Well, frantic for historical researchers, anyway. Which is still probably pretty slow and methodical. They aren’t the kind of people to start running around like their hair is on fire.
While many of the Saints in the Catholic church did exist, some people believe that Saint Christopher wasn't one of them. His story begins mere centuries after Jesus Christ, when he carried an unknown child across a river as an act of goodwill, shortly before the child revealed himself to be Jesus Christ.
He became the patron saint of travelers. His removal was based solely on the fact that his origin is obscure enough to cast doubt. In an effort to remove feast days, Pope Paul VI had removed saints whose basis for sainthood was more on tradition than fact. Bad news for Saint Oscar, the patron saint of trash collectors.
As a font of far-east wisdom, Confucious has helped many of us figure out a good way to improve our lives. He's known as one of the wisest and most thoughtful philosophers in Chinese history, but a lack of evidence has many researchers calling him a figure of imagination.
On the other hand, Confucious's family, the Kongs, have the longest recorded extant pedigree in the world – stretching back eighty-three generations to Confucious himself. It's certainly possible that many of the sayings weren't his, or the legend has been inflated, but it's hard to argue with an actual genealogy that goes back to the man himself.
Whether you love “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” or you're a big fan of “Fate/Stay Night,” you're undoubtedly familiar with the tale of King Arthur, one of the most famous western historical figures. He pulled a sword from a stone, ruled Britain, and did plenty more, but he probably didn't exist.
Or was, at least, a mash-up of a number of other figures, such as the Roman military commander Lucius Artorius Castus and Riothamus, the British king during the fifth century AD. He might not have ever fought a killer rabbit, but there are still plenty of adventures that are very likely more true.
Long before he led the free world, Trump was already pulling one over on reporters. Back in the eighties, when reporters would call the Trump Org for a statement, they were often directed to the official spokesman, John Barron, who was quoted in multiple print stories about Trump, the organization, and the family over the years.
It turns out that John Barron doesn't exist – the person the reporters were talking to was, in fact, Donald Trump. He would eventually appear in court and, under oath, reveal that he had been his own official spokesman for years without anyone noticing.
There are a few Marys in the Bible, but this one isn't Jesus's mother – instead, she's the repentant sinner that washes his feet in expensive perfume and witnesses his resurrection. The confusion comes from the fact that many believe she was working in a... not very respectable occupation... but there's no Biblical evidence of that.
Mary was a popular name at the time (and has been ever since), so it's possible she got mixed up with another character. There's also no scriptural evidence that she would later become Mary Poppins, but whoa, how cool would that be. No, she simply washed the Messiah's feet – an act that meant a lot more back then. Things were filthy.
If you get chills running down your spine when you read this name, thank your algebra class. Pythagoras was responsible for that theorem about triangles and their sides, but he might not have been a real person. Historians have no proof that Pythagoras wrote any of his work down, making it hard to give him any of the credit.
There's also the fact that not many people were doing math equations on the celestial spheres during the time he was thought to be. One way or another, his work has been torturing math students for centuries, but who knows if this math master was a real person.
Do you mean to tell us Robin Hood wasn't a fetching fox? Next, you're going to tell us Prince John's advisor Sir Hiss wasn't a hilariously villainous talking snake. While the Robin Hood tale became popular in the 13th and 14th centuries, it was never confirmed as truthful.
Numerous outlaws of the period referred to themselves as Robin Hood, since it described their sneaky activities. It was like the “anonymous” of the era. Other researchers believe that the tale was based on the nobleman Fulk FitzWarin, which has multiple notable similarities. However, the tales you'll see on the screen are pretty much made-up wholesale.
You might have started laughing at this one, but apparently, the story of the 1998 “Mulan” animated Disney movie is based on a Chinese folk tale. The tale follows much the same story – the main character, Hua Mulan, takes her father's place in the conscription, fights against nomadic hordes, and eventually reveals her gender, much to the astonishment of her comrades.
However, scholars generally believe the tale to be a fictional one. The first record of the story was a folk song believed to have been composed during the Northern Wei dynasty, which ran from 386 AD to 535 AD. There was no goofy dragon, either.
Before you get all huffy, this one is very much debated, with most on the side of the bard. There are some researchers who question the legitimacy of the Shakespeare name – obviously, the plays are real, and someone did right them. Even “Timon of Athens.”
Some researchers, however, believe that it was a pen name. One theory says that he was actually a man named Edward de Vere and that all his work was published after his death under the nom de plume of Shakespeare. While only a small number of academics believe in this theory, there is continued interest by people who were really bored during school.
If you love to browse the fashion mags, the name Ann Taylor means something to you. For everyone else, Ann Taylor was a shop that began in 1954, and while many people think this Taylor gal was real, she was just a creation of Richard Liebeskind. “Ann Taylor” was actually just the name of a garment in Liebeskind's family's store.
Richard used the name since “Ann” was considered a very New England name, while “Taylor” was perfect for a clothes store, like a bread store called “Baker's.” The name appealed to women, and the rest was fashion history.
