus, each subsequent film used the name in their titles, even though the diamond never appeared again.
    • While most of the titles are just nonsensical and could refer to anything (The Pink Panther Strikes Again could even refer to Dreyfuss, the film's villain), the final title, Son of the Pink Panther seems to overtly suggest that Clouseau is indeed who the name "Pink Panther" refers to.
  • The Princess Bride: Buttercup, the titular bride, is the Love Interest of both The Hero Westley and the Big Bad Prince Humperdinck.
  • The protagonist of Rachel Getting Married is Rachel's younger sister Kym.
  • In all three Re-Animator movies, the main character is Herbert West's protege, not Dr. West himself.
  • The titular character of Rebecca was already dead before the movie even began; however, the disproportionate influence her memory still has over the other characters is central to the story.
  • In Roberta, Stephanie is the main character. Her boyfriend's Aunt Minnie is the original Roberta, but she dies not long into the movie.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Extra points for sounding like a Word Salad Title, rather than anything to do with the characters at all, to people who aren't very familiar with the plot.
  • Ruby Sparks is the girlfriend of the main character Calvin who made her from his imagination.
  • Franchise Star Wars, The Last Jedi: The title refers to Luke, but the film very much belongs to his nephew Kylo Ren.
  • The protagonist of The Strong Man is Paul, Zandow the strong man's bumbling assistant, who has a series of misadventures while trying to find his pen pal girlfriend. Zandow is only in four scenes.
  • The Thin Man: The man of the title is the victim, not one of the protagonists or the villain. This didn't prevent the sequels from using him as an Artifact Title, even though his deceased character has nothing to do with their plots.
  • The identity of The Third Man is itself a mystery for much of the film; it refers to an unidentified third person a witness claims he saw carrying the protagonist's dying friend Harry Lime away from a car accident, while the other two men insist they were alone. But it's all a coverup; Lime is alive, and is the person the witness saw; the body was another victim entirely who is now buried in Lime's grave.
  • Trancers: The protagonist is Jack Deth. The Trancers are the Big Bad's mind slaves.
  • The live-action Transformers movies. The fact that the Transformers are secondary characters in the movies named after them is a frequent subject of mockery, due to the fact that they were the main characters in other incarnations of the franchise.
  • TRON and TRON: Legacy are about Kevin Flynn and his son. Tron is a minor character in both of them.
  • Tumbleweed is named after the horse Jim Logan is loaned when he sets off on his Clear My Name mission. It avoids being a Trivial Title because Tumbleweed's talents prove vital in allowing Jim to survive and succeed.
  • Waking Ned Devine is a pretty interesting example, considering the only time Ned actually appears on screen, it's his dead body, having died from shock after learning that he won the lottery. The rest of the movie is about two old men pretending he's still alive to collect this winnings.
  • Roger Rabbit is not actually the main character of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He's just the one who solicits the services of the story's actual protagonist, human detective Eddie Valiant. Roger steals every scene he's in and is pivotal to the case, though.

    Literature 
  • The protagonist of Aimee is not Aimee but her best friend who is accused of killing her. In fact, the protagonist isn't named until the end of the book. Her name is Zoe.
  • Constance Greene's young adult novels in the Alexandra series (such as Al(exandra) the Great) are all named after the narrator's best friend. The narrating character is never even given a name.
  • The young adult novel Amandine by Adele Griffon is named after the protagonist's eccentric (and later somewhat antagonistic) friend.
  • Isaac Asimov:
    • "Feminine Intuition": The 1970 German translation, "Jane 5", prompts the prototype robot to titular importance, despite not ever speaking on-screen.
    • "Galley Slave": The title refers to robot EZ-27, constructed to do proofreading, grading, and the other miscellany mental drudgery that occurs in universities.
    • "Lenny": Lenny, the In-Series Nickname for LNE models, was built for mining boron from asteroids. However, due to an accident during the initial planning, it doesn't work correctly.
    • "Sally": Sally is Jake's favorite self-driving car, but he's the viewpoint protagonist and the one who changes over the course of the story.
    • "The Ugly Little Boy": Both versions of the title refer to Timmie, whose role in the story is to be cared for by Edith Fellowes. The story follows her perspective and actions, her role within Stasis Incorporated as Timmie's caretaker. Usually, we only discover what Timmie is feeling based on what she's telling the other characters.
  • The bride in Bride of the Rat God refers to the actress Christine, but her cousin Norah is the central character.
  • The Butterfly Kid is named for a very minor secondary character—albeit one who gets the plot rolling. Its sequel, The Unicorn Girl, is also named for a secondary character, though a much more important one: the hero's potential love interest.
  • Alexander Pushkin's The Captain's Daughter is named after the main character's love interest.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe pulls a trifecta by being titled after a secondary character (Aslan), the villain (Jadis the White Witch), and a gateway to another dimension.
  • The Chronicles of Prydain are about a young man named Taran and the adventures he experiences on the path to adulthood in the country of Prydain. The final book in the series, The High King, refers to the ruler of the country. This is ultimately a subversion of the trope, however, because Taran himself is named High King of Prydain at the very end of the story.
  • The protagonist of Daisy Miller is Frederick Winterbourne, who falls in love with Daisy.
  • In Dear Mr. Henshaw, Boyd Henshaw is more of a plot device than an actual character; the real protagonist is sixth-grader Leigh Botts.
  • The first of the Tiffany Aching books in Discworld is called The Wee Free Men, after the Nac Mac Feegles, a group of rebellious "pictsies" (NOT "pixies") who assist Tiffany, but she's the main protagonist. The Feegles ARE quite memorable, however.
  • Dr. Seuss:
    • The Cat in the Hat is the tritagonist: the protagonist and deuteragonist are the boy and girl he visits. (Though in fairness, the cat does do more of the talking than they do.)
    • The Lorax: The focus in on the Once-ler, not on the Lorax.
  • Flowers for Algernon refers to the protagonist's fellow test subject — a white rat. Perhaps to avert the trope, the film adaptation was renamed Charly.
  • Frankenstein. The focus is not on the scientist Victor Frankenstein but on his creation "Frankenstein's Monster". Of course, many people think "Frankenstein" is the name of the monster.
  • The Giver is about the boy who's been selected to replace the Giver.
  • Gives Light is the surname of the main character's best friend and love interest, a Plains Shoshone boy. It's also the surname of his father, a serial killer who murdered the main character's mother years ago.
  • The Indian in the Cupboard is about the kid whose cupboard the Indian is in.
  • John Dies at the End: Dave is the narrator and central character. John is his Cloudcuckoolander best friend.
  • The Land of Oz series does this a lot. In fact, any book in the series that has a character's name in its title is far more likely to have that character as an important secondary character or occasionally the Deuteragonist — with a few notable exceptions, they're very rarely the primary protagonist.
    • The first book in the series, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is named for a character who, while important to the plot, isn't actually in the book all that much. The story centers on Dorothy and her three companions who seek the help of the titular wizard, who only actually appears in a few chapters.
    • Ozma of Oz also stars Dorothy as the main protagonist; Ozma doesn't show up until a bit into the book, and is pretty much a secondary character.
