Put simply, a character (usually a superhero) keeps their involvement in the events of the plot secret from some or all of the other characters. Usually, they do this by creating a second, separate persona for themselves, which they use while participating in the plot.
This may be done for several reasons:
- The World Is Not Ready to know about them, or their enemy, if they have one.
- Despite their superpowers, they still want to have a normal life during those times when they are not fighting crime or evil, and they want to keep that normal life separate from their life as a superhero. Especially if they're a vigilante and what they do is against the law.
- They may wish to protect their loved ones from possible retaliation by their enemies. (Oddly enough, they often don't inform said loved ones of any risk. And in some cases, it doesn't even work.)
- Their insurance policy don't have a superhero clause.
- They have been accused, or even convicted, of a crime (in either identity) and needs the separation to protect them from the law.
- Someone may go after the hero themselves, and use them for unethical experiments, probably to attempt to replicate their powers.
- Similarly, the hero uses a special item to have powers and become the hero, both the big villains and small crooks may try to steal it, leaving them without powers, and bad people with it.
- The hero wants to be something mysterious or even scary, to strike fear on bad guys.
- They just enjoy the privacy.
- They are using their secret identity as a way of keeping tabs on the world, the way Superman uses his guise as Clark Kent to learn about problems Superman may need to fix.
- Both identities may be useful for crimefighting, if the civilian identity is someone rich, with political powers, or has a job with authorities, they may be able to do stuff in their civilian identity that the hero identity cannot.
- Any combination of two or more of the above.
While trying to protect that secret, the superhero is often placed in the worst kind of situations that threaten to expose it. For instance, there is the Bruce Wayne Held Hostage scenario. In more mundane moments, the superhero often has to quickly come up with a Secret Identity Change Trick in order to get out of sight. They may have to cut off most relationships to prevent this necessity. Especially romantic relationships. And those that survive may have to be secret.
People who guess at the connection almost invariably guess correctly. No matter how closely two superheroes resemble each other, no one will confuse them.
In superhero stories, these are particularly vulnerable to to the superpower The Nose Knows.
This is effectively a single-person variant of the Masquerade. Sometimes a select group of people are allowed to know the hero's secret identity. If they stay largely out of the action, outside an occasional errand or trap setup, they're simply Secret Keepers. If the relationship with the hero is deeper, at least on a professional basis, then the insider may be a Battle Butler. If one or both of a hero's parents were ever heroes themselves, they'll often be overjoyed rather than shocked at the child's heroism, and reveal it as part of their Secret Legacy.
One of the archetypal Secret Identities is that of the Rich Idiot with No Day Job. The family and friends of such a hero are usually at risk of having tea with the villain. Other good personas include the Ridiculously Average Guy, The Nondescript, or The Generic Guy.
It is less common, but villains can also have secret identities, these examples are easy to justify, since of course the villain is a wanted criminal that should end up in jail but they still need to keep a façade, and it's common for this kind of villain to be famous, rich and powerful, and secretly use their money and political powers for their evil deeds, and the villain may have gotten rich and famous thanks to their secret evil powers in the first place, the general public believes they are just another celebrity/businessman or even idolize them, while despising their evil alter ego, it's also common for these villains to have their identity hidden from even the audience, so it can be revealed later, often as a huge twist.
Experts point to The Scarlet Pimpernel, written at the turn of the 20th century by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, as one of the earliest pure examples of this trope. However, the Older Than Print Chivalric Romance Roswall and Lillian has the hero work as a servant at court and fight three times at The Tourney disguised in armor, without revealing his identity; it also appears in various Fairy Tales, though in all these it is a temporary measure, and not the perpetual double identity of the modern secret identity, and so Ur Examples.
Bob Ingersoll considers secret identities to be actually detrimental to fighting crime. Even so, it has become a staple of the Super Hero genre, to the point where it's easier to list exceptions, subversions and variations than straight examples such as ...
A Super-Trope to:
- Angel Unaware
- Anti-Climactic Unmasking
- Black Knight
- Bruce Wayne Held Hostage: The villain tries to draw out the hero by holding the hero's secret identity hostage.
- Celebrity Masquerade
- Clark Kenting: The hero's civilian identity is basically the hero wearing a Paper-Thin Disguise.
- Color-Coded Secret Identity
- Death by Secret Identity: Someone finds out the hero's secret identity, but dies before they can do anything with the information.
- Flung Clothing
- Friend of Masked Self
- God Was My Copilot
- Hates My Secret Identity
- Identity Impersonator: The hero protects their secret identity by appearing in public with someone pretending to be their alter ego.
- King Incognito
- Loves My Alter Ego
- Likes Clark Kent, Hates Superman
- Multilayer Façade: Someone wears multiple disguises over each other at once.
- Old Beggar Test
- The Reveal Prompts Romance
- Second Super-Identity
- Secret Chaser: Someone constantly follows around the hero protecting their secret identity, trying to find it out.
- Secret Identity Apathy: The villains aren't interested at all in learning the hero's secret identity.
- Secret Identity Change Trick
- Secret Identity Identity: It's called into question on whether the person regards their super identity or their secret identity as their true self.
- Secret Keeper: A friend the hero has allowed to be aware of their secret identity.
- Secret Secret-Keeper: Someone finds out the hero's secret identity, but doesn't let the hero know that they are aware of their secret identity.
- Secret Public Identity
- Self-Proclaimed Knight
- Sexier Alter Ego
- Sweet Polly Oliver: A woman disguises herself as a man.
- The Unmasking
Exceptions, Subversions and Variations:
- If you're a radio listener in Ohio or Kentucky of the United States, there's a good chance you may be familiar with the "Phantom Tire Buyer with a Secret Identity" from ads for Tire Discounters.
- Subverted in Akumetsu, where the titular Guile Hero/Magnificent Bastard doesn't really care about it as much as most of the examples on this page.
- Several characters in Attack on Titan have secret identities. Most play it absolutely straight, maintaining them for various reasons. However, one turns out to be a Deconstruction: Reiner Braun is unable to handle the guilt of his crimes as The Mole, and slowly loses focus of his true self. This causes him to suffer bouts of Trauma-Induced Amnesia, repressing his real memories while completely submerged into his false identity.
- Lelouch Lamperouge, the morally gray revolutionary from Code Geass, takes on the masked Large Ham persona of Zero when he founds and leads the Order of the Black Knights against the Holy Empire of Britannia - his normal persona is that of an Ordinary High-School Student...which is also a false identity, since he's really Lelouch vi Britannia, an exiled son of the Britannian Emperor and therefore a prince.
- In Death Note, Light Yagami has taken a Secret Identity known as Kira when killing criminals with the titular Artifact of Doom. After L's death, he even takes the role of Second L while maintaining his identity as Kira.
- Conan Edogawa and Ai Haibara in Detective Conan must keep secret the fact that they were youthened instead of killed by a poison used by a shadowy secret organization. The original rationale was to pretend Conan's prior identity, Shinichi Kudo, was dead, but he can't stop phoning his girlfriend using his Shinichi voice, so it seems to be a pretty open secret he's is still alive. Some people are clever enough to put two and two together and figure out who he is, too.
- Set in the same universe as Conan is Magic Kaito, which has the titular character Kaito Kuroba, who is, unknown to his friends, the Phantom Thief Kaito Kid. The shared name is never remarked upon as more than coincidence, since Kid was inherited the identity from his father and Kaito's Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist is a man who's known him since he was a kid.
- Secret Identities are a major part of the plot of the anime Dokkoida?!. Supervillains are unleashed and given Secret Identities to test a pair of supersuits used by the heroes and promised a pardon if they can successfully unmask either one. Also, should anyone's identities become known, the whole test is null and void. Finally, due to budget constraints, everyone (heroes and villains alike) are living in the same apartment building.
- In Dragon Ball Z, there is Gohan as the Great Saiyaman. As Gohan, he's a fairly nerdy high school student. As the Great Saiyaman, he's a Large Ham crimefighter who's fond of Sentai-spoofing poses. He's also quite bad at actually maintaining the secret identity.
- The Eldran series both averts and plays this straight. In the first and last series, the protagonists are a class of fifth-graders, and their schools hide/are the titular robots, so its hard to keep what they do secret anyways (that and the military tried confiscating Gosaurer in its series, but the situation turned sour when it turned out it wouldn't work for them). However the second entry in the series - Ganbarugar - plays this very straight, and with justification (kinda) in that if the heroes reveal their identities, they'll be turned into dogs.
- Eyeshield 21 features an ace football player who hides his identity behind an eyeshield and code name. Subverted in that several cast members figure out his identity almost instantly, while others are much slower on the uptake. Further subverted in that about halfway through the series, he abandons his secret identity altogether (on live TV no less) and operates under his real name from then on, with "Eyeshield 21" remaining as a nickname.
- In Full Moon o Sagashite, Mitsuki uses her shinigami's powers to turn herself into a famous singer. It's later revealed that Takuto was actually a member of Mitsuki's father's band when he was still alive.
- Haiyore! Nyarko-san beats this trope up for its lunch money like it does so many others. Though the alien characters will try to keep Muggles from seeing their battles with Cosmic Horrors, they do little else to maintain The Masquerade. Nyarko will gladly introduce herself as "The Crawling Chaos who creeps up on you with a smile, Nyarlathotep", and when joining Mahiro's high school gave a speech where she outright says she travels the stars and fights Malign Deities. And it's not even a case of being written off as a Cloud Cuckoolander, since people always seem to believe her Blatant Lies about being pregnant with Mahiro's child.
