February 7th, 2013

Unrelated lookalikes

Ever meet someone who looks almost exactly like someone else you know? It happens to me every now and then. Once, for example, I was at a wedding, and the groom looked startlingly like my own son, so much so that I almost felt I should jump up and sit in the front row as mother of the groom.

Sometimes, of course, it’s two celebrities, and then I get a chance to do one of those “separated at birth” features. Sometimes it’s someone telling me that I’m the one who looks very familiar. When that happens, most of the time I’m wary of seeing a photo of that person I supposedly resemble–what if they’re awful-looking?

In life, you seldom get a chance to compare the two unrelated supposed dopplegangers side by side. But that’s what Francois Brunelle has done with his project to document unrelated lookalikes. The photographs are here, and it turns out that most of the time, when you get the two people next to each other, you find out that although the resemblance is quite uncanny the differences are profound (although subtle) as well.

Some of these people look more like each there than others, but it’s all pretty amazing nonetheless. Here’s a typical one of Brunelle’s photos. The effect is enhanced by having the women dress alike and style their hair the same, but if you look at their faces and imagine them being different weights from each other, and dressed and coiffed differently, the resemblance would become somewhat weaker because their faces (especially the eyes) really are not so extraordinarily similar:


Here’s a duo that has a somewhat stronger real resemblance, with facial features that show a quite stunning similarity:


And yet if you look very very closely, the differences are strong enough that I doubt a person who already knew one would ever be fooled by the other.

Here’s one more of the same variety as the last one. These guys come about as close as you can come without actually being identical twins:


18 Responses to “Unrelated lookalikes”

  1. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    You know I see subtle differences in all of these pictures, though the resