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"Nothing will remain of you: not a name in a register, not a memory in a living brain. You will be annihilated in the past as well as in the future. You will never have existed."
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Damnatio memoriae: the systematic removal of all evidence of a character's existence, either through mundane conspiracy or a little bit of Applied Phlebotinum (e.g., Laser-Guided Amnesia). The purposes for doing so vary. This is more commonly done in enclosed or isolated areas, where it's easier to track evidence. This can lead to characters tracking the shreds of evidence the hiders left behind. Often any shred of evidence they find will disappear when they show someone. If they dig too deep or get too involved in their search, there's always the danger that they too will disappear depending on the circumstances.

Damnatio memoriae (Latin for "damnation of memory") often relies on the fact that history is Written by the Winners, and of course, the winners would always like to remove evidence of opposition against their otherwise tyrannical rule as a warning for others and to perpetuate their power. It is also done for other purposes, such as literally condemning questionable acts done by the person in his lifetime to deter possible future offenders.

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This effect isn't always someone's deliberate decision. History is largely reconstructed from the records of the time, and will have gaps of information when those records do not exist or get destroyed — e.g. in ancient times, when very few people wrote, and most documents are now lost (paper, papyrus and similar materials do not last forever). Another typical example is the people that were largely ignored during their lifetime and did something that gave them a place in history, as the records about an average Joe are fewer and harder to locate than those of public figures. A man whose historicity is very complicated is Jesus; see Historicity of Jesus in the other wiki (which is, in short terms, what we know about Jesus outside of The Bible).

See also I Have No Son!, where a child is disavowed by his/her family; Expendable Clone, where clones aren't given person status (or it's revoked upon discovery they're a clone); I Was Never Here, which is requested on one's own behalf; and Name Amnesia, for characters who accidentally or intentionally un-person themselves. Compare Ret Gone, where the affected person is literally erased from existence, and It's a Wonderful Plot, where they are not, but it's shown what the world would be like if they were. Contrast Invented Individual (who never existed but is made to appear that they do), Death of Personality (when someone ceases to exist from their perspective), the Outlaw (whose existence isn't covered up but no longer exists legally) and The Spook (who actively works to keep themselves unpersoned). If the unpersoning is executed poorly, it may lead to the Streisand Effect (see Herostratus under Real Life — History). When this happens because of meta reasons, for example, if there are copyrights or other laws involved and someone cannot use a certain character anymore, or because the writers have just opted to write them out with no explanation, see Chuck Cunningham Syndrome. When Gods Need Prayer Badly, this is a good way to kill them. When there is No Such Thing as Bad Publicity, this is often the best punishment. Not to be confused with a UN person.