- Four out of five SOS Brigade members in Haruhi Suzumiya, as well as all the other Aliens, Time Travelers, and Espers out there.
- Horimiya has Miyamura pretend to be Konoha, Hori's cousin, when his Bishounen self interacts with Yuki, Hori's best friend.
- All Might has to keep one up in My Hero Academia after his injury from five years ago reduced the time he could act as a hero to three hours a day to keep Japan from succumbing to chaos in his absence. Otherwise, he's working nine-to-five as his own secretary under his real name, Toshinori Yagi. After passing One for All to Izuku, All Might frequently has to push his slowly decreasing limits to keep people from seeing his emaciated, depowered form.
- Nurse Angel Ririka SOS zigzags this. The Magical Girl Warrior heroine keeps her world-saving activities secret from her friends and family. But she's not really trying to hide her identity from the villains; she even transforms in front of them. And for their part, the villains know where she lives and they try to exploit her civilian identity. They just don't do it very well.
- Although they aren't super heroes, the talents employed by the Peacock talent agency in Penguin Revolution are obligated to maintain a secret identity, and fired if their real identity is revealed.
- Most of the heroes in Tiger & Bunny have secret identities, the exception being Barnaby Brooks Jr. who is open with the public and simply does his heroics under that name. Whilst the other heroes are masked to the public, most of their family members usually know (with exceptions) and, as they are all examples of Corporate Sponsored Superheroes, so do their bosses/sponsors. Also Wild Tiger/Kotetsu T. Kaburagi winds up being known to the general public when it becomes the only way to clear his civilian name to is to go public given the time frame he was working under.
- Momomiya Ichigo and the other members of Tokyo Mew Mew keep their Magical Girl identities secret. For Ichigo, this is mainly out of fear of humiliation and rejection from her crush, Aoyama.
- J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, originally masqueraded as a human police detective named John Jones; a later Retcon made this an impersonation of a real detective Jones whose killing he had witnessed. Stories in the Modern Age have established the idea that, as an unlimited shapeshifter, J'onn has actually created dozens of secret identities (and at least one other heroic identity, the Bronze Wraith).
- Thoroughly deconstructed in the Post-Crisis Captain Atom, in that Cap had a "secret non-identity": a government-written cover identity of "Cameron Scott" that existed only on paper, to hide his origins as the time-displaced product of a 1960s military experiment, and to hide that Cap was a government agent masquerading as a superhero.
- The deconstruction of the secret identity trope and its moral and ethical implications was one of the major themes of the series.
- Trident, an opponent of the New Teen Titans, was actually three separate individuals masquerading as a single villain.
- Similarly, the Crimson Fox of Justice League Europe was actually a pair of twin sisters sharing both a single heroic and civilian identity (after having faked the death of one sister).
- Green Arrow:
- Oliver Queen says in The Longbow Hunters, "All those years of maintaining a secret identity, and the only reason nobody ever found out was that nobody cared!?"
- His successor Connor Hawke never even bothered; at one point he took over ownership of an apartment building and was refused insurance because he was a superhero.
- Black Canary: Despite abandoning any attempt at a disguise years ago and having a very public wedding to another superhero (whose own Secret Identity was a Millionaire Playboy and former mayor of a major city), Dinah has apparently managed to maintain one. Dinah was outed as Black Canary, as of Birds of Prey Volume 2, #2. It seemed that for the most part, it was a case of her secret identity was so unremarkable (a florist in a small shop) she didn't really need to hide who she was, and pretty much the entire hero/villain community knew 'Dinah Lance' was her name.
- Aztek introduced two background characters, a married superhero couple, neither of whom knew the other's secret identity. Think about it.
- Blue Beetle:
- "Is it lame that I'm still excited about having a secret identity?"
- The 1960s incarnation of Blue Beetle kept a separation between his ordinary life as Ted Kord and his heroic life as Blue Beetle, but he was an exception to the usual business about keeping things secret even from the hero's loved ones: only a couple of issues in, he decides his girlfriend deserves to know, and tells her the whole thing. In subsequent issues, she helps cover for him when he needs it.
- One JLA storyline had an alien device accidentally split the League into two beings, one for their civilian and heroic identities each. Some of the League, especially the Martian Manhunter, hoped to leave things at that. However, it turned out that the separation only made things worse for most of them: for example, Bruce Wayne was all bottled fury with no outlet, while Batman was completely directionless. Eventually, the civilian identities had to fight the aliens who created the device, who turned out to have loosed it on purpose as a form of field test.
- According to Elliot S! Maggin's pre-Crisis novel Last Son of Krypton, supergenius Lex Luthor actually maintains dozens of identities as artists, scientists, and other highbrow society positions. He does it partly to influence affairs in those fields, partly as a source of income, but mostly to keep from being bored.
- Batman occasionally uses the "Matches Malone" persona as an additional secret identity to infiltrate the criminal underworld.
- Much like his mentor Tim Drake uses the additional secret identity of Alvin Draper for infiltration. Eventually, due to the League of Assassins interfering when he was trying to borrow evidence from a museum in Germany making "Alvin" an internationally wanted art thief and Dick blurting out that he was Robin directly in front of Two-Face, this id becomes rather dangerous to use.
- For the bulk of his career, Tony Stark presented Iron Man to the public as an employee wearing the armor he invented, and serving as his bodyguard. This twist would actually seem to negate a great deal of the usual justifications for bothering to maintain a dual identity — the general public knows Stark designed the armor, and any enemies of Iron Man are likely to become enemies of Stark by association. It sometimes seems the primary reason for this posture is to give Tony a measure of legal cover for Iron Man's activities — and indeed, on at least one occasion, Tony has publicly "fired" Iron Man in response to a scandal arising from his actions.
- Eventually, Tony came out as Iron Man as part of a wave of secret identity refutations (Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, did the same thing around the same time).
- It turns out he did have good reason for worrying about the legal cover. During the Winter Soldier debacle, he had to deny assistance to Captain America and The Falcon, since the villain's employer was one of Stark's direct business rivals. He explained that he could lose his company and end up in jail if it looked like he was using the Iron Man armor to intimidate his competitors.
- Eventually, Tony came out as Iron Man as part of a wave of secret identity refutations (Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, did the same thing around the same time).
- Spider-Man's secret identity as Peter Parker was one of the best-kept in the business for forty real-world years. At least until the Civil War, where Tony Stark coerced Peter (who did not want any legal trouble on his back, so he had sided with him) to reveal his secret identity on live television. Then Spidey defected to the Anti-Reg movement, Aunt May got shot in an attempt on his life, and Spidey struck a deal with Mephisto to keep her alive, with the plus of everyone forgetting that Spider-Man and Peter Parker are one and the same.
- In Ultimate Spider-Man, on the other hand, Spidey's identity is the worst kept secret in superherodom. He's been unmasked by at least as many people as he's deliberately revealed his identity to. (A trend continued in the movies — he couldn't make it past his second film without being unmasked in front of literally dozens of people, although none of them recognized him.) The Ultimate version in particular may be a reference to the fan meme that Spider-Man was one of the last big Marvel Characters to even bother with a secret identity, as his Rogues Gallery was full of people who knew him personally.
- And by now, on Earth-616, only the Fantastic Four, his fellow Avengers and his clone Kaine know who Spider-Man is under the mask.
- The Green Goblin and other Goblin characters are villainous but there's kind of a tradition of hiding their identity from everyone (even the readers) whenever a new one debuts. This has led to more than one instance of a new Goblin character getting passed on to another writer, who completely changes the original writer's intended identity reveal.
- The Scourge of the Underworld was an entire conspiracy collectively posing as a single vigilante killer.
- Aversion: when the Fantastic Four were created, they intentionally avoided many genre tropes to distance themselves from their Distinguished Competition (that is, DC's Justice League) - with the most significant of these decisions being their lack of dual identities. One popular in-story explanation implies Reed does so to not make the others, especially Ben Grimm (for whom keeping a secret identity is basically impossible), feel ashamed of their abilities.
- In one early storyline, Johnny "Human Torch" Storm attempts to pull off a secret identity. It lasts less than an issue, before he remembers that he was already a celebrity and thus it's pointless.
- The Fantastic Four also Deconstructs this lack of private identities at times, most notably with the public knowledge that Reed and Sue have had children. This attracts the attention of child services, who drop by to question whether or not they should remove their kids from the dangerous environment.
- Also averted most of the time for Doctor Strange. Played with somewhat in that the public rarely takes him seriously — they tend to see him as just another bit of Greenwich Village color.
- Subverted in Daredevil. For years Matt Murdock hid his identity as Daredevil on the reasonable grounds that, as a lawyer, his vigilante lifestyle could get his cases overturned, and he suffered more than Spider-Man as a result. But then the hero was publicly outed, so the entire world knows who he is but no one could prove it.
- Bruce Banner is the Incredible Hulk, which starts off as a secret but ends up as public knowledge in most continuities, in part because it's kind of a hard secret to keep under wraps. Ditto for his cousin Jennifer Walters, AKA She-Hulk, albeit for somewhat different reasons. (Most of the time, She-Hulk is in control of whether she appears as Walters or She-Hulk; for a while, she appeared as She-Hulk pretty much all of the time, and once became locked in that form (a development that didn't bother her in the least).)