When the Buffalo Sabres picked up Taro Tsujimoto in the 1974 NHL draft, he became an overnight sensation and the pride of Tokyo. You can see where this is going. The then-general manager of the Sabres, Punch Imlach, was fed up with the tedious drafted process.
The draft was deliberately very slow, done by telephone so that the rival hockey league World Hockey Association would not know who was being drafted. Since the NHL was trying to spread outside of America and Canada at the time, nobody doubted a Japanese name. The NHL didn't realize there was no player by this name until much later.
What, Socrates? Good old So-crates? He's one of the most famous and influential philosophers of all time! That's like saying that Winston Churchill wasn't real! However, we don't really know what Socrates was like – all of the sayings and philosophies attributed to the man came from the writings of his disciples, primarily Plato.
Of course, there's every reason to believe there really was a smart guy by the name of Socrates, but the question comes down to was he portrayed correctly by his followers and students. Who knows, maybe he liked to dance around in the street naked. Or something even more embarrassing, like rooting for the Detroit Lions.
Movie critics get by solely on their opinions, so when the opinions of one David Manning started sending moviegoers to flops like “A Knight's Tale” and “The Animal,” people started to wonder what the guy was on. Many suspected Manning of being paid off by Sony, but it turns out the man never even really existed.
The name came from a friend of Matthew Cramer, a Sony marketing director. Cramer and Sony would both end up in hot water over these fake positive reviews, and Sony had to pay out in a big way: refund five bucks to dissatisfied viewers of “Hollow Man,” “The Animal,” “The Patriot,” “A Knight's Tale,” or “Vertical Limit.”
Mike Stevens was a bored Washington D.C. teen who wanted to have a little bit of artistic fun, so he started creating album covers. He created them for a fictitious musical artist named Mingering Mike. He went wild with the idea, creating more than fifty albums for the funk and soul artist, including a Bruce Lee concept album, which sounds pretty great.
Mingering Mike had a complex – yet entirely non-existent – musical career. Much later, a few guys came across the artwork at a flea market and started investigating, revealing the entire story. It turns out the real Mike did actually make some music, which was later released as a real, actual album.
He was a legendary king who reigned...somewhere in the Orient, during the...well, it was between the 12th and 17th centuries, anyway. In fact, it might have been that entire period, since it was thought Prester John had discovered the fountain of youth, which kept his body and mind eternal.
It was one of the reasons Christopher Columbus pursued a life of adventure. However, there is, to be frank, a complete lack of evidence behind the man, and it seems that he was just a tale that people told each other. We can't even be certain that people really believed the story. It could have been just that to them: a story.
Often portrayed as a sixth-century BC contemporary of Confucius, Laozi is the reputed author of the “Tao Te Ching,” the founder of traditional Taoism – he's regarded as a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions. Still, there are far too many conflicting stories about his life to nail down anything specific about him.
Modern scholars have come to question his existence, often arguing that the writings that became the basis of Taoist thought come from a number of different sources, not a single man. Details such as his name, the era in which he lived, and his profession differ wildly from one source to the next.
Obviously, Homer is a real person. You can watch him embarrass himself on TV any time you want. No, not that Homer, the Homer who purportedly wrote: “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” as well as many other pieces of work, mostly lost to time. While it's very possible that Homer was the first to write the stories down, there are many that argue the stories existed before he got his hands on them.
There are a number of other theories, such as he was the name used by a group of Greek scholars rather than a single person. He also could have been a blind woman, which is just silly. Everybody knows women can't go blind.
Head to IMDB.com and look for Alan Smithee, and you'll find a frankly ridiculous number of movies and other projects going back a long time – and none of them good at all. In reality, this name is now used by directors or other figures who don't want their name on a finished project – usually because it sucks.
This all began with the film “Death of a Gunfighter,” which had quite a complicated production process. After that, a director had to prove he didn't have sufficient creative control over the film, but the pseudonym was formally discontinued in 2000. This prevents directors from distancing themselves from any movie that didn't turn out well, which we bet is an option lots of directors would love to have.
The butterfly effect tells us that small, insignificant acts can lead to big consequences. At a time when tensions were high between Scotland and Britain, in 1637, Britain was forcing Scottish churches to use the book of common prayer. Well, one woman, Jenny Geddes, wasn't going to take it.
She delivered a withering insult and threw her stool (chair, specifically) at the Dean of Edinburgh, which, ultimately, resulted in the War of the Three Kingdoms and King Charles I's execution. But, there's no other information about this Miss Geddes – it could have been a fake name, or it could have been someone in disguise, there to intentionally cause a riot.
The Marlboro Man
With a sunburned face, dusty clothes, and a lung dart hanging from his lips, The Marlboro Man immediately made smoking cool. Of course, it was little more than an advertising icon to sell cigarettes. Specifically, Marlboro cigarettes, and it seems to have worked gangbusters.
Unfortunately, it seems to have worked against the Marlboro company and cigarettes in general, since four of the actors who portrayed The Marlboro Man died of smoking-related diseases since the ads started airing in the fifties. Correlation might not mean causation, but you have to admit there's a correlation. Increased pressure on cigarette companies led to the removal of the MM.