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In-universe examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie, Ivan Ooze plans to do this to Zordon after he wins:
    "It will be as if Zordon of Eltar never existed!"
  • Flightplan: A woman's daughter disappears, and the other passengers and crew claim that the woman boarded the plane alone. To be fair, most just aren't that attentive, rather than actively malicious. Keyword being "most".
  • Capricorn One has the bad guys try to remove all traces of NASA technician Elliot Whittier. They move someone else into his apartment and she pulls out rent receipts to "prove" she has lived there for years. However, they are unable to change every phone book in the city, so the astute reporter finds Whittier still listed as living there.
  • In Men in Black, new secret agents have all records of their prior lives destroyed... at least until retirement/resignation/dismissal, where they're promptly neuralyzed and given their old life and previous history back with a bizarre tabloid Hand Wave that they just came out of a long coma. Although in the series it's shown they don't erase people's memories of them; on two separate occasions an old acquaintance of J's recognized him as James Edwards.
  • In 300, Xerxes threatens to do this to all of Sparta if Leonidas doesn't bow down to the King of Kings.
  • Quoth The Heavy Amon Göth in Schindler's List:
    "Six hundred years ago when elsewhere they were footing the blame for the Black Death, Casimir the Great - so called - told the Jews they could come to Krakow. They came. They trundled their belongings into the city. They settled. They took hold. They prospered in business, science, education, the arts. With nothing they came and with nothing they flourished. For six centuries there has been a Jewish Krakow. By this evening those six centuries are a rumor. They never happened."
  • This is the premise of Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, which deals with the experiences of a young woman who receives a knock on the head boarding a train and subsequently passes out. When she comes to and looks for the kind lady who tended to her in her injury, she finds that no one on the train remembers the woman existing. When she insists that the woman was real and searches for her, things begin to take a sinister turn.
  • In Eraser, the participants in the Witness Protection Program acquired a new identity and had all the fixings of their old one destroyed.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, as in the novel, Hermione does this to herself in order to protect her parents from Voldemort's forces coming after her. Word of God stated that she later reversed the spell, but it still shows the length she goes to protect her family.
  • In the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, after it became known that Freddy Krueger grows more powerful based on how much he is feared and by how many people know of him, the town of Springwood prior to the events of Freddy vs. Jason tried to erase all knowledge of his existence and his murder spree to spare their children. But anyone who already came in contact with Freddy was put in Westin Hills Asylum and kept on Hypnocil permanently. There's even a ward for those who were put in comas from overdoses of the medication. Summarized in the remake: "Freddy Krueger never existed."
  • In the ending of Pan's Labyrinth, Big Bad Captain Vidal, accepting defeat, asks Mercedes to at least tell his newborn son what time he died, but Mercedes coldly tells him that she will make sure that Vidal's son will never even know his name before her brother Pedro shoots him dead.
  • The Dark Knight Rises has Selina Kyle chasing after a computer program that will wipe her identity off of every database in the world, allowing her to erase her extensive record of larceny and disappear off the grid. Batman gets hold of it and uses it as a bargaining chip to get her to help him take down Bane.
  • In Skyfall, Silva tries to get M to say his real name once he's captured. M retorts that his real name is listed on the memorial wall of the MI6 building he attacked, and she'll have it struck off.
  • Wing Commander has the pilots intentionally do this with their fellow pilots who have died, so they won't lose morale when their buddies/lovers are killed. They aren't dead; they simply never existed.
  • This was a plot point in John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness, where the Mad Artist Sutter Cane writes the protagonist's partner Linda Styles out of existence so that only he can remember her. That's assuming he's not just crazy.
  • Happened to Anton Vanko in Iron Man 2, which was why Tony didn't know about his involvement in the creation of the Arc Reactor.
  • In Thor: Ragnarok, this happened to Hela when her ambition became too much for Odin, who had decided to settle down after conquering the Nine Realms while she wanted to conquer more of them. It got to the point where all images of her were plastered with more peaceful imagery depicting her brothers. When she escapes her imprisonment and returns to Asgard, she is irritated to learn no one there knows who she is.
  • In The Heat Mullins' family effectively treats her like this after she arrested her brother Jason to the point that the family photo in their house is folded down to obscure her face. The only one who doesn't seem to feel like this is said brother, and at the end of the movie she and the rest of the family reconcile.
  • In the Apocalypse film series movie Tribulation, Tom Canboro's brother Calvin doesn't remember their sister Eileen (a Christian who was Caught Up in the Rapture) and has her image removed from all family pictures that were taken. Also a fellow police officer who was a Christian was removed from any records of him prior to the Rapture.
  • In When Darkness Falls, after Nina is honour-killed by her family, they destroy all photos of Nina and disavow her.
  • In The Net, hackers erase a woman from reality. With hacking. They're able to pull it off so thoroughly in part because she's a recluse who has little face-to-face interaction with other people, preferring the convenience and anonymity of the internet.
  • The 1950 film So Long at the Fair, which is based on the legend of "The Vanishing Hotel Room". Jean Simmons plays the woman whose mother disappears and Dirk Bogarde plays the obligatory male hero who helps her solve the mystery.
  • In the Ally Sheedy comedy Maid To Order, she plays the daughter of a wealthy philanthropist (played by Tom Skerritt) who has been magically unpersoned from her father's life when her carefree hard-partying lifestyle wears thin on his patience with her, and thus she has to seek employment as a maid in order to regain any respect.
  • Happens twice in The Ten Commandments. First Seti chooses Moses as his heir and states his name will be on all buildings in the empire while Ramses' will be nowhere. When Moses is revealed as Hebrew, Seti reverses the situation and orders Moses' name wiped from everything and makes it illegal to speak his name.
  • An interesting variation happens to Henry Hill in GoodFellas when he goes into witness protection. In a sense, he had been something of an Un-person for most of his life.
    "It was easy for all of us to disappear. My house was in my mother-in-law's name. My cars were registered to my wife. My Social Security cards and driver's licenses were phonies. I've never , voted. I never paid taxes. My birth certificate and my arrest sheet, that's all you'd ever have to know I was alive."