- Interestingly enough, there was a period/continuity where Hulk's identity was secret from himself. Banner always knew he was the Hulk, but Hulk didn't know that he was Banner. Which kind of put a damper on his plans to kill Banner.
- Thor's second identity for many years was protected by a Transformation Sequence. When Odin removed this power, Thor merely dressed normally to construct a new identity. While he worked in construction, the boss noticed his strength and his dexterity and concluded he had to be — Spider-Man. A rare subversion of the "guess is always right." (He invited him home, and one of his children looked in Thor's duffel bag; the hammer gave it away.)
- Spoofed in Thor: The Mighty Avenger. After Brian Braddock/Captain Britain pretends to go to the bathroom so he can deal with a disgruntled Thor, the following conversation occurs between his drinking buddies.
Celine: Do you think we should check on [Brian]? He has been in the loo for a long time, no?
Alan: Mmm? No, it's okay. He's Captain Britain.
Alan: He's Captain Britain. He thinks his friends don't know, but he's terrible at keeping it a secret, so we pretend we don't notice. Another one?
Celine: Uhh...Yes. A pint, thank you.
- Totally averted by The Punisher, as his Frank Castle identity is public knowledge. And yet, he can still regularly just walk down the street so long as he's not openly brandishing weapons or wearing his trademark skull.
- In Welcome Back, Frank, Castle once overhears a plot to assassinate The Punisher in a restaurant as he is sitting a few tables over from the plotters. His Paper-Thin Disguise is...a baseball cap. But he has also hired a prostitute to pretend to be his "date," which probably did much more to throw off any idea that he was The Punisher (he also sat with his back to his target).
- Subverted in one of the Black Knight's old spotlight issues. After getting arrested by some pushy and jerkass police due to a mixup (ironically he got mistaken for a supervillain that was similarly Arthurian-knightly-themed), Whitman raises a big fuss about how it's illegal for the policemen to unmask him since he's an Avenger. Later, we find out he freely tells everyone that Dane Whitman's address is where the Black Knight stays when he's in town. When Miss Bentley points out the flimsiness of this cover story compared to his fuss at the police station, he admits he doesn't actually care about his secret identity, he just "hates being pushed around".
- Kamala Khan is an interesting variation in that she is fiercely protective of her secret identity, but she's more than happy to hang around with her friends in their secret identities while she's in costume. She's also told her friends that revealing their identities to her was a bad idea, and they shouldn't just assume that fellow superheroes can automatically be trusted with that information.
- In Preacher there is a villainous example where a serial killer called the Reaver Cleaver is hiding behind a civilian guise, a reporter investigating the serial killer's identity.
- Inverted in Jon Sable, Freelance in that Sable is publically known as a mercenary. What he keeps secret is that writes children's books under the name "B.B. Flemm", and he has an elaborate disguise he wears when he has to make public appearances as Flemm. Furthermore, his publisher knows about Sable's real life, but is very persuasive in making him keep to his writing contract in that false identity.
- Watchmen's Rorschach has an identity is so secret, even his colleagues don't know his real name or what he looks like under the mask for a long time.
- One old comic had a one eyed army veteran who became a superhero. His name was Jonathan Battle. He retired as a Captain. His superhero name? Captain Battle. No one manages to figure out who this mysterious one eyed "Captain Battle" secretly is. Not even his friends.
- Argentinian superheroine Cyber Six disguises herself as a man in her secret identity.
- Orient Men, originally a superhero parody, is mentioned in the first panel of the first comic to be the secret identity of a random white-collar schmuck. This never comes up again.
- Savage Dragon doesn't even remember his real name, so his legal name is really Dragon. Obviously, even if he wanted to keep his identity a secret, it's a bit hard since he's a big green man with a fin on his head.
- In All Fall Down, Siphon's identity is not public knowledge, but her role as the world's last superhero leaves her very little time for a double life.
- Played with every way possible in Astro City.
- Some supers have their identities publicly known and are treated like celebrities, such as with the Furst Family.
- Others are shrouded entirely in myth and feared or shunned, like The Confessor or the Blue Knight.
- Still others have revealed their identities to the authorities while keeping them secret from the public at large, such as the Street Angel and Quarrel.
- Roustabout has, in reality, a public identity in the Close-Knit Community of the carnival and the Arcadian towns it visits, but because he is wanted by the law, the community acts as a large-scale Secret Keeper and even feigns Obfuscating Stupidity as if it were an Extra-Strength Masquerade.
- Jerrica from Jem and the Holograms keeps an alter ego named "Jem" due to Stage Fright. Only her sisters and Synergy, their supercomputer, knows otherwise. She slips up several times involving her remembering she has a secret identity, though. For example, on her bands first performance she asks Rio to get her a coffee. She goes to change into Jem but when Rio calls for Jerrica, she replies. She also takes Rio coffee, which only causes Rio to think Jem is an obnoxious diva who takes others coffee and is barely around her bandmates.
- Although Flare doesn't have a secret identity, her younger sister, Sparkplug, wears a black wig as florist Olga Guttmann. Even so, Intrepid Reporter Jimmy Dooley recognized Olga as Sparkplug the moment he first entered her flower shop, and still calls Sparkplug by her real name over her objections.
- Plutona uses one to protect her loved ones and work a day job to make rent.
- In Hero Cats Of Stellar City, Cassie's owner Stanley and his daughter Suzie routinely don spandex as Galaxyman and Cosmic Girl, the crime-fighting superhero duo. Hilariously, while Cassie and her friends figure it out fairly quickly, it turns out Stanley and Suzie successfully keep their secrets from each other - Stanley has no idea that his sidekick is actually his daughter, and vice versa. Cassie can hardly believe it.
- The Tick attempted to hold down a secret identity because he believed superheroes needed one to be superheroes. He did this by putting on a tie and pretending to be a crossword writer for a newspaper, despite having neither a job or wearing any other clothing beyond his body (and identity)-covering blue spandex. Averted in the cartoon and live-action incarnations, in which almost none of the superheroes are shown to have secret identities, and most don't even bother covering up their faces.
- In Iron Hans and a fair number of its variants, the hero appears as a Knight in Shining Armor during the war, while working in a menial position — first a scullion, and then demoted to a gardener's boy — at the king's court.
- In The Golden Crab, the king tries to have The Tourney to substitute a bridegroom for the crab his daughter married. Three times the crab-husband shows up in human guise to fight.
- In the Darkwing Duck fanfiction Negaverse Chronicles, Megavolt is the only member of the Friendly Four who actually needs one since he's the only one with any family members who might be vulnerable (and Negaduck has promised to kill anyone close to him). However, as he pointed out, "Elmo, Billy, Bud and Reginald just doesn't sound as cool as Megavolt, Quackerjack, Liquidator and Doctor Bushroot".
- In Origin Story, Louise demands that Alex Harris start using a Secret Identity when Alex formally decides to stop running from her destiny and become a superhero.
- In Kage, a crossover story between Jackie Chan Adventures and W.I.T.C.H., Jade is banished by Drago from her universe to another. She ends up on Meridian and due to unfortunate factors is quickly labeled as a public threat. To survive, she's forced to associate with villains. To leave as little information of herself as possible in case of a double-cross, she comes up for herself the alias "Kage".
- Those That Carry On is stuffed full of these, with many characters adopting new identities to get away from issues in their past and famous pilots given nicknames that further obfuscate their identities - Red Comet, Crimson Lightning, White Devil...
- In The Institute Saga, Clark Kent relies on no-one thinking that a part-time teacher could be a superhero and it works, right until he gets publicly outed by a politician hoping to use his fame against him. The result? The Bayville High gets swamped by transfer requests from people wanting to be taught by a genuine super-hero!
- In A Force of Four, Wonder Woman's daughter Lyta Trevor decides to not bother with a secret identity when she starts operating as a hero.
She didn't bother with a mask. Her mother had revealed her secret identity years ago. Lyta didn't intend to bother with one.
- I am [REDACTED] has the titular Redacted, aka Midoriya Izuku. Since secret identities are non-existent and technically illegal in the world of My Hero Academia (Izuku had to cut some sort of deal with the Japanese government to make it possible), it became all the more noticeable when Redacted showed up with one. In fact, Redacted isn't even Izuku's official hero name; his actual hero name is Nimbus, but he was Named by Democracy after researching his public records had his real name blocked out with the phrase [REDACTED], and by the start of the story, has given up correcting reporters and fans alike.
- The Incredibles:
"Your identity is your most precious possession; protect it."
- Secret identities are a big deal to the hero community; after all, who needs that much pressure every minute of the day? The government initiates the "Superhero Relocation Program", giving the Supers new identities to protect them from the public, who are upset over all the collateral damage. Later, Elastigirl gives the kids a talk.
- Frozone, however, has his own complaints in this area.
"Super-ladies, they're always trying to tell you their secret identity. [whispers] Think it'll strengthen the relationship or something like that. I say, 'Girl, I don't wanna know about your mild-mannered alter ego or anything like that.' I mean, you tell me you're, uh, super-mega-ultra-lightnin' babe? That's all right with me."