If you're a fan of the classics, this should come as no surprise. No, there wasn't really a man who fought a cyclops, had to tie himself to the mast to escape the beautiful song of the sirens, and navigate between a terrifying sea monster and a vicious, living whirlpool. Sorry.
Could there have been a man named Odysseus (or Ulysses, as he is also known)? Sure, but we doubt the stories Homer told us have much basis in fact. Archaeologists have found remains of a three-story building and a well from the 8th century BC, which match up to details in the Odyssey, but there's still plenty that just isn't possible.
You're probably familiar with the name Manti Te'o, even if you don't follow American football. He made news in 2012 when he revealed that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, had died of leukemia. However, Kekua never existed – and not even Te'o knew that.
The young man had been duped into believing he was in a long-distance relationship with a woman he'd never met by an acquaintance, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo (checking the spelling...) by using pictures of his, Tuiasosopo's, former classmate, Diane O'Meara. This was yet another blow to Manti Te'o, who had also recently lost his grandmother. Well, he's married for real now. Hopefully.
Many of us use computer keyboards every day to type, whether it's penning the next great American novel, writing emails, or typing out angry tweets. We all have Mavis Beacon to thank for our keyboard skills, but she's not a real person. At first, the character was just a photo of a model, but as technology (and expectations from the series) increased, that evolved into videos and more.
The name came from Mavis Staples, one of the software developer's favorite singers, and the word beacon, an allusion to the character's role as a guide to typing. She's still confident and efficient, and even though you might have made a mistake, that's okay – just try again.
We didn't think many of you were on the lookout for a giant lumberjack, so big and powerful that he logged entire states, built mountains with his bare hands, and had a big blue ox as his best friend. As a Canadian and French tall tale, this character has plenty of stories about him, and just as many – or more – fiberglass statues along the northern border of the states.
However, it's possible that the stories of Bunyan were based on a pair of real lumberjacks, Bon Jean and Fabian Fournier. At any rate, his gigantism is a true invention, with most stories placing him at about seven feet.
In 1998, Scottish writer William Boyd wrote a biography about artist Nat Tate. The book expressed Tate's struggles with being an artist and inside his life. A big book launch occurred, which included fabulous guests and a star host is none other than David Bowie.
It should have been a little more obvious that Nat Tate never existed since the book launch happened on April Fool's Day eve. The hoax was an effort to get the famous names to realize they were wrong, though many said they had known the man or had heard of him before. Fake quotes from other biographers that were supposed to pretend they knew him helped build up the idea.
If you liked to read heart-pounding mysteries when you were a child, no doubt you came across either “The Nancy Drew Mysteries” or the boy-centric partners, “The Hardy Boys Mysteries.” All of the Drew books were penned under the name Carolyn Keene, but no such woman existed.
In fact, multiple writers contributed to this long-running and extensive series thanks to the man behind it all, Edward Stratemeyer. He started the books himself but quickly found himself too busy. He hired a number of ghostwriters, who all added to the collection under the Keene name. Just how many writers were there? Time to get to the bottom of this mystery.
Pope Joan, as the story goes, was a woman that reigned as the Holy Father for an unknown number of years during the middle ages. Usually, the tale ends with that she managed to rise through the ranks by disguising herself as a man, eventually being elected pope.
However, the truth comes out when Joan gives birth during a procession, and she dies shortly after. While the story was popular for a long time, modern scholars now believe it to be entirely fictional. The earliest version of the story comes from the thirteenth century, and the events are set in 1099.
Her name is on plenty of books that lined your grandmother's shelf, but this famous food matriarch never really existed. Despite being the queen of the kitchen for more than a few generations, she was only a fictional character, invented to give a humanizing aspect to the cookbooks that the company was selling.
While the “First lady of the Kitchen” wasn't real, she inspired more than a few people to try their hand at making tasty food on their own, which led to plenty of real names you might recognize. The character and brand were created in 1921 by Washburn-Crosby, which later became General Mills. Plenty of women have portrayed her anonymously, but they had their own names.
There are many stories and tales about the American Revolution. Many of them are true, involving figures like George Washington or Benjamin Franklin, but some of them just don't stand up to scrutiny. One such example is that of Sybil Ludington, a girl of only sixteen, who is said to have played a significant role in alerting militia forces in New York of approaching British troops – similar to Paul Revere.
However, the name first appeared in writing in 1880, more than a hundred years after her supposed ride, which cast plenty of doubts on the tale. The Daughters of the American Revolution have also determined it's likely Ludington never existed, or at least the story is fictional.
Whether you picture Antonio Banderas fighting with scoundrels, or you imagine one of the earlier versions of the character, you're still just picturing a fictional creation. He was created by pulp writer Johnston McCulley in 1919, fighting against the corrupt in an all-black costume and mask, which must have been sweltering in that California heat.
While it's no doubt that Zorro (Spanish for “Fox”) was fictional, inspiration came from a number of places. Chief among them was the bandit Joaquin Murrieta, whose life was fictionalized in an 1854 dime novel by John Rollin Ridge. His closest literary relative is probably Sir Percival Blakeney, hero of the “Scarlet Pimpernel” pulp series.
Helen of Troy
The most beautiful woman in the world is a subjective moniker, but historically it's been given to Helen of Troy, who was so beautiful she started wars. Specifically, the war that takes place in “The Iliad.” While it's very likely there WAS a woman that inspired some animosity between the fiery armies of the Greek states at that period, it probably wasn't the woman we all know.
Seeing as her father was apparently Zeus, the leader of the Greek gods, we can safely assume that some of the details have been manipulated for the purposes of the classic stories.
James S.A. Corey
Now, who's this, you might be asking. If you spend some time reading science fiction, you might be familiar with “The Expanse,” which has also been made into a television show for SyFy and Amazon Prime Video. James S.A. Corey wrote the books, but there are actually two people behind the novels – Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who created the extra name so neither man could claim more credit.
The pair have also written a few Star Wars books, some short fiction, and numerous novellas in the Expanse series. The first and last names are Abraham's and Franck's middle names respectively and the S.A. are the initials of Abraham's daughter.
The creation of songwriter Loudon Wainwright III and writer/director Rob Reiner, Spinal Tap was touted as “England's loudest band,” and was made famous by the documentary “This Is Spinal Tap.”
While many realized the band was fictional, plenty of moviegoers were still fooled. In addition, while other bands at the time knew it was all for the movie, they found the lifestyle portrayed to be so hilarious and close to home that it kept the “band” in the public eye long enough for the actors to actually appear on stage for special performances – they were still actors, but music and movie fans didn't care.
Sparta was known as a place with brilliant military minds and ferocious soldiers, but there was much more to the city-state. Lycurgus was one of the area's greatest legal minds, but while numerous Greek writers mention him, their stories often contradict each other.
Some scholars have hypothesized that Lycurgus was just a name writer used when they wanted to discuss Sparta's legal system at the time. A way to remain anonymous, perhaps, so that no danger would be placed on their own heads. It wasn't THEM saying those things, they were just recording what Lycurgus had said, previously, somewhere else, with a girlfriend that probably lived in Canada.
If you want to learn about warfare, this is the guy to listen to. His book “The Art of War” not only teaches about the culture and armies of the era but also has a fair number of lessons about dealing with other people and putting yourself in advantageous positions. Even so early as the twelfth century AD, however, some Chinese scholars began to doubt the existence of Sun Tzu.
Primarily because he isn't mentioned in the “Zuo Zhuan” — an ancient Chinese text that lists the most notable figures of the Spring and Autumn period, which included the time Sun Tzu was assumed to be alive. Which was also about the same time as Confucious. Hmm.
Jack Dawson and Rose Bukater
If, like millions and millions of others around the world, you watched James Cameron's historical epic “Titanic,” you might be wondering if the characters Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater are real. Sad to say they aren't, but there is a little bit of basis for Rose from American artist Beatrice Wood, who otherwise had no connection to the “Titanic.”
Of course, the story of the immense boat itself is true. But history doesn't have anything about a stirring love story between a rich young woman and a poor American artist, more's the pity. We'll never let go of you, Jack. Unlike Rose.
Kaycee Nicole Swenson
When the internet was still in its infancy (sort of. It's complicated), viral stars were not far off. Perhaps the first was a young girl named Kaycee Nicole Swenson, who documented her battle with leukemia on her blog, captivating thousands of daily readers, and because you know which article you're reading, we'll cut to the chase.
Kaycee Nicole Swenson was actually bored housewife Debbie Swenson, who had created her own website to be Kaycee's grieving mother – Kaycee apparently “died” in 2001. The story was rather flimsy, and the truth didn't take too long to come out, but there seemed to be no nefarious actions taken, though many were angry at the hoax.
This one is pretty weak anyway since he was little more than a name on a wall, but Menes was supposedly the first pharaoh. Like, the first one to unite Upper and Lower Egypt into a single ancient powerhouse. Historical sources name more than one man as the one who united the two kingdoms, and while one is named Menes, there are others as well.
Some historians believe Menes to have come after another potential unifier, named Narmer, while others believe him to be a mythological figure. Still, others have introduced the idea that Menes was just another name for Narmer. Since Menes just came from a wall inscription, it could be anything.
Guru Nanak is well known as the founder of the Sikh religion, but not as much is known about his apparent lifelong friend and travel partner Bhai Bala. Nanak went on a life-changing journey, taking Bala with him – who would become a revered disciple of Nanak, and pass the wisdom down to the next generation of gurus.
However, many people question his existence and rightly point out that he is not listed as one of Nanak's disciples in several historical lists. There are numerous other irregularities in his life story in a number of different works that date back from the era.
In the early 1810s England, wool and cotton industries came under attack from a group known as the Luddites, who protested new machines that put hand weavers and other tradespeople out of work. The leader of these riots was said to be General Ned Ludd who, just like Robin Hood, was said to work out of Sherwood Forest.
Also just like Robin Hood, it's very likely that Ludd didn't really exist. Seventeen men were executed as part of these riots, but the famous Ludd himself was never caught. Later it was accepted that the name was simply mythical in order to ensure anonymity. The name continues as a name for those who deride certain tech advances.