    Folklore 
  • A classic urban legend (occasionally couched as a lateral-thinking puzzle), usually referred to as "The Vanishing Lady" or "The Vanishing Hotel Room", relates the story of a mother and daughter, on holiday in Europe, who checked into a hotel late one night and booked separate rooms. The next morning, the daughter complained of not feeling well and told the mother to go out and enjoy her vacation. When she returned, the daughter's hotel room had a different occupant and the hotel owner and staff refused to acknowledge the existence of the daughter, telling the mother that she had checked in alone and bringing out the hotel registry (where guests signed in) to demonstrate that only one signature existed. The mother eventually discovered that the daughter had come down with a fast-acting disease and had died, and the hotelier had covered up her stay because he feared that having an illness and death under his roof would cause travelers to stay elsewhere (whether the mother or anyone else got sick afterward is left to the reader's imagination). The story is frequently set during the 1889 Paris Exposition with the mother and daughter portrayed as British tourists.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • In The Bible, God declares this punishment on three Israelite dynasties within the 1st Book of Kings, beginning with Jeroboam I and ending with Ahab, for turning the nation against him and towards idolatry following their split from the House of David.

    Podcasts 
  • The power of the voidfish in The Adventure Zone: Balance. It subsists by eating information. This can be done by simply tossing it a piece of paper with writing on it, and afterward whatever was written will be removed from the collective memory of most planes of reality, with its name and any relevant details being impossible to understand—speakers will simply sound like static.

    Radio 
  • The Big Finish Doctor Who audio "Neverland" introduces us to a world of Neverpeople, which is a mix of this and government-sanctioned Ret Gone. Being Time Lords, they didn't have to just settle for this trope; Gallifreyans were thrown into the Oubliette of Eternity for crimes of "treason" (they knew too much) and erased from Time.

    Web Animation 
  • Civil Protection: The characters, two members of the Dystopian police force, mention how their captain doesn't shout at people he doesn't like. He just stares at them and they disappear a few days later.
  • Red vs. Blue: Reconstruction:
    • The Red Team "deletes" the Blue Team from the Command database, allowing them to achieve "victory". While this doesn't directly affect most of the Blues, it prevents Church from proving his identity when it comes into question.
    Church: Alright, great, that's fantastic. Now I can't prove him wrong, and I don't get a paycheck.
    • This also prevented the Epsilon unit from being detected by the UNSC, as Caboose was the last one to have it, and because the Red Team "deleted" the blues, the UNSC had no knowledge of them.

    Web Comics 
  • In It's Walky, it is revealed midway through the story that the Government Conspiracy that employs the main characters is frequently infiltrated by an even shadowier conspiracy who edit their records and memories and then vanish again. If anyone has to be killed: "Well, they never existed."
  • The Eastern Gods and the First World of The Order of the Stick were completely destroyed by the Snarl. The surviving gods don't tell anyone about them lest they get the bright idea to try and harness its power. Similarly, the Paladins of Azure City traveled the world to purge all mention of the Rifts. Given Girard's bitter comment to Soon regarding Kraagor, there is a hint that the memory of their dead friend would be part of this purge.
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, the founders of the Court attempted to erase all evidence of Jeanne's existence, to hide their guilt in killing her, and the fact that it was her ghost stalking the banks of the Annan. They succeeded, with one exception: Diego kept a record of her in secret.
    • It later turns out that they actually killed Jeanne's forest elf boyfriend, who is also written out of existence by the Court. Even Diego's secret record mostly ignores that "detail," probably because Diego was jealous of him. Jeanne herself died of grief.
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, Earth is part of the Nemesite Empire but is a nature preserve, and the Nemesites regard humans as "wildlife". Jean takes offense at this, and Voluptua points out that, considering what citizenship in the Empire would entail, their unpersonhood is actually a blessing.
  • The hyenas of Digger use this as their ultimate punishment, even worse than 'mere' death. One's name is eaten and one is cast from the tribe and forgotten...in theory.
  • In the backstory of Homestuck, on planet Alternia, a troll known only as The Signless or The Sufferer led a revolution much more subversive than any the war-torn planet had seen. When the Sufferer was killed, all record of him was stricken from history, and it was made illegal to speak or write of him, even in private journals. However, his movement went underground and secretly kept his memory alive.
  • Downplayed in The Dragon Doctors. Mori is revealed to have genetic engineering in her backstory chapter, and as a child she was exiled from her home country and her family name was obliterated magically so that nobody, not even she herself, can remember it. "Genetically engineered people have no family" was Thoria's rule.
  • In Silver's time in Sonic the Comic – Online! this happens to Sonic who is replaced in the history books by Tails.
  • In Cucumber Quest, Rosemaster has the ability to tamper with certain people's memories, and her method of choice for dealing with anyone who's not affected by her powers is to remove them from the scene and make everyone else forget that they were even there (and erase them from the website's cast page and banner, for good measure). She first targets Nautilus and Commander Caboodle; she's willing to leave Peridot alone, but ends up un-personing her as well to prevent her from revealing Rosemaster's MacGuffin Delivery Service.

    Western Animation 
  • The episode of Batman: The Animated Series series "What is Reality?" has the Riddler erasing all of the records of his existence as Edward Nygma, including birth certificates, drivers licenses, employment records and so on.
  • In the Double Dragon cartoon, the Shadow Master intends to destroy the Dragon Dojo (the Dragon Warriors have been banished to the Shadow Mural, and the Lees are in another dimension), saying that once it occurs, "it will be as though (the Double Dragons) never existed."
  • The Dragon Prince: The elven archmage Aaravos is written about in multiple books, but when Viren tries to read them the words melt. It's unclear if this effect would be universal, or something Aaravos did to deny Viren information specifically.
  • DuckTales (2017): It appears this has become the fate of Della Duck following the adventure that caused Scrooge and Donald to part ways; one time, when some junk mail addressed to her was delivered to the mansion, Scrooge bought the post office and the carrier never came back. The only traces of her existence are a photograph owned by Donald, an old painting in Scrooge's garage, and a secret room in the McDuck archive that can only be accessed by a blood relative.
  • On Gravity Falls, this was the fate of Quentin Trembley, the 8th and 1/2 President of the United States. He was kicked out for being utterly looney and all evidence of his brief term was erased from history. Trembley eventually founded Gravity Falls itself (after plummeting to it on a horse), but his role in it was covered up in order to ensure that he was completely erased from history. He was replaced by William Henry Harrison as the official 9th US President (which is incredibly ironic, considering that Harrison died barely even a month into his term), and they made waste-shoveling village idiot Nathaniel Northwest the founder of Gravity Falls.
  • Kaeloo: If Smileyland is destroyed and someone is given the task of creating it again, anyone who they don't think of/don't want to be in it will be erased from existence. In Episode 105, this happens to Ursula when Quack Quack tries doing it (since he doesn't know her), and almost happens to Kaeloo, Quack Quack and Mr. Cat when Stumpy decides to do it since he's sick of their constant mockery of him.
  • Happened to Ron in one Kim Possible episode after he angered a hammy supervillain called the Mathter (yes, really). It was relatively easy for Wade to fix, however.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: "Total Eclipsa The Moon" reveals that historical documents have been significantly altered to cover up the existence of Eclipsa's half-monster daughter Meteora.
  • Steven Universe: After Pink Diamond's shattering, Yellow Diamond embarked on a campaign of information suppression to remove her from public consciousness. However, this is a more benign example, in as much as such an act can be, as Yellow Diamond did not do it out of spite, but rather to avoid having to deal with her grief.
  • Transformers:
    • In the end of the Transformers Animated episode "The Elite Guard", Powell takes control of Sumdac Systems from Sari under the assumption that he found no evidence that Isaac had any offspring.
      Sari: Are you saying I can't prove I'm Isaac Sumdac's daughter?
      Powell: I'm saying you can't even prove you exist.
    • An episode of Beast Machines has Megatron destroying statues of Cybertronian historical figures and wiping the archives, turning all of the planet's history up to that point into "nothing more than a rumor". The reason this isn't listed as a Propaganda Machine is because there was no one left to be told anything at that point.
  • Meta-example with The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat. The ending credits give both Otto Messmer (the creator of the whole Felix the Cat franchise) and Joe Oriolo (who revived the character in the late 50's and kept the series alive from then on) credit as the creator of Felix the Cat, while Pat Sullivan, who owned the studio that made the original cartoons, but had virtually nothing to do with creating the character or drawing the cartoons, and falsely took credit for creating Felix in his lifetime, isn't mentioned at all.
  • Voltron: Legendary Defender: In Season 6, the Big Bad promised he would remove all knowledge of Voltron, Princess Allura, and King Alfor after he wins. He loses gloriously.
  • In one promo for Cartoon Network, Yogi Bear arrives at the studio for work, but forgets his ID card. Much to his confusion and frustration, everyone, including Booboo and Ranger Smith, acts like they have no clue who he is.


Alternative Title(s): Erased From Existence, Damnatio Memoriae

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