What Does A Case of Mistaken Identity Mean?

A Case of Mistaken Identity Meaning

Definition: A time when someone wrongly believes that one person is another person.

Origin of a Case of Mistaken Identity

This idiom originated around the mid-1800s. It is unclear exactly who used it first, but it is a common collocation.

It means more or less what you would think it means. Mistake refers to a wrong assumption, and identity refers to who a person is.

Examples of a Case of Mistaken Identity

synonyms for mistakenThis example shows two women discussing books and movies they like.

Bella: My favorite stories are stories of mistaken identities.

Hannah: Like what?

Bella: For example, The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain. A prince and a pauper both live in the same city, and one is, of course, very poor, whereas the other is, of course, very rich. However, they look exactly the same. The prince longs for the freedom the pauper has, and the pauper longs for the riches of the prince. They decide to switch places, and everyone falls for it.

Hannah: Oh, yeah. Now I know what you mean. I also like stories with a case of mistaken identity.

what does mistaken identity meanThe following example shows two college students trying to talk to someone they think is someone else.

Hanh: Hey, look! It’s Sarah!

Zhongyi: Hey Sarah!

Hanh: Hey! Hey, Sarah! Huh. I can’t believe she isn’t responding.

Zhongyi: Do you think she’s mad at us?

Hanh: Oh! I just remembered. Sarah has a twin sister. That must be Sarah’s twin we’ve been shouting at.

Zhongyi: How funny! We’ll have to tell her about this case of mistaken identity the next time we see her. The real her, I mean.

More Examples

The below excerpt is from an article about a murder victim. Police believe the murderer wanted to kill someone else and thought the victim was that person.

  • Police in Pueblo have made an arrest in the September 2015 slaying of 20-year-old Isaiah Vialpando , who investigators believe was shot in the head in a case of mistaken identity. –Denver Post

The second example is about a man who was arrested as an undocumented immigrant.

  • What began as an apparent case of mistaken identity soon mushroomed into a full-blown family crisis. Their dreams of opening a food truck in North Austin were dashed, and the family abandoned their home because it was now on ICE’s radar. On Monday, their girls, all U.S. citizens, were on their way to an immigrant detention facility in Pearsall, 150 miles from Austin, to see their father. –Washington Post


A case of mistaken identity describes when a person is misidentified.