    • The Patchwork Girl of Oz is the origin story of Scraps the Patchwork Girl, and she is certainly a major and important character in the book (as well as a bit of a Breakout Character and fan favorite), but the main protagonist is actually Ojo the Unlucky, and the book centers around his quest to restore his petrified uncle.
    • Tik-Tok of Oz is mostly an Ensemble Cast without a clear protagonist, but Betsy Bobbin, Queen Ann and the Shaggy Man all have notably larger and more important roles than Tik-Tok, who mostly plays a supporting role.
    • The Scarecrow of Oz is really about Trot and Cap'n Bill, and eventually Button-Bright. The Scarecrow doesn't appear until half the book is over, and while he plays a central role when he does appear, it's very blatantly not his story.
    • Rinkitink In Oz does have the titular King Rinkitink in a large role throughout, but the main character is the young Prince Inga.
    • Glinda of Oz is about Dorothy and Ozma far more than Glinda, though Glinda does play an important role in organizing and leading the rescue party to save the two princesses from danger.
  • Looking for Alaska. Whilst Alaska is a main character, the focus is more on Pudge.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Lord of the Rings is the villain. The volume Return of the King refers to the Supporting Leader Aragorn.
  • The protagonist (and narrator) of Lorna Doone is her love interest John Ridd.
  • Malazan Book of the Fallen: The Crippled God, the last book in the series, is named after an important but rarely seen character. For most of the series it actually looks like it's going to be a case of Antagonist Title as the Crippled God is the instigator and Man Behind the Man of most of the conflicts within the series, but then turns out to be a little fish in the pond of the Big Bad Ensemble and himself in need of rescue.
  • Hawthorne Abendsen, The Man in the High Castle, is a minor character.
  • George MacDonald Fraser's McAuslan series has Lt. MacNeill as the protagonist, and there are stories where McAuslan plays only a minor role at best.
  • The Millennium Trilogy: Regardless of the title of each installment, the protagonist of the series has always been Mikael Blomkvist.
  • Moby-Dick is really about Ishmael and Captain Ahab; the eponymous Moby Dick is an enormous sperm whale that serves as Ahab's Animal Nemesis.
  • Several of H. Rider Haggard's novels are named after the hero's love interest, even if she is not the main focus. For example, Nada the Lily is about the hero Umslopogaas, the illegitimate son of the great Zulu king and general Chaka.
  • Neuromancer, to the extent that we don't even find out that "Neuromancer" is a character until late in the final act. It turns out that Wintermute's mission to infiltrate the Villa Straylight has actually been part of its attempt to merge with Neuromancer, its twin Artificial Intelligence, to become capable of growing past the limits of its programming. Also a case of Small Role, Big Impact.
  • Isaac Asimov and Janet Asimov's The Norby Chronicles: The main character is Jefferson Wells, a cadet in the Space Academy. The title character is Norby, who was purchased to be Jeff's teaching robot. Instead Norby tends to drag him into insane adventures involving aliens from other times and other dimensions.
  • The Prisoner of Zenda: The protagonist is the man attempting to rescue the prisoner, who barely features.
  • The protagonist of Rebecca is the second Mrs. de Winter (whose first name is never given). Rebecca herself is a Posthumous Character.
  • The Red Vixen Adventures: The series as a whole and half the individual titles refer to the Red Vixen, a character with very little actual screen time (and most of that is spent as her Secret Identity, Lady Melanie) and the story is never told from her perspective.
  • The narrator of Walter Scott's Rob Roy is Frank Osbaldistone.
  • In Saving Zoë, Zoë is the main character Echo's late sister, who was murdered. The book revolves around Echo finding Zoë's diary and reading it.
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel: The protagonist is the eponymous hero's wife Marguerite.
  • The Skulduggery Pleasant books are mostly told from the point of view of his protegee, Valkyrie Cain.
  • The Thin Man is not detective Nick Charles, but Clyde Wynant, the man he is looking for. The confusion was not helped by the fact that the movie version spawned a series of sequels, all of which included "the Thin Man" in their title.
  • The Three Musketeers is about D'Artagnan, the fourth musketeer.
  • The unfinished epic Titurel by medieval poet Wolfram von Eschenbach was named by scholars after the first name mentioned in the surviving text. Titurel does not actually appear in the story, he is merely one of the protagonist's ancestors.