- The Dark Knight Trilogy: Deconstructed; although Bruce has a Secret Identity, its practically impossible for him to hide it from everyone else, even when they are not Secret Chasers actively looking to know who the Batman is. The ones who find out all decide to be Secret Keepers, or even Secret Secret Keepers:
- Batman Begins:
- The Big Bad immediately knows Batman is Bruce Wayne because he was his Evil Mentor.
- Alfred, Bruce's Butler, helps Batman every step of the way.
- Lucius Fox, the Omnidisciplinary Scientist that provides Batman with his gadgets.
"If you don't want to tell me exactly what you're doing - when I'm asked, I don't have to lie. But don't think of me as an idiot."
- Batman reveals his identity to his Love Interest. She becomes another Secret Keeper.
- The Dark Knight:
- Accountant Coleman Reese discovers Where He Gets All Those Wonderful Toys and intends to Blackmail Bruce Wayne, but is dissuaded by Lucius Fox. When he tries to sell Batman's Secret Identity, he discovers that The Joker is not happy with the secret being made public. He is saved by Batman and might be ashamed enough to become a Secret Keeper.
- The Dark Knight Rises:
- John Blake, another orphan, recognizes Bruce Wayne's Stepford Smiler façade, and figures out that the billionaire with the Dark and Troubled Past must be the Batman. He is a Secret Secret-Keeper.
- The villains know exactly who Batman is because they are Avenging the Villain of the first movie, making them Secret Secret Keepers.
- Selina Kyle, the new Love Interest, discovers Batman's identity during a fight.
- Batman reveals his secret identity to Commissioner Gordon near the end of the film.
- Batman Begins:
- Played With in the DC Extended Universe:
- In Man of Steel, Clark uses various fake identities while Walking the Earth before even becoming Superman, constanting having to move on after using his powers to help people. Even so, Lois Lane is able to track him by his past rescues right to the Kent farm.
- In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, both Clark and Bruce Wayne have secret identities. This film makes it clear that, as in the Post-Crisis comics, Clark is himself when he's Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet, as opposed to putting on a mild-mannered, clumsy facade as Clark and being himself when he's Superman. The concept of a Secret Identity is deconstructed somewhat, as Clark and Bruce are easily able to discover who the other really is (Clark overhears Bruce talking to Alfred with his super-hearing, and Bruce isn't called the World's Greatest Detective for nothing) and like Lois, Lex Luthor has been able to discover Clark is Superman, and also knows the secret identities of Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Cyborg.
- In Suicide Squad (2016), none of the Suicide Squad have secret identities, as they are all known criminals and Amanda Waller makes it pretty clear that she also knows Bruce is Batman.
- Usually averted in the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Iron Man: S.H.I.E.L.D. forged a cover story to explain away Iron Man's identity, Stane's disappearance, and the explosion at the Stark Industries factory. What really happened is that Stane knew all along who was underneath the armor (he hired the terrorists who took Tony hostage and gave him the reason to build the first armor, after all) and took steps to eliminate him to gain control over Stark Industries until Tony and Pepper killed him by overloading the factory's arc reactor. At the press conference where the cover story should have been fed to the media, Tony paused then simply stated, "I am Iron Man."
- In Iron Man 2, not only does everyone around the world know about Tony, but Justin Hammer loudly announces War Machine's identity during the armor's showcase. Justified in that the War Machine armor is an advanced military prototypenote created by a civilian defense contractor and piloted by a United States Air Force officer, so keeping the operator's identity a secret isn't necessary.
- Black Widow has an alias, as fitting a government spy, but there is no proper secret identity. She's not even called "Black Widow" most of the time. At the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, however, she admits that revealing all S.H.I.E.L.D.'s secrets destroyed all of her various cover identities, but she's going to work on a new one in the meantime.
- Thor goes by his real name and never hides who he is and where he is from, which prompts most people to simply think he is insane. His friends briefly give him an alias to fool S.H.I.E.L.D. agents... but it doesn't work. By the end of his first film, it's no secret to anyone what his true nature is.
- Even in his origin movie, the Hulk can't really keep a secret identity. Bruce Banner creates aliases only because he is a wanted man. He freely reveals the Hulk to anyone whom he believes can help. He also has no fear in forcing himself to transform in the middle of Harlem.
- Captain America doesn't even try to have one. While the army kept the Super Soldier Program a secret for obvious reasons, Steve was still making movies and doing USO tours. Sure, it was a cover, but Steve was still walking around without his mask backstage in full view of civilians. In fact, he was maskless in his first few adventures in Captain America: The First Avenger, going so far as to face the Big Bad for the first time without hiding his identity. After all, he worked closely with both civilian scientists and drafted soldiers who would be out of the army soon and returning to civilian life. By the time Captain America: The Winter Soldier rolls around, the entire public knows who he is, thanks in part to an exhibit at the Smithsonian detailing his entire WW2 career.
- Hawkeye is in the same category as Captain America and Black Widow. As a government agent, he doesn't need a secret identity and is more often referred to as "Barton" or "Clint" than his codename.
- The Falcon doesn't have a secret identity in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with "Exo-7 Falcon" being the name of the winged military exoskeleton he uses. He's pretty consistently referred to by his real name, Sam Wilson, but gets called Falcon once near the end of the movie. Like the War Machine example, a secret identity is unnecessary since Sam is an ex-Air Force officer rather than a costumed vigilante.
- The Vision has no need for a secret identity, as his creation and existence are tied to the Avengers. Plus, he's a green and red android.
- Black Panther is publicly known to be Wakandan royalty. It surprises nobody T'Challa takes up the mantle after his father's death. Although his identity was initially unknown at least the people around when he first went after Bucky, due to most people there not being familar with Wakanda's policies. T'Challa immediately unmasks after that fight though to make use of his diplomatic immunity and to get the UN's cooperation.
- So far, along with Daredevil, Spider-Man is one of the few characters in the setting to work at keeping his identity a secret from the public, and Tony is the only one in Captain America: Civil War to have traced it to nerdy high-schooler Peter Parker. Part of his reasoning is that he doesn't want his aunt May to be worried about him and "freak out". He's quick to web Tony's hand to his doorknob right in his own bedroom when the prospect of outing his exploits comes up, and it's implied by the end of Civil War that it's still his secret to keep. Then in Spider-Man: Homecoming, he ends up being outed to his friend Ned, the villain, and finally Aunt May herself. In Avengers: Infinity War, he introduces himself to several other superheroes, but none of them are likely to run into him in his daily life (most of them are from other planets.) In Spider-Man: Far From Home, he ends up getting publicly outed to the world thanks to Mysterio and J. Jonah Jameson, thus subverting this trope completely.
- In the film version of Mystery Men, famous superhero Captain Amazing has Clark Kent glasses (which fool just about everyone except the protagonist), and the Mystery Men themselves. The Shoveller is open with his family though. The Blue Rajah is initially embarrassed and doesn't want his mother to think he's weird, but when he gets caught pilfering her silverware, he comes out of the closet and she turns out to be really proud of it. The scene is treated like a gay man coming out to his mother.
- In Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold, Miles Vorkosigan, after being ambushed at a party, tries to distance himself from his Secret Identity Admiral Naismith by claiming Naismith is his clone. Then he finds out that he really does have a clone, who tries to impersonate him and is not spotted by Miles' friends because they think the clone story is a fabrication. Naismith's friends and men, however, believe in the story. A few years later, in Mirror Dance, Mark uses the info to pretend to be Naismith, to pursue a vendetta. By the time it's all sorted out, the situation has gone all to hell. In Miles' case, nearly literally.
- In the novel Death Wish and its sequel Death Sentence by Brian Garfield, Paul Benjamin (given the surname Kersey in the films) went to elaborate lengths to maintain his dual identity as the vigilante. He knew quite well that the police would object to his sudden justice (the same reason that the Shadow and the Spider had dual identities). In the second novel, Benjamin buys goggles, a fake mustache, and a fur cap to disguise himself.
- The film series of Death Wish somewhat muddies this, since movie producers often demand that expensive name actors make their face completely visible, since they pay so much for them. However, the makers of the films did not completely ignore that Kersey had a dual identity. In the second film Paul Kersey buys an old pea coat, gloves, longshoreman's cap, and beat up pair of pants while prowling around as a vigilante. He rents a room in a flophouse to do first aid for his injuries. In the fourth film, the LAPD did not know the vigilante's identity. Also in that film, a man blackmails Paul Kersey into a meeting by announcing to him that he knew of his activities as the vigilante and would expose him.
- The Penetrator, from a series of novels published by Pinnacle in the 1970's and 1980's, maintained a dual identity as Mark Hardin. Since he had served in the military, he quickly realized that his fingerprints remained on file and would betray. Therefore, he developed special flesh colored prosthetics to prevent them from betraying him.
- Richard Stark's thief character Parker used the alternate identity of Charles Willis to launder his gains from his heists, owning parking lots and gas stations for tax reporting purposes. (Stark, himself, had a "secret identity": he was a pseudonym used by Donald E. Westlake.)
- Similarly, Max Allan Collins' Nolan owned various small businesses whose juggled books hid his swag and boodle.