It would be great if Yang Kyoungjong was real since he was said to have fought on three different sides of World War II, but it isn't to be. From conscription in the Imperial Japanese Army to fighting against Nazi Germany with the Russians to defending Normandy on the side of the Wehrmacht during D-Day, the man did it all.
Except, of course, he didn't – there's no evidence that Kyoungjong actually existed other than word-of-mouth stories. A Korean company attempted to film a documentary about the story, finding no public records of any sort. Even his famous picture was just labeled “Japanese man.”
As one of the world's largest and oldest religions, Buddhism still has plenty of questions about the founder, Siddhartha Gautama – more commonly known as the Buddha.
Unfortunately, this is literally ancient history. The events of his life are said to have happened more than twenty-five hundred years ago, and many, many of the details of his life have been yet to be found, or have been lost entirely. He wasn't known as the Buddha (One who has achieved perfect spiritual enlightenment) until centuries after his death.
Franklin W. Dixon
Mystery-loving boys might not have read the Nancy Drew books, but there were plenty of Hardy Boys mysteries for them to page through. However, Franklin W. Dixon wasn't a real person – he was the name that every book bore. Edward Stratemeyer was the genius behind this, and he collected a group of ghostwriters to keep the books coming out at a steady pace.
All in all, this tactic worked gangbusters, since the Hardy Boys have achieved enduring popularity, spanning nearly nine decades through various re-images.
If you're playing an old version of “Trivial Pursuit,” you might get a question about who invented the bra. The correct answer, according to the game, is a man with the perfect name for such a creation: Otto Titzling. This apocryphal creation was actually first named as the inventor of the brassiere in the 1971 book “Bust-Up: The Uplifting Tale of Otto Titzling.”
The name was perfect because it was fake – humorist Wallace Reyburn came up with it in the early seventies, but it was picked up by numerous outlets, including board games, as fact. Sadly, the truth is far less humorous.
The story of Agnus McVee, a bloodthirsty Scottish woman who operated a murder hotel in Canada during the late 19th century is perfect campfire fodder. It was said that Agnus, alongside her husband Jim and son-in-law Al Riley, kidnapped young women to work the brothels, and killed miners who stayed at the hotel to steal their gold.
Over fifty killings were on their heads, and there was plenty of buried treasure to get people interested in the tale. However, it seems that the original legend of Agnus McVee came from the nineteen seventies, in a book about buried treasure in British Columbia.
We don't know about you, but we're breathing a sigh of relief with this one. Washington Irving, who wrote the short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” did actually know an Ichabod Crane – a colonel in the United States Army during the War of 1812.
There was also a schoolmaster the writer knew (Crane is also a schoolmaster in the story) named Jess Merwin, who had been Irving's friend for some time. Another possible inspiration was Samuel Youngs of Tarrytown. Regardless, we're happy to let you know that none of them were ever pursued by a headless rider that used a pumpkin to cover up its neck.
Thanks to Alex Haley's Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Roots,” the story of Kunta Kinte became world-famous. A miniseries by the same name and starring LeVar Burton made the name even more famous. The story was so widespread that the country of Gambia named an island after him.
Some of Haley's sources don't seem to match up to historical details, so it's possible that the story is a fictional one if nevertheless a powerful one. Eventually, Haley came out and said that the story of Kunta Kinte is a mixture of fact and fiction. He also stated he was a seventh-generation descendant of Kinte, so who knows at this point.
Within Grenville Court in Buckinghamshire, England, you might be able to find a lengthy volume of poems that have been attributed to Richard Argall, but nobody had heard of the man before. That's because he wasn't real! Or, at the very least, historians don't think he was real.
The closest anyone could get to figuring out the true identity of the man was a poet who lived during the reign of King James I. Some of the works were also found under the name Robert Aylett, yet a third character. So, was Argall a thief? Did he write under a pseudonym? Was it another explanation entirely? At this point, it will be nigh-impossible to figure it out.
Yeah, we know, this one probably isn't rocking your world that much. Just like most of the other food-based mascots, Aunt Jemima wasn't a real person. The character was a stock character, often seen in minstrel shows (which, you might know, weren't the kindest portrayals), and the Aunt Jemima company used the image until 2021 to sell pancake mixes, syrup, and other breakfast foods.
Numerous women have performed as Aunt Jemima over the years, but there was never an original. Due to external pressures and the character's history, the company changed its name to the Pearl Milling Company and retired the character.
The seventies and eighties had plenty of famous lounge singers, but Tony Clifton wasn't your normal garden variety. He got famous for insulting his audiences and acting in a disgruntled manner whenever he was on stage. While Andy Kaufman said that Clifton was a real person, it's hard to believe such a famous prankster on something like that.
Yes, Clifton was a persona made up by Kaufman, but the character endured past Kaufman's death in 1984. Kaufman's close friend Bob Zmuda portrayed him, along with numerous others, which keeps rumors swirling about Kaufman still being alive. Well, he is alive, and he's been writing this article the whole time.
Hengist & Horsa
The story goes that a pair of brothers by the names of Hengist and Horsa emigrated to Britain from Denmark in the fifth century. The brothers became Anglo-Saxon leaders, fought in numerous battles, and Hengist was even cunning enough to become a leader – what one might call a king.
However, as you might be able to guess, information about these two figures are pretty sporadic and hard to trust, and there are contradictory accounts about the adventures they got up to. We don't really know what to believe – the brothers could have even come from FINLAND! Is there nothing worth believing anymore?
If you don't follow Japanese pop groups closely, this one might be new to you. If you don't, and it isn't, well, we don't know what to say. Anyway, the group AKB48 added the member Aimi Eguchi, debuting her in a video that had a lot of people wondering about her odd lack of on-screen charisma.
The J-Pop-loving public was understandably surprised when it was revealed that Aimi Eguchi wasn't a real person. Instead, she was a simulated creation that combined the “best” features of the six other members of the group. Sure, Aimi looks pretty, but you can tell a little something is off, even from a still image.
It was never assumed there was a single woman named Tokyo Rose, who spread English-language propaganda across the radio waves across the Pacific Ocean to North America in an attempt to dispirit Americans. This was really going on, and the propaganda has been recorded, but there was more than just one woman.
In reality, there were a large number of women making these reports, as well as plenty of others behind the scenes – Tokyo Rose was just the name that the soldiers, government officials, and civilians gave to the women as a whole. The name was never used by any one broadcaster.
Lonelygirl15 was a blog series that showed the mundane life of homeschooled girl Bree Avery, who realizes her parents are part of a strange cult. She goes on the run with her friend Daniel...but it was all a hoax. Well, more accurately, it was fiction. Bree was played by actress Jessica Rose, nineteen years old.
While it wasn't that hard to figure out, there were still plenty of watchers who felt betrayed by this revelation, which came when someone messaged “Bree” and traced the IP address to that of Creative Artists Agency, where the creator, Amanda Goodfried, worked. It was the first star for the small site YouTube and called into question the veracity of vloggers at the time.
Drink up some tasty Colombian coffee, and you're probably sipping on Juan Valdez. Not...not the man himself, just his product. While many people think that Juan Valdez was the original owner of the company, or the beans, or something like that, the image was a pure creation by Doyle Dane Bernbach for the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia in 1958.
Juan was portrayed by actor Jose F. Duval until Duval's passing in 1993. The Juan Valdez brand is used to denote coffee beans that are only grown or harvested in Colombia, and the advertising campaign included reasons why Colombian coffee is supreme.
In 1964, journalist Åke "Dacke" Axelsson decided he would pull a prank on the art world. He wanted to prove that critics of the scene wouldn't be able to tell Avante-Garde modern art and the work of a chimp apart. This, you will be delighted to find out, required actually enlisting the help of a chimpanzee and setting him in front of some watercolors.
“Pierre Brassau” was actually Peter the chimp from the local zoo, and art critics ate it up. They hailed him as the next best thing, praising his powerful strokes, clear determination, and ballet dancer delicacy. Critics were crushed when the truth came out – but some still called his work the best paintings in the museum.
Like so many other American folk legends and tall tales, Pecos Bill never really existed, or at least the story mutated from a much more reasonable truth. In fact, the first known stories only appeared in 1917, by writer Edward O'Reilly, saying he had collected them from cowboys during the expansion west.
They were all about Pecos Bill, who was raised by a pack of coyotes, used a rattlesnake as a lasso, and could even ride a twister like a horse. It was then revealed that O'Reilly had made the stories up entirely. “Pecos Bill” was the nickname of Civil War general William Shafter, who was famously tough, but the rest of the stories are pure fiction.
Rosie the Riveter
While the men fought in the trenches during WWII, the women back home had to pick up the slack in the factories. In order to encourage this and keep spirits up for Americans both abroad and at home, the character of Rosie the Riveter came to be.
There was no single Rosie, of course – she was the collective woman, the at-home hero who is ready to roll up her sleeves and get dirty. Most surprisingly, the image didn't originate with the propaganda poster – instead, it was a song by Kay Kyser called “Rosie the Riveter,” released in 1942, that first originated the term.
It's almost nice to hear that there was never a man that had to shoot an apple off his son's head. The story goes that in fourteenth-century Switzerland, Tell refused to pay proper homage to a government official, and was forced to either face death, or shoot an apple off his son's head.
He was successful, and everyone cheered and gave him a hundred dollars. That was a lot of money back then. However, there's a similar Viking folktale, which leads many to believe William Tell was a fictional character. Thus, it's likely his son was also fictional. That's how it goes.
Say it ain't so! Then who did Spider-Man lose to begin his crime-fighting career? Or, wrong Uncle Ben. Yes, we're sorry to say that the genial rice-grower on the boxed rice isn't a real person, but the face did belong to a friend of Gordon L. Harwell, the president of the company when the products started hitting shelves.
The company chose the name “Uncle Ben” to expand its marketing to the general public after the company had spent the years of World War II supplying rice to the armed forces. The company has moved away from the name in recent years, but it's still a big part of food history in America.
A vast amount of Pakistanis and Indians believe the story of Anarkali to be true, despite it being a fictional character from Indian Abdul Halim Sharar. Anarkali was a slave girl who was ordered to be buried alive between two walls of a tomb by Emperor Akbar due to her affair with his son Jahangir.
Despite it being a classic fictional character, the slave girl's popularity is so great that she even has a real mausoleum dedicated to her in Lahore, a city in Pakistan. It brings in plenty of tourists from all over the middle east and Indian subcontinent, so the city is fine with letting this one play out.
Decked out in red, white, and blue, sporting a fashionable top hat, and with some eye-catching facial hair, it's hard to miss this demanding patriot.
While his design was based on a real person – a man that sold supplies with the nickname Uncle Sam – the name became a way to say the supplies were being provided by the army or the government, not by a specific person. The image spread and the figure became popular by the time of World War I. That's where the famous “I Want You” posters came from – the army was trying to convince people to join up.
Charles Kaufman is a famous filmmaker and the writer of movies such as “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” His second film, “Adaptation,” featured fictional versions of himself and his brother, Donald...who does not exist in real life at all.
Donald, who is played by Nicolas Cage, is also credited as a writer for the film. The idea for the film came to Kaufman while trying to adapt “The Orchid Thief” to film, and wrote “Adaptations” as a way to work around his writer's block. It is still unknown whether or not Nicolas Cage does actually exist but currently signs point to no.
Alfred Bulltop Stormalong
As the subject of numerous nautical tall tales, Stormalong would have been impossible to miss while he was on the open water. As a sailor and a giant, Stormalong was said to have stood at thirty feet tall – almost ten meters. He was supposedly the master of a huge clipper ship known as either the “Courser” or the “Tuscarora.”
The ship was so tall that the masts could touch the moon. INCREDIBLY, these are all just stories – there was never a man that stood at thirty feet tall. We know, we know, sometimes our dreams are just that. Still, the stories are winsome and exciting and great for some light reading.
The London Monster
A hundred years before Jack the Ripper, London had another criminal, who would stalk women, cut their dresses, and prick them in the buttocks using a knife or needle. Well, times were simple back then, we guess. Records say this “monster” could have been responsible for fifty attacks over a two-year period, but there are a lot of other reasons for this.
Copycat crimes, women trying to gain attention, or common criminals shouting “Monster!” to get away in the chaos are all options historians have offered. One man was eventually charged with the crimes, but the trial was a farce, and the accused only received six years in prison.
George P. Burdell
George P. Burdell enrolled at Georgia Tech in 1927 and went on to receive every undergraduate degree offered by Georgia. All of them. Every one. He also served in the military and started a family, served on the board of directors for “Mad” Magazine, and more. He doesn't exist. Like, at all.
He was a practical joke from the mind of William Edgar “Ed” Smith (who apparently got a degree in ceramic engineering? Didn't know about that one). He enrolled Burdell in the same classes he took, did the work twice, and earned the “man” a degree. The name is now a campus icon, with a store bearing the name.
Jack the Ripper
Since the late nineteenth century, the story of Jack the Ripper has terrified the citizens of London. A creepy figure, stalking you through the foggy, lamp-lit streets, a hood pulled up to hide his face – good stuff. However, the identity of Jack the Ripper was never confirmed, despite repeated attempts.
There are certainly some good guesses out there, but nothing was ever confirmed. Furthermore, it's incredibly possible that this wasn't the work of a single man, but of multiple – whether they all happened to act the same way, or they decided they could get away with their crimes by committing copycat murders.
The writings of Thomas Dempster, a Scottish scholar, and historian, mention a Benedictine monk named John Abercromby, who supposedly authored the famous works “Veritatis Defensio” and “Haereseos Confusio” but copies of those books are...out of print is the best way to put them.
Thanks to disagreements with the Reformation in Scotland, Abercromby found himself on the wrong end of a mob and was executed in 1561. However, nobody can find his books, Dempster is the only person that ever mentions him, and there aren't any other records of the man, leaving many historians to call him a work of fiction, and it's hard to argue with them.
In 1961, “BBC Third Programme” was a popular channel on the telly – it would broadcast classical musical compositions for all to hear and enjoy. The piece “Mobile for Tape and Percussion” was broadcast twice to great acclaim, but the alleged composer, Pole Piotr Zak, never existed.
The composers were actually BBC producers Susan Bradshaw and Hans Keller, who wanted to see if people would think a new creation was a real classical piece of music. While many listeners enjoyed it, critics roundly panned the tune, and immediately identified it as a studio prank. One reviewer even called it a farce.
Despite possessing an absolutely A-tier name, the titular character of “Ballad of John Henry” likely did not exist. The tale is about an ex-slave that challenges a steam drill to see which could work faster. While Henry manages to beat the steam drill, he dies just after the contest due to exhaustion.
While the story is likely false, the invention was real – it likely meant plenty of workers out of work. This allowed the story to gain traction as an early man vs. machine tale. The current version would be something like trying to vacuum a huge room before a Roomba does.
Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind
Yes, that's really the name. But, as the prettiest, sassiest, and toughest woman in the American West, she'll get us to ignore that for now. She was a feminist folk hero and a supposed spouse of Davy Crockett – but just like so many other folk tales both at home and abroad, it turns out she was entirely fictional.
More's the pity, since she apparently fought alligators, lived with a family of bears, and could outrun and out-wrestle any Tennessee boy by the age of seven. While Davy Crockett was a real person, there are plenty of details of his life that aren't true, such as this one.
Jane and John Doe
If you like crime shows or movies, you might be familiar with the names John Doe or Jane Doe. While there are likely people that have those names (though poor choices when it comes to the parents), in the context of criminal investigations they mean that they're unidentified bodies – John for male, Jane for female.
The original use was that of an everyman, such as in “Meet John Doe,” but police departments picked up the term. While it seems like a relatively recent idea, it's possible that this sort of tactic was invoked as early as the reign of King Edward III, all the way back in the fourteenth century.
We shouldn't have trusted “The Simpsons” when it came to historical facts. While many would love to believe that a man named Thomas Crapper came up with the toilet, it isn't so. However, Mr. Crapper was actually a plumber – he founded Thomas Crapper & Co in London, back when that wouldn't have been a joke.
Crapper came up with the U-bend and the floating...ballcock...which both improved the functions of pipes and toilets. We have much to thank him for. Prince Albert even got all of his plumbing from this company. The legend of him inventing the toilet was because of a fictional biography by satirist Wallace Reyburn, published in 1969.
If you're a fan of the bard, you probably know that William Shakespeare was married to Anne Hathaway. No, not THAT Anne Hathaway, unless Catwoman has been alive since the fifteen hundreds. This famous marriage produced three children, but some scholars say it was a shotgun marriage. When he died, Shakespeare only left Hathaway his second-best bed!
Some have also said that another woman, Anne Whateley, was Shakespeare's true love, and there might have even been a marriage license. Others think Whateley was Shakespeare's dark lady. But, now, many believe Whateley was just an alias for Hathaway – maybe even a clerical error.
If you have “The Midas Touch,” it means that everything you work on turns out great. The original meaning was far more literal – everything this legendary king touched actually turned to gold. The tale is a staple of Greek mythology, but there's no evidence that King Midas ever existed.
We hopefully didn't have to tell you that there wasn't actually a man who could transmute things to gold with just his hands, but the man might not have existed at all. An ornate gravesite has been discovered that dates to the time Midas was said to have been alive, but that could be anybody's.
If you already follow the supermodels, you might have heard of this one. Back in 1996, the beautiful Allegra Coleman appeared on the cover of “Esquire.” The accompanying article, written by Martha Sherril, claimed Coleman would be the next big thing in Hollywood. Once the issue hit newsstands, agents scrambled to find Coleman – only to discover that she never existed.
It was all a hoax by Sherril as a prank on the entertainment industry. However, the actress who had posed for the “Coleman” photos, Ali Larter, got a big career boost. She even landed a lead role on “Heroes” a few years later.
When Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy wrote “The Heart is Deceitful Above all Things” in 1999, the semi-autobiography got loads of critical acclaim. You might be thinking it was cool that someone's name could be Terminator, but it wasn't to be. JT Leroy was actually Laura Albert.
Albert wrote this and other books under the name and communicated in the persona of LeRoy in emails and via the phone. For public appearances, Albert's sister-in-law Savannah Knoop, an actor, portrayed the writer. The false name allowed Albert to pretend to write like a real person, despite it being fiction.
Was this one really in dispute? We don't expect many to have believed the world's most famous detective to have been a real person. No, he was the creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. You might be surprised to find, however, that there's a little less fiction than first thought.
Doyle based certain aspects of the legendary character on his friend Joseph Bell, a British surgeon and lecturer. However, Bell would later write to Doyle, saying “You yourself are Sherlock Holmes and you well know it.” It's common – some would say a hundred percent of the time – for a writer to base a character off a portion of him or herself.
Layla and Majnu
Originating from the eleventh-century Arabic poem, the love story of Layla and Majnu is one of the most famous of all time, told and retold for almost a thousand years. There have been numerous variations, dozens of movie adaptations, and more, but there are lots of people in the area that believe these two lovebirds were real people.
The pair are so popular that there is even a mausoleum that is said to be for the two, located in Binjaur village near the city of Anupgarh in India...despite the story never even going near the area. They were Arabic, not Indian. Well, the story still endures – and it might even be much older than supposed, perhaps from the seventh century AD.
Alfred E. Neuman
This freakish cartoon caricature wasn't meant to be someone real – it was supposed to be an over-the-top riff on cartoon characters of the day. With a big gap in his front teeth, wide, wind-catching ears, and a silly grin, you knew he was up to no good.
He didn't have a care in the world except for mischief. American cartoonist and editor Harvey Kurtzman first spotted a similar image on a postcard pinned to the office bulletin board of Ballantine Books editor Bernard Shir-Cliff. Newman made his first appearance on the cover of Ballantine's 1954 “The Mad Reader,” a paperback collection of reprints from the first two years of “Mad” magazine.