There are countless titles of the form "the many faces of ...". A quick Google search finds nearly 500 million hits, starting with "The Many Faces of the Public Domain", "The Many Faces of the Freshman Seminar", "The Many Faces of Go" and "The Many Faces of Influence Infographic". What is the origin of the phrase "the many faces of ...", in particular when used in a title?

The closest I came to finding an answer was a search using Google Ngram Viewer. This seems to show that use of "the many faces of ..." really took off around 1955. Thus, probably the origin of the phrase is neither the Bible nor Shakespeare.

  • This may interest you: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janus
    – Kris
    Dec 16, 2013 at 15:00
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    @Malady is it a crime to have more than one tag? The problem with deleting etymology is that visitors and users will often ask aboutor search for the "etymology" for a phrase or idiom
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 25, 2021 at 22:35
  • @Mari-LouA - Well, this mod guy does wanna get rid of the Etymology overload, which is totally possible even if it were just me, but it would go faster if others were doing it too. ... If I start to get rejections instead of like 10+ strings of approvals, then that's a sign to stop, but that's not happening... english.meta.stackexchange.com/a/14883/115108
    – Malady
    Jan 25, 2021 at 22:44
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    @Malady seeing 20 or 30 posts being bumped to the front page is not doing anyone any favours. Try to limit the activity to 10 posts a day. I'm sure others will carry the banner, and lend a hand. And if no one does, that's kind of telling too, isn't it?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 25, 2021 at 22:48
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    @Cascabel - Well I stopped making the swaps already, but keeping anyone else from continuing until decided is a good idea IMO.
    – Malady
    Jan 26, 2021 at 22:25

1 Answer 1


The earliest example I found in Google Books is from 1820, and refers to the faces of a church, in Rome, in the nineteenth century, Volume 2 by Charlotte Anne Waldie Eaton (written in 1817 or 1818):

A still more hideous statue of Henry IV. of France, graces one of the many faces of this church, and conveys no favourable impression of the advancement of the arts at that period.

Or, without the definite article, in 1620's Works, both Moral and Natural by Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Philosophus), Thomas Lodge:

So then, these infinite drops of water, carried by the raine that falleth, are as many mirrors, and haue as many faces of the Sunne.

The oldest title in the British Library catalogue is The Many Faces of Love / translated from the French by P. Mairet. by Hubert Benoit, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1955 (and another).

  • I do not think your first two suggestions are relevant to the question. The question relates to "The many faces of XXX" but not literally as your examples
    – mplungjan
    Dec 16, 2013 at 9:51
  • @mplungjan: I've added the first title I found which is a more figurative use.
    – Hugo
    Dec 16, 2013 at 9:54
  • @Hugo, Yes, I found "the many faces of love", too, but I don't think that this is the origin of the phrase: here is a book from 1957 which cites "the many faces of aerospace" (date unknown to me), and it seems hard to believe that the phrase went from "love" to "aerospace" within such a short period of time. Also, I didn't find any signs of "the many faces of love" having been hugely popular.
    – jochen
    Dec 16, 2013 at 21:03
  • @jochen: I don't think The Many Faces of Love is the first ever such use, but it's more likely this sort of phrase was becoming common in the 1950s. This books was simply the first I found using it in the title (as requested in the question) and I bet there are other uses beforehand, especially in newspapers.
    – Hugo
    Dec 17, 2013 at 6:32
  • Following the logic that the only choice is automatically also the best choice, I have accepted this answer.
    – jochen
    Jan 10, 2014 at 13:40

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