- Leslie Charteris' the Saint's true name remained unknown to the public until the end of the book The Last Hero. As the Saint would later reminisce on page 140 of Count on the Saint (hardcover edition), the public knew of him at first as only "an avenging wraith". When Templar attempts to stop warfare in The Last Hero, the authorities became aware of him. However, in later stories such as The Sleepless Knight, the Appalling Politician, and The Melancholy Journey of Mr. Teal, the Saint and his associates would wear masks as needed after the Saint made an understanding with Inspector Teal.
- Many paperback original series featured protagonists who operated as "mystery men" without the public knowing their true identities. These include the Hitman (Mike Ross), the Hitman (Dirk Spencer), Hawker, the Sharpshooter (Johnny Rock), the Avenger (Matthew Hawke), the Marksman (Philip Magellan), the Assassin (Peter McCurtin series), the Revenger, the Revenger (yet another series), the Protector (Alex Dartagnan), .357 Vigilante, Cross (Andrew Vachss series), the Vigilante (V.J. Santiago series) and Chant.
- The Gray Seal, by Frank L. Packard. Jimmy Dale as the Gray Seal also used various alternate identities such as Larry the Bat, the forerunner of the Spider's second alter ego of Blinky McQuade.
- Arthur Rosenfeld's Xenon Pearl's identity as a mob fighter remains officially unproven on police record, at least in the first novel.
- A strange variation in the Captain Underpants series, where the Secret Identity and the superhero identity are completely unaware of each other, and both identities would most likely be horrified if they learned of the existence of the other.
- John Mannering, the Baron, in the early novels by John Creasey.
- In Wearing the Cape, secret identities are optional and a lot of superheroes don't bother with them. Some have undergone physical transformations that make secret identities impossible, but many also had public breakthroughs that "outed" them from the start. One variation on traditional secret identities is a legal second identity, established with the help of the government, much like that of witnesses in the Witness Protection Program.
- The in-universe charity Heroes Without Borders has a light form as part of their organizational culture. Everyone who works for them, powered or not, adopts a codename.
- In the Chivalric Romance Roswall and Lillian, Roswall magically appears as an armored knight to fight in The Tourney for three days, despite working as a menial servant in between. (Having given The Promise not to reveal his true identity, he had no other means of support.)
- The missing Princess Halley of A Brother's Price went by Cira to investigate the people who bombed a theater without drawing attention. When helping Jerin she did not tell him her true identity, at first because he wouldn't believe anything she had to say. They were in sketchy circumstances.
- Codex Alera features Tavi, a boy from the rural and remote Calderon Valley, who is just a simple shepherd boy right? Wrong! He's actually Gaius Octavian, son of the dead Princeps, grandson of the First Lord and heir to the throne.
- In Ivanhoe, the titular Wilfred Ivanhoe makes his first appearance at a tourney as "The Disinherited Knight", and his identity is not revealed until later when some knights loyal to Prince John attack him. Also at that tourney is a mysterious archer named Locksley, who is actually Robin Hood. Not to mention a mysterious black knight who turns out to be Richard the Lionhearted.
- Zigzagged in The Dresden Files: Harry makes no secret of the fact that he's a wizard (he's in the phone book, under "Wizard"), but there are some things about the wizarding world that he's not supposed to share with mundanes. When he inevitably does, they become a Secret Keeper. Later in the series, he establishes The Grey Council, which is more functionally a secret society, but the principle is the same.
- There's an entire chapter devoted to this in How to Be a Superhero. The authors' recommendations for best secret identities include millionaire playboy (so you can leverage Crimefighting with Cash) and a politician (as you can disappear at any time without accountability).
Superhero: I just gotta go out for a quick blow job and score some crack, OK?
Aide: Sure thing, Senator!
- In Legacy The Tale Of The American Eagle, this is a huge plot point for American Eagle aka, Nathan Wagner. He only revealed it to his closest friends, to the point where he has filed a false identity with the government's Department of Justice and Department of Metahuman Affairs (hugely illegal, and implied to both threaten the sentences of any criminals he put away, and have a team of Cape Busters come after him), to prevent them from getting tempted to stick their nose into his family's charity. Once he goes on the crusade, the government puts more than a cursory effort into checking his paperwork, and finds out that the man on their paper doesn't exist, then reveals to the world that the manager of a charitable foundation is a superhero.
- The protagonist of Doctor Syn ("The Scarecrow") is a mild-mannered 18th century country vicar by day, a ruthless masked smuggler gang leader by night.
- Archvillain: Kyle Camden as the Blue Freak. Averted with Mike Mathews/Mighty Mike, who doesn't hide his identity.
- Secret identities are a big deal throughout the Whateley Universe. At the Superhero School Whateley Academy, students use codenames, and for anything that might expose them (like printed campus security reports or the televised combat finals) they have to go by the codename and wear a costume. Way back when the headmistress was Ms. Might and her secret identity was blown, her husband was murdered and her kids were terrorized. She's tough on this rule
- Lots end up using their codename more than their real name. It's supposed to be to protect the kids' families.
- Most superheroes and supervillians in Worm have one, though one group, the New Wave, attempts to go without. There's an unwritten rule not to expose someone else's identity, since someone without a secret identity has no way to retire and nothing to lose.
- In The Henchman's Survival Guide, secret identities are serious business, as there are no rules against targeting a hero or villain in their secret identity, and the social media system built into society makes it almost impossible to hide your identity once you've been outed.
- Daylen Namaran in Shadow of the Conqueror, after regaining his youth, constructs a false identity as his own son. As Daylen was an outright Evil Overlord twenty years earlier, it's especially dangerous for the secret to get it, as the whole world hates him.
- The Boys (2019): The superheroes have them, and Starlight is outed when she's unknowingly recorded beating up some attempted rapists, then recognized by people as the video gets posted online.
- In Breaking Bad, high-school chemistry teacher turned meth cook, Walter White, uses the name "Heisenberg" as a secret identity. As time goes on the name "Heisenberg" becomes legendary and feared throughout the American Southwest. And as Walter loses more and more of his humanity, "Heisenberg" starts becoming the real personality and Walter slowly disappears.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As lampshaded below in "What's My Line", Buffy has a slight problem with this concept, swiftly gathering a small circle of friends who know her identity as the Slayer and help Buffy in fighting evil. By the end of season three it becomes obvious that despite Sunnydale Syndrome the entire school has a rough idea of what Buffy does, and they give her the Class Protector Award.
Kendra: And dose two, dey also know you are de Slayer?
Kendra: Did anyone explain to you what 'secret identity' means?
- El Chapulín Colorado: He doesn't even have a civilian identity, his name really is Chapulín Colorado and he is never seen without his superhero clothes.
- Dexter Morgan carries out his slayings of fellow, but less selective serial murderers anonymously, since he knows that his lack of normal empathy alone would land him in an asylum. Morgan's daily feigning of normal human emotions represents as careful a masquerade as Don Diego Vega and Sir Percy Blakeney's role playing as fops. He's so good at it, it starts to cause problems when he realizes that he isn't faking it...
- Not a superhero but a superstar, Disney Channel's Hannah Montana. Eventually deconstructed; the stress of keeping up the lie, combined with a boatload of Keeping Secrets Sucks for her friends, eventually wears down on Miley to the point where she eventually decides "screw it" and throws in the wig on Leno.
- In the British kids' series Help Im A Teenage Outlaw, the main characters Tom, Moses and Deedee are secretly the highwayman Swiftnik and his two sidekicks. However, unknown to the other two, supposed peasant girl Deedee is actually an identity used by Lady Devereaux, a Rebellious Princess whom Tom/Swiftnik thinks of as his true love, despite being incapable of recognising her without her wig and dress.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Daredevil notably does have a Secret Identity, perhaps the first example in the MCU. The Defenders makes a point of how he's the odd man out in this regard - Luke Cage is well-known as Harlem's hero, Jessica Jones is a private detective, and Danny will tell anyone who'll listen that he's the Iron Fist. Matt Murdock is the only one who wants (or needs) to keep his two lives separate. The Defenders actually ends up Reconstructing Secret Identities: because the others never bothered with one, the Hand knows the identities of their loved ones, forcing them to gather Claire Temple, Trish Walker, and Malcolm DuCasse and hide them, with the Hand actually making attempts on Claire and Trish, which result in Colleen Wing injured and Jessica nearly killed. Matt also hides Karen Page and Foggy Nelson because he can't take the risk the Hand have figured out who he is.
- In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the only reason the whole world doesn't know Robbie Reyes is Ghost Rider is because he transforms into a flaming skeleton when he hunts criminals, and doesn't leave them alive after he's done. The only reason he isn't openly declaring it is because he doesn't want his brother Gabe to learn that he's murdering criminals out in the streets. And when he does, it's a huge Broken Pedestal moment.
- Merlin from BBC's Merlin. He spends nearly the entirety of all five seasons keeping his magic a secret from everyone but a (very) select few. He goes to many lengths to keep it secret, including making some morally ambiguous decisions to do so.
- Parodied in the Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch "Bicycle Repair Man", which is about a man in a society of Supermen who, when bicycle-related trouble arises, becomes the overalls-and-cap wearing Bicycle Repair Man. "Is it a stockbroker?" "Is it a quantity surveyor?" "Is it a church warden?"
- In the first few seasons of Power Rangers, all the heroes maintained "secret identities", even though all the villains knew full well who they were (and often attacked them as they went about their civilian lives). Since then, most seasons keep up the tradition, with several finales where the group is found out or where they deliberately morph in public. A few seasons, however, do away with this and let themselves be publicly known, due to the Rangers also functioning as a public law enforcement or rescue service.
- Amanda Clarke on Revenge uses the alias of Emily Thorne (which she gained from exchanging identities with her juvie cellmate) in order to infiltrate the Hamptons and take down the people who destroyed her life without them recognizing her.
- Maid Marian on the latest series of Robin Hood runs around Nottingham distributing food and medicines as the Night Watchman. No one manages to figure this out.
- Saba-dol has a similar premise to Hannah Montana, except the 17-year-old Idol Singer is secretly a 38-year-old teacher.
- Six Feet Under has multiple minor ones. David hides that he is gay. Nate hides the fact that he was diagnosed with AVM.
- Super Sentai:
- Sentai rarely bothers with Secret Identities except when the Rangers are still in school such as Turboranger or Megaranger, and this is solely to prevent alienating them from their peers at school. Boukenger plays this straight (in early episodes at least, but despite Bouken Pink's efforts her teammates often relax the secret) and Goseiger plays this straight as well, with the V-Cinema special revolving around their identities becoming public knowledge. It's taken very seriously in this season, to the point that they erase memories Men in Black style so no one knows the Goseigers and their enemies exist AT ALL. (One wonders what people think when reviewing video footage that happened to capture monster battles.) On the other hand, having the ability to do that means there's less care taken to avoid being seen suiting up, using powers unsuited, ducking out without a good excuse, etc. than most superheroes. The movie happens because their powers are being disrupted and the memory-erase cards are the first thing to stop working. Otherwise the teams are either military-sponsored with the members belonging to the military (Goranger, JAKQ, Changeman, Maskman, Ohranger, etc), the teams abandon their civilian lives after becoming Rangers and live and operate solely out of the team's base (Bioman & Liveman), or the teams are not from Earth and have no civilian lives at all, and operate out of their bases (Flashman, Zyuranger & Gingaman).
- Kyoryuger is worth special mention. After their first battle together, Daigo immediately de-transforms and gladly introduces himself, but the other four refuse to follow suit, making this a rare internal secret identity case. However, in short order Daigo's magnetic personality inspires the others to open up to each other and start working as a real team.
- Mahou Sentai Magiranger also has the characters keep their identities secret from the world, especially since the youngest of them is still in high school. This doesn't stop them spending a lot of time in team-colored jackets.
- The Stig from Top Gear is a Meta example. His identity is a closely guarded secret by the BBC to the point that The Stig's portrayer is fired if he reveals himself. As of 2017, they're on their third Stig.
- Human hosts in the Ultra Series often keep their Ultra identities secret for the majority of the series.
- Why Ultras keep their human aliases secret has never really been explained well in most series since the kaiju don't care about them and the aliens usually already know them. Ultraman 80 attempted to justify this by saying that when an Ultra's human identity is exposed, they must leave Earth, but this only applies to the Showa continuity and even then, it's very loosely applied in that timeline.
- Subverted in a handful of series, where in the final episode(s), other characters admit to being aware of the secret identity the whole time, like Ultraman Orb and Ultraman Cosmos. In the 2011 ULTRAMAN manga, this is revealed to be the case with Science Patrol in the original series, with Ide saying Hayata would have become a government guinea pig if it was ever revealed.
- In Ultraman Gaia and Ultraman Mebius, the attack team's captain is the only one aware of the hero's secret identity. But in the latter series' case, the rest of GUYS learns Mirai is Mebius at around the 30-episode mark. Ultraman Geed does something similar with Riku's friends having full knowledge of his Ultra identity.
- On The Vampire Diaries, this was Stefan in the beginning. He kept his secret that he was a vampire from others and tried to pass himself off as a regular high school student.
- As befits the nature of the show, Who Wants to Be a Superhero? requires that the contestants guard their secret identities at all times. Letting hers slip got Monkey Woman eliminated in the first season; in the second, Hyper-Strike was reprimanded for telling his real last name to a group of children, and only survived that round of eliminations because fellow contestant Parthenon botched the Secret Test of Character at the same time.
- Zorro: Zorro, of course. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel and Superman (in his earlier incarnations), Zorro maintains an alter ego who behaves like a bumbling coward.
- Many fictionalisations of Spring-Heeled Jack, such as written by Burrage. Note that the real sightings happened in 1886.
- Very common in pro wrestling. In the beginning, masks were common either due to embarrassment, especially if someone wasn't confident they could win or were being booked as a jobber, or because they were heels who were afraid of being jumped by fans angry at them for beating up the local baby face. In Mexican Lucha Libre and its derivatives, masked wrestlers have secret identities to make The Reveal when they're unmasked more special, as fans will naturally want to now know more about the barefaced luchadors. All of these and more reasons lead angles such as Charlie Brown from Outta Town.
- A feature of the Tiger Mask and Black Tiger legacy rivals is that Tiger Mask's identity will always be secret but will always be local national(making it slightly easier to figure out) while Black Tiger will always be a foreigner. Usually this means Tiger Mask will always be Japanese, since that's where the Tiger Mask originated from but in Toryumon Mexico came the first Japanese Black Tiger.
- WWE wrestler/parody superhero The Hurricane, true to form, maintained a secret identity as mild-mannered backstage interviewer Gregory Helms. His costume as an interviewer was even more outlandish than his superhero costume, with big thick horn-rimmed glasses and a plaid fedora with a press pass sticking out of it, and he fooled absolutely nobody.
- Except for the occasional character given an Idiot Ball by the writers.
- He's since ditched the overdone getup for a simple suit and ponytail, though the Idiot Ball returned in full force. Especially notable in the fact that he's billed as Hurricane Helms and sports the sleeveless Badass Longcoat Helms wore after ditching the gimmick the first time, yet has been given two separate profiles on their website!
- Except for the occasional character given an Idiot Ball by the writers.
- Princess: The Hopeful, being a game about playing Magical Girls, obviously has this trope; each Princess has two forms, one mundane and one as a costumed magical being, with their magic enforcing a dissociation between the two forms so that nobody can identify them as one and the same, unless they explicitly witness the transformation. While there is no rule forcing Princesses to hide their identity to anyone, most of them still keep it a secret, usually for the It's Not You, It's My Enemies reason: should they let everyone know what they really are, it would be easy for minions of the Darkness to track them down and target their loved ones.
- The Patrol feature from City of Heroes grants a double XP bonus for time spent logged out. It's supposed to be as if the character has switched roles and is doing a civilian job. Logging out in certain locations grants other bonuses, the Train Station bonus is a speed boost, the Graveyard bonus is Debt protection, etc.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, recurring NPC ally Sheik is a disguised Princess Zelda, using a false identity to aid Link while avoiding capture by Ganondorf.
- In Mega Man Star Force, Geo Stelar goes out of his way to avoid revealing that he's actually Mega Man. This conflicts with Mega Man's growing status and the fact that his friends have a bad habit of blabbing about it in public like it's no big deal.
- Rokusaki Coney in Tokyo 7th Sisters is actually Nanasaki Nicole, one of the former members of the disbanded 7th Sisters.
- Persona 5: The Phantom Thieves hide their identities, wear masks and even use Code Names, as society doesn't look particularly kindly on HeelFace Brainwashing and the people the heroes target are in positions of power that they could use against the good guys.
- Halloween Otome: All the guests at the party have this, to avoid gold-diggers and keep the game from becoming political, due to their celebrity status. Emma has this so she can fit in. Especially seen with The Count, whos really Erik, the host!
- Subverted in the webcomic Everyday Heroes. The main character, Mr. Mighty, wears his superhero outfit all the time, even when doing yard work and chatting with the neighbors.
- In SwordCat Princess, Kathryn has had not one civilian secret identity, but a long chain of them throughout her life (each a supposed progenitor of the next). Her "ancestor" Kathryn O'Brien was actually her, as was recent homicide victim Kathryn Kennedy, whose "death" prompts Kathryn's Intellexi supervisor to urge her to select yet another new civilian alias.
- Spinnerette wears a costume all the time. Her heroine costume is a form-fitting leotard, mask and wig that depicts her as a lithe, long-haired brunette with 6 arms. Her civilian costume is a bodysuit under bulky clothes that depicts her as a chubby, bookish, short-haired blonde with 2 arms. Interestingly, her boss, friends, etc never ask about the sudden drastic weight-gain.
- In Sinfest, the two angels also appear as humans, tending the church or evangelizing.
- Tower of God: Because he is officially dead and is supposed to stay that way, 25th Baam, a shiny-eyed, short-haired, meek but adorable guy goes by the name Jyu Viole Grace, a silent, strong badass who looks a lot like a woman with that long hair which also hides his face.
- In Lady Spectra & Sparky, Lady Spectra not only wears a wig and a face-concealing helmet, but her costume is also strategically padded to further alter her appearance.
- In El Goonish Shive, Elliot's superheroine spell has three alternate civilian alter ego forms (each with distinctive built-in personalities and clothes) in addition to his normal form which is is his primary identity. This gives him the ability to have a Multilayer Façade.
- Most of the characters in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe use a Secret Identity to protect their friends and loved ones. Of the Global Guardians team itself, only Guardsman doesn't use a Secret Identity, primarily because he doesn't have that many non-superpowered friends and no family at all (plus, he's armed with a Green Lantern Ring and no one really wants to mess with that). Even Achilles, who due to Samaritan Syndrome has no life at all outside of superheroics, uses a Secret Identity.
