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Dante Gabriel Rossetti, How They Met Themselves, watercolor, 1864

In fiction and folklore, a doppelgänger or doppelganger (/ˈdɒpəlˌɡæŋər/; German: [ˈdɔpəlˌɡɛŋɐ] ( ), look-alike, literally a "double goer") is a double of a living person and sometimes portrayed as a harbinger of bad luck. In some traditions, a doppelgänger seen by a person's relative or friend portends illness or danger while seeing one's own doppelgänger is said to be an omen of death.

In contemporary vernacular, the word doppelgänger is often used in a more general sense to identify any person that physically ‒ or perhaps even behaviorally ‒ resembles another person.


The word doppelgänger is a loanword from German Doppelgänger, consisting of the two substantives Doppel (double) Gänger (walker or goer).[1][2] The singular and plural form are the same in German, but English usually prefers the plural "doppelgangers." It was first used by Jean Paul in the novel Siebenkäs (1796), and his newly coined word is explained by a footnote.

As is true for all other common nouns in German, the word is written with an initial capital letter. In English, the word is conventionally uncapitalized (doppelgänger). It is also common to drop the diacritic diaeresis, writing "doppelganger."


Although this German word is of relatively recent origin, first appearing in English use in 1851,[3] the concept of alter egos and double spirits appears in the folklore, myths, religious concepts, and traditions of many cultures throughout human history.

In Ancient Egyptian mythology, a ka was a tangible "spirit double" having the same memories and feelings as the person to whom the counterpart belongs. In one Egyptian myth entitled, The Greek Princess, an Egyptian view of the Trojan War, a ka of Helen was used to mislead Paris of Troy, helping to stop the war.

In Norse mythology, a vardøger is a ghostly double who precedes a living person and is seen performing their actions in advance. In Finnish mythology, this is called having an etiäinen, i.e., "a firstcomer".

In some[which?] myths, the doppelgänger is a version of the Ankou, a Breton personification of death.


In Prometheus Unbound by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the concept of a doppelganger double was described as a counterpart to the self. The work of Edgar Allan Poe describes the double with sinister, demonic qualities. George Gordon Byron used doppelganger imagery to explore the duality of human nature.[4] Charles Williams Descent Into Hell (1939), has character Pauline Anstruther seeing her own doppelganger all through her life.[5]


Contemporary English folklore contains the story of Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon who was supposedly seen walking through the drawing room of his family home in Eaton Square, London at the same time he had gone down with his ship, HMS Victoria after colliding with HMS Camperdown.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition, 2005.
  2. ^ Doppelgänger; Orthography, Meaning Synonyms
  3. ^ date of first use in English according to Merriam Webster dictionary
  4. ^ Frederick Burwick (8 November 2011). Playing to the Crowd: London Popular Theatre, 1780-1830. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 83–. ISBN 978-0-230-37065-4. 
  5. ^ Charles Williams (1939). Descent Into Hell. 
  6. ^ Christina Hole (1950). Haunted England: A survey of English ghost-lore. B. T. Batsford. pp. 21–22. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Otto Rank. The Double: A Psychoanalytic Study. 1925 (written 1914).
  • Rodney Davies. (2001). Doubles: The Enigma of the Second Self. Robert Hale Ltd. ISBN 978-0709061182

External links[edit]