    Live-Action TV 

    Music 
  • It wasn't uncommon at all for rock bands in The '60s to be named after the founding member, even if, instead of being the lead singer, they were the guitarist (Spencer Davis Group, Jeff Beck Group), the keyboardist (Manfred Mann, Paul Revere and the Raiders) or the drummer (The Dave Clark Five). Continuing into The '70s, we have Van Halen (Eddie and Alex Van Halen were the guitarist and drummer, respectively) and The J. Geils Band (J. Geils was the guitarist).
  • "There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis" by Kirsty MacColl. The protagonist is the narrator's probably unfaithful lover; the guy down the chip shop ("he's a liar") is just someone the real protagonist gets compared to.
  • Vengaboys can somewhat be applied to this trope, due to the fact that the lead vocalists of the group are female, and the other two members are male.

    Theatre 
  • The Barber of Seville also applies. Figaro is a relatively major character, but Almaviva is the protagonist.
  • Bye Bye Birdie: The title refers to rock star Conrad Birdie, who plays a major role, but Conrad's manager, Albert, and his secretary are the main characters.
  • The principal characters of the ballet Don Quixote are the young lovers, Basilio and Kitri. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are secondary mime parts. Not surprising, as the adaptation is In Name Only, anyway.
  • The title character of Fiddler on the Roof never speaks, and only appears a few times in the show. Tevye is the main character.
  • Gypsy refers to Gypsy Rose Lee, the stage name Louise acquires halfway through the second act. Her mother is the principal character.
  • Iolanthe gives the titular character less to act and sing about than other major characters, despite her importance in the plot. The protagonist is her son, Strephon.
  • The main character of Mikhail Glinka's A Life for the Tzar, a name suggested by Nikolai I, is in fact Ivan Susanin. The title was changed under Soviet rule to that of its hero.
  • Victor Hugo's Lucrezia Borgia. Lucrezia is at most a deuteragonist. The main character is Genarro, her abandonned incest-born son.
  • Marvin's Room. Marvin has absolutely no lines (he's senile and bedridden, you see), and the story is about his two daughters and one of his grandsons.
  • In The Mikado, the title character doesn't make his entrance until well into the second act. The protagonist is his only son, Nanki-Poo.
  • The opera Paul Bunyan introduces Paul Bunyan as the hero of its story, but he remains Shrouded in Myth and never appears onstage. The real protagonist is Hel Helson.
  • The Nibelung in Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung is Alberich, but the central character of the tetralogy as a whole is Wotan, even though there is no character who appears in all four parts. Brünnhilde, the titular character of The Valkyrie, is also probably an example as the opera is mostly about Wotan and his mortal children Siegmund and Sieglinde (the latter is the only character who appears in all three acts), while Brünnhilde in this opera is primarily defined as Wotan's alter ego—she tries to do what he can't because he is constrained by his obligations to treaties and the law.
  • Several Shakespearean examples, because in his day usually the character of the highest rank, not the main character, got the title (but not always, vide Hamlet).
    • Cymbeline: The main character is Imogen.
    • Henry IV parts 1 and 2: The main characters are Prince Hal and Falstaff.
    • Julius Caesar: Caesar dies less than halfway through; the main character is Brutus.
    • The Merchant of Venice: Most people assume that the title refers to the villain, Shylock, but it actually refers to Antonio. The actual protagonist of the play is up for debate.
  • Slowgirl has one that may be regarded as especially trivial. "Slowgirl" is the nickname of Becky's classmate Marybeth, who never appears in the story (as there are only two characters, Becky and Sterling.) Becky talks about her a lot and she is an especially important part of Becky's backstory, but she's actually Dead All Along and an ultimately fairly minor character.
  • Waiting for Godot: The main characters are Vladimir and Estragon, who are waiting for Godot. Godot doesn't even appear in the play.