- The webnovel Captain Gamer: Digital Defender plays around with secret identity candidates for the titular protagonist relentlessly. It practically drips with Lampshade Hanging, seeing as how the candidates (so far) are the local Jerkass (who may actually just hold up a jerkass act?), an Intrepid Reporter, a famous actor who also has Jerkass tendencies, The Millionaire Playboy that said actor does not like, an employee of the main institute, and an aged teacher who more fits into the Mentor Archetype. If you've read the webcomic, there's also a Rival to consider.
- For much of the Red Panda Adventures, not even the audience knows the secret identity of the Red Panda. The opening monologue for every episode describes him simply as "one of the city's wealthiest men" and only his driver Kit Baxter, a.k.a. the Flying Squirrel, knows who's behind the mask. It's not until close to episode sixty, when the Red Panda and Kit are wed, that we learn his name is August Fenwick.
- Understandably the superhero guide in How to Hero is very big on maintaining secret identities. There's an entry on it here.
- Played for Laughs in The Angry Beavers episode "Muscular Beaver":
Reporter: Who are you, masked wonder beaver?
Musuclar Beaver: I cannot say citizen. My identity is so secret... not even I know who I am.
- Parodied in Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode 'Super Hero'.
Master Shake: Look, we must keep my secret identity a secret. And that's what sucks about a secret identity. I will never get the credit that I deserve for the attention grabbing things that I do.
- Similarly, Atom Ant has no secret identity. His mailbox even bears his name.
- Joey Felt from Atomic Puppet keeps it a secret that not only is he Atomic Puppet, but the sock puppet he carries with him all the time is Mega City's former protector Captain Atomic transformed by his ex-sidekick in a failed coup. Only a few other characters know about it too: aforementioned ex-sidekick Mookie, Joey's best friend Pauline, and several other superheroes.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Prince Zuko takes up the identity of The Blue Spirit on multiple occasions. Then Katara masquerades as the pre-existing folkloric ghost known as the Painted Lady in one episode. Cue tons of Blue Spirit/Painted Lady fanart from Zutara shippers.
- Tasha from The Backyardigans sang a song about having one in the episode "Front Page News".
- In The Batman Bruce Wayne's identity as the Dark Knight is a secret to anyone not outside the Bat-Family, of course, but Batgirl gets bonus points for figuring it out in less than ten seconds after she meets Bruce Wayne for three reasons: his muscled physique, his vast resources and finances and his distinctive chin. Of course, she is kinda obsessed with Batman in the first place.
- Played with for Ben Tennyson from the Ben 10 franchise. While he does make some effort to keep his identity under wraps, he never really needs to put in that extra effort. His ability to become multiple different aliens means that most people ultimately think said aliens creatures are either unrelated to each other or all part of a common team, especially since most sightings are spread out across the country. It took until the third series of the original continuity for someone to connect-the-dots and for his identity to be publicly revealed.
- The Centsables: The shows setting consists of Lions and Tigers and Humans... Oh, My!. However, the Centsables hide their identities from the general population; seemingly subverted, possibly because the heroes appear to be six well-known bank employees in costumes.
- On Chip and Potato, to everyone other than Chip, Potato is Chip's snuggly toy Potato, a cute little stuffed toy she totes with her everywhere. Nobody but Chip knows that she's actually a real live mouse.
- The titular hero of Danny Phantom has this big-time. The only people who know his secret identity are his two best friends and his sister (along with every villain and ghost he's ever met). The show plays a lot with the idea of "what if ____ knew about his powers?" Although that might be because it's heavily influenced by Spider-Man. Though one has to ask how people couldn't figure it out, as his real name sounds pretty much exactly like his secret identity name. It is given that most people didn't know his name early on, that isn't too much of an issue, although it did have the hilarious side-effect of the media making up aliases for him.
Tucker: You need a publicist.
- His archenemy Vlad Plasmius is a villanious example, his civilian identity is rich and powerful businessman Vlad Masters, he was already rich, but became even richer using his ghost powers to take over other companies, invest in the stock market and commit burglaries, he uses both of his identities for his evil plans, at one point, he runs for Mayor of Amity Park, and wins by possessing the voters.
- Darkwing Duck's identity was Drake Mallard.
- Taken for a spin in the final storyline of Justice League when, pursued by the conquering Thanagarians, the Justice League members decide the safest way to move is in their civilian identities (for the members who have them). The Flash balks at the idea, since it's, you know, his secret identity, and it's not like he doesn't trust the others, but... Impatient, Batman simply rattles off everyone's real name, finishing with his own.
- Of course, by that point, "everyone" was just himself, Clark and Wally (finally confirming that The Flash of this series was Wally West). None of the others had secret identities. Clark, J'onn, Shayera and Diana all knew Bruce's, and Bruce, J'onn and presumably Shayera knew Clark's.
- Green Lantern John Stewart, didn't really see the need to hide his status as a galactic cop. Even his landlady knows about it (and, in one episode, attacks Flash with a broom when she mistakes him for part of his Rogues Gallery).
- J'onn preferred being in alien/human hybrid form, and didn't hide it. But if he wanted to, he could be anyone (and eventually used this when he took a break from the league).
- Shayera had wings, and would have trouble hiding her identity. A tie-in comic showed her using a backpack to hide her wings; how practical folding them like that was not discussed.
- The show flip-flopped on just how established Diana was, but her identity was never a secret; it was her super-persona that was a secret from her family.
- Amusingly subverted in Justice League Unlimited. "The Great Brain Robbery" featured Lex Luthor switching bodies with the Flash.
Lex-in-Flash: [looking in a mirror] At least I can discover the Flash's secret identity... [removes mask] ...I have no idea who this is.
- Possibly a reference to a Silver Age story in which one of The Flash's Rogues Gallery makes a similar discovery.
- "Task Force X": Here this trope is inverted because the members of the Suicide Squad are villains. However, all of them have secret identities. The point is that none of them had a Red Right Hand, so they can do The Infiltration because without their costumes They Look Just Like Everyone Else!. They are: Bette Sans Souci, AKA Plastique, Floyd Lawton, AKA Deadshot, Temple Fugate, AKA The Clock King, and George "Digger" Harkness, AKA Captain Boomerang.
- The Mystery of the Batwoman film features three separate women taking on the Batwoman identity, one at a time, to get back at the mobsters of Gotham City (having in mind that one of these girls is the daughter of one of said mobsters).
- Taken for a spin in the final storyline of Justice League when, pursued by the conquering Thanagarians, the Justice League members decide the safest way to move is in their civilian identities (for the members who have them). The Flash balks at the idea, since it's, you know, his secret identity, and it's not like he doesn't trust the others, but... Impatient, Batman simply rattles off everyone's real name, finishing with his own.
- Parodied in one Justice Friends short from Dexter's Laboratory when Krunk pulls off Major Glory's mask in search of something, only to discover another mask. He pulls off a few more before Major Glory turns to Krunk and proudly boasts "When I say 'secret identity', I mean 'secret identity'!"
- On The Fairly OddParents!, The Crimson Chin has the secret identity Charles Hampton Indigo. It's an obvious parody of Clark Kent.
- Futurama: Leela has to keep Fry from blabbing his secret identity to a hot chick; she then turns around and tells her parents she's Clobberella. Her dad blabs, Hilarity Ensues.
- George of the Jungle: Super Chicken's identity was Henry Cabot Henhouse III (in the original pilot, he was Hunt Strongbird Jr.).
- On Green Lantern: The Animated Series, it becomes clear early on that Hal Jordan is the only one who bothers to have one.
Kilowog: [to Shyir Rev and Biata] That thing on his face? It's a mask. He wears it in case some Earthling sneaks onto the Interceptor—while we're in space, mind you—and goes, "Aha! The Green Lantern on my planet is Hal Jordan! I'm telling everyone!"
- Hong Kong Phooey's identity was Penrod Pooch.
- Kim Possible:
- Aversion with Kim, where she does not bother with any Secret Identity while going to school and frequently saving the world. And yet she does not get any respect for it, nor has she any extra luck with the boys because of it.
- Shego's given name is never shown. Her surname is "Go" (as shown by her grandmother and by Shego herself when she becomes a teacher) however no one even implies the first names of anyone in her family (Hego, the Wego twins, and Mego). "Shego" at least started out as a Secret Identity back when she was a superhero however it's unknown if she still keeps up the secret identity or if she just still uses the name.
- Princess Iris of Ephedia in Lolirock has to keep her warrior princess side a secret from everyone on earth, with the only ones who know being her bandmates, Talia and Aurianna, who are also warrior princesses themselves.
- The Mighty Heroes, from Terrytoons' 1966 TV series, each had a secret identity disclosed at the opening of each story. Strongman was a mechanic, Tornadoman was a meteorologist, Ropeman was a Navy tar, Cuckooman was a pet bird store owner, and Diaperman was a baby.
- Fearless Fly (from The Milton the Monster Show) was Hiram Fly in normal life. His voice was weak and wispy; it becomes strong and assertive as Fearless Fly.
- Miraculous Ladybug:
- The two superheroes Ladybug/Marinette and Chat Noir/Adrien keep their identities a secret from each other, mostly at Ladybug's insistence. What makes it really infuriating is that they both go to the same school and are somewhat close in every guise - Marinette has a crush on Adrien, who considers her a friend, but he's in love with Ladybug, who's dismissive of Chat Noir's flirting, though still valuing him as a friend and partner. It's primarily the fuel for a Two-Person Love Square that really wants you to smack your head against the wall. Marinette has on several occasions wished she could tell the truth, but Tikki is absolutely insistent she never do so—even after Tikki herself discovers Chat Noir's true identity. On the other hand, Chat Noir's kwami Plagg doesn't see what the big deal is, and often encourages Adrien to try to figure out Ladybug's true identity.
- And the main villains Hawk Moth/Gabriel and Mayura/Nathalie also have secret identities since they would rather keep their criminal activities on the down-low, one episode deals with him devising a plan to keep his identity a secret, and it works.
- Later on, more heroes join the dynamic.
- Rena Rouge/Alya and Carapace/Nino are temporarily drafted to deal with troublesome situations, and their identities are known only to Ladybug, Master Fu, and each other. Bunnyx/Alix, Viperion/Luka, Pegasus/Max, and Kim/King Monkey are all added to the temporary roster in Season 3; Bunnyx is known to Ladybug and Cat Noir, Viperion is known to Ladybug and Adrien, Pegasus is known to Ladybug, Cat Noir, and Markov, and King Monkey is only known to Ladybug and Master Fu.
- On Alya and Nino, they initially don't know each other's identities (officially; Alya actually figured out who Carapace was pretty quickly, even though she's been blind to Marinette's secret for years.) but Chat had no time to engineer a way to give their Miraculous to them separately when season-finale-level trouble struck. Also, Master Fu, the keeper of the Miraculous, knows secrets about them that he doesn't tell the heroes, and no one but the two main heroes knows about him, and they didn't at first - only when Tikki was deathly ill did she tell Marinette about Master Fu, longer still before she fully understood who he was, and it was a long time before Ladybug would share the secret with Chat. Basically, the more we learn, the clearer it is that ALL involved are telling each other as little as absolutely necessary - even the Fairy Companion and The Mentor who, in other shows like this, are normally fountains of exposition and fully trusting of ,and trusted by, the heroes.
- Queen Bee/Chloé initially gets a Miraculous by accident and only joins the reserve squad a little later; she proudly announces her identity to the whole world at the first opportunity. This comes back to bite her when the other heroes realize her family will be in danger if she continues helping them, and refuse to allow her to participate.
- Ryuko/Kagami is loaned a Miraculous to subdue her akumatized mother and wastes no time blundering her secret identity away to Hawk Moth. Like Queen Bee before her, she is retired out of concern for her loved ones' safety.
- A few season three episodes reconstruct the whole idea, explaining why it's important for superheroes to have secret identities. Other stories have the Golden Age convention of "must keep your identities secret just because that's the rule with superheroes" and "It's OK to tell just one close friend or family member", but Hawk Moth's power is brainwashing other people to turn them into supervillains to do his bidding instead of going after the heroes on his own, and anyone who is brainwashed can reveal valuable information. Many close friends and family of the heroes were akumatized, and when an old lover of Master Fu's is akumatized, she almost reveals his identity as the guardian, it was a surprise to Hawk Moth that a random victim knew him. Even Marinette was almost akumatized at one point, which would give Hawk Moth an instant win. Chloe, who doesn't have a secret identity, becomes a target of Hawk Moth's schemes so Ladybug almost never allows her to have the Bee Miraculous again.
- The Owl House: Luz Noceda is a mortal who ends up in a magical world where she studies as a witch apprentice. The problem is, she has to hide her identity as a mortal to the other residents due to their hostility toward them.
- Completely averted with The Powerpuff Girls. They have no secret identities and everyone knows where they live. They could have been de facto identities in the episode "Super Zeroes", where they assume the persona of their own pseudo-superheroes (Blossom as Liberty Belle, Bubbles as Harmony Bunny, and Buttercup as Mange).
- The show Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja centers around the Norrisville ninja who is in fact Randy Cunningham. He keeps his identity a secret to stay save from his enemies. He only told his best friend Howard Weinerman about his secret identity, though several others have come to know it.
- The Propulsions from Ready Jet Go! are secretly aliens from the planet Bortron 7, and are trying to keep a low profile on Earth or else they could become celebrities, and Jet would never get to play with his friends again (as pointed out in "Visit to Mom's Office"). Their alien identities are only known to Sydney, Sean, and Mindy.
- She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Deliberately averted, in sharp contrast with the original series. Everyone knows that Adora is She-Ra (and if they don't, she'll make sure to transform in front of them). Also averts Secret Identity Identity - being She-Ra doesn't change her personality in any way, and she still considers herself Adora, just taller and stronger. Her friends still often call her Adora in her She-Ra form as well. The Horde was unaware Adora was She-Ra for a while, but only because the Rebellion and the Horde don't share information. When Hordak finds out, he doesn't particularly care, and just uses it as more evidence that Shadow Weaver's obsession with recapturing Adora is a terrible idea.
- In The Simpsons, Homer Simpson was originally the secret identity of Krusty The Clown. This was dropped simply for being "too complicated", but this is the reason for their remarkably similar appearance and was a joke that tied together Bart's utter disrespect for his father yet love of Krusty.
- Transformers played with it a bit, putting what was, at the time, a new twist on it... The secret identities weren't millionaire playboys or mild-mannered reporters, but cars, jets, cameras, and other everyday vehicles and objects.
- Almost entirely averted in the Teen Titans cartoon; the main characters all live in a giant T-shaped tower for the express purpose of doing hero work and don't have any separation between their personal identities and their heroics. Not that this would be realistic for the Titans anyway, considering that the members of the team include an alien, a cyborg, and a boy with green skin. Beast Boy apparently played this straight while he was with the Doom Patrol, but he immediately discards it once he joins the Titans.
Beast Boy: But what about my secret identity?Raven: What secret identity? You're green.
- Underdog's secret identity was Shoeshine Boy.
- The titular character of Vampirina has to keep her monster life a secret in the company of most humans, as they are said to be "jumpy" around monsters and doesn't want to scare them. The only ones who know are her friends Poppy and Bridget.
- Averted in Winx Club season 4 where they show themselves as fairies to the people of Earth, but don't have secret identities and they're known by everyone, especially to the likes of a game show host, an Intrepid Reporter, and Bloom's Earth rival Mitzi.
- Played straight in the Netflix spin-off World of Winx, where the Winx must go undercover as talent agents while hiding their identities as fairies to the others.
- Becky Botsford's secret identity as WordGirl is so secret that it is known only to her and to her sidekick, Bob/Captain Huggy Face. Even her adoptive family doesn't know her real identity.
- In Young Justice, almost the entire Team have secret identities for "civilian" life. The only one without one was Aqualad, who was perfectly well known as the king's protégé in Atlantis. M'gann and Conner's identities (Meghan Morse and Conner Kent) were known to the other members of the team, while Robin (Dick Grayson) and Kid Flash (Wally West) were the only one to know each other's identity. Artemis' (Artemis Crock) identity is technically unknown to her teammates, but Robin and Red Arrow (Roy Harper) both deduce it, with Robin having fun in several different episodes by toying with her story.
- Undercover Police Officers obviously cannot use their real identity (i.e. a cop) to infiltrate gangs and catch drug dealers, and so on.
- And no, they don't have to identify themselves. Ten years of work is not going to be overturned by a technicality like that.
- Similarly the addresses and phone-numbers of police officers and federal agents are somewhat protected.
- Army, Airforce and Naval troops also often use codenames over the radio, and many build up reputations that earn a nickname, either for themselves (Rommel - The Desert Fox) or for their regiment.
- Secret agents would obviously be useless without a false name or, at the very least, a code to identify themselves to their handlers. However, many agents with Non-Official Cover use their real name, they just don't say they're spies.
- In the TV series Covert Affairs, Anne Walker, CIA Officer, is publicly known as Anne Walker, Smithsonian Employee. And it turns out the professor she went to help for in the pilot is himself a retired Officer.
- Real life superheroes/crimefighters, people who actually patrol the streets and beat up criminals. Many are sanctioned by overworked local police forces. For example, the Chief of Police in Jackson, Michigan, has officially sanctioned 'Captain Jackson' and asked his police officers not to ask any of Jackson's costumed superheroes to give their real names.
- Webhosting company reviewers/bloggers who do not wish to compromise their identity when reviewing services.
- Similarly, restaurant reviewers, "secret shoppers" checking how store employees treat customers, and the like obviously need to avoid being identified, lest they receive special treatment that would distort the information they're getting.
- British grafitti artist Banksy, to the point he managed to be nominated for an Academy Award without revealing his identity to anyone. Lord knows how they'd have handled it if he had won.
- Two words: Online identity. Many people who use an online identity for blogging or forum purposes don't like to reveal their real names and such.
- Soldiers serving in NATO peacekeeping missions in Europe are heavily encouraged to use burner phones and create temporary e-mail and Face Book accounts under aliases before communicating with their loved ones back home via Social Media to prevent cyber attacks from the enemy against them and their families. Numerous soldiers who didn't reported death threats to their families back home via e-mail and telephone, and even a few cases of identity theft.