    Radio 

    Video Games 
  • You'd be surprised how little Anna actually features in her own game. In fact, it's debatable if she appears at all (because True Art Is Incomprehensible).
  • The Arkham Knight from Batman: Arkham Knight, while still extremely important, is The Dragon to the game's real Big Bad, Scarecrow.
  • Seen in a few installments of the Dark Parables; the fourth game is called The Red Riding Hood Sisters and the fifth is The Final Cinderella. The actual protagonist of all of the games is a woman known as the Fairy Tale Detective.
  • In Hades, the Player Character is Prince Zagreus, while the Lord of the Dead himself is Zagreus's father and the Final Boss. That said, the title might actually refer to the setting since "Hades" is also a name for the Underworld itself.
  • The Knight in Hollow Knight isn't actually the title character; rather the Hollow Knight is an emotionless Vessel meant to be immune to the Infection while the Knight himself is a failed Vessel who wasn't chosen to seal the Radiance. However, in one of the endings the Knight defeats the Hollow Knight and takes his place, effectively becoming the new Hollow Knight.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • Kurami: Ana Kirkland is the main character, while Kurami is the infant cousin whom she is raising. To avoid confusion, author Deon Parson announced in January 2016 that he'd be changing the strip's name to Life With Kurami.
  • Lotus Cobra Is Evil: With the One-Word Title "Gary" strip, named for the character who's being posed questions.
  • Oglaf: The eponymous Oglaf has shown up maybe a handful of times in the entire comic.
  • Rusty and Co.: Rustry is a party member and the series' mascot, but the lead character is clearly Mimic.
  • Unicorn Jelly: The real main character is arguably Chou, who does most of the heavy lifting and gets most of the focus, especially towards the end. The POV character is Lupiko (most of the time). Uni, the title character, is just the supporting Team Pet.
  • Zelfia: The character Zelfia has appeared exactly three times. The title refers more to the series' Arc Words.

    Western Animation 
  • Half true for The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan. Charlie Chan only would appear at the beginning and end of the episodes which mainly dealt with his kids engaging in Scooby-Doo antics.
  • Timmy Turner is the main protagonist of the The Fairly OddParents. The title characters grant his wishes, teach him lessons, and generally serve as parental substitutes, since his actual parents constantly neglect him.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: Bloo & Mac are the protagonists. Neither of the Fosters are the main character: Madame Foster is the owner of the titular home that takes in "abandoned" imaginary friends (including Mac's friend Bloo), while her granddaughter Frankie is the caretaker. Out of the titular imaginary friends, Bloo is the Deuteragonist.
  • In Gawayn, the heroes are searching for the crystal of Gawayn in order to break the curse on Princess Gwendolyn, but it is not clear who Gawayn actually is (or was), though presumably he's meant to be the one from Arthurian legend.
  • Pixel Pinkie: Nina is the main protagonist while the titular Pixel Pinkie is the deuteragonist
  • TRON: Uprising is about Beck acting as Tron under his order, not about Tron himself.
  • The Venture Bros. zigzags this. Hank and Dean Venture are distinctly not the main characters of the series, but how prominent they are ranges from season to season. In the first three seasons, Rusty Venture, Brock Samson, and the Monarch all tend to have stronger claims to protagonist status and have much more involved arcs, with the boys generally coming across as The Dividual, rarely affecting the plot, and being around more for comedy than drama. Even an in-universe summary declared that Rusty was the real main character. In Season 4, however, they get significantly more Character Focus and go through Divergent Character Evolution, developing significant story arcs of their own while some prior characters flit in and Out of Focus (particularly Brock) once their arcs were finished. By Season 7 or so, the large ensemble cast means that the show doesn't particularly have a single protagonist, but Hank and Dean are definitely good candidates. It's further played with by the season 2 opening on Rusty and his newly discovered twin brother Jonas Jr. though Jonas Jr. was never more than secondary character throughout the show. Revelations in Season 7 suggest that the "true" Venture Brothers are Rusty and his half-brother Malcom aka The Monarch.
  • Wat's Pig: Wat is the protagonist, his brother the king is the deuteragonist, and the pig...is present.
  • Wildfire is about a young girl, Princess Sara, and her efforts to reclaim her rightful throne. The title refers to a magical talking horse who is sworn to protect her..

    Other 
  • Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 US Supreme Court decision that struck down contribution and spending limits for political campaigns, was named for two relatively minor players in the court case. Then-New York Senator James Buckley was the main named plaintiff, but he was fronting a coalition of several other politicians and special interest groups. Francis Valeo, the defendant, was the secretary of the Senate at the time and his only connection to the case was his having been chosen as a figurative representative of the federal government for the purposes of the lawsuit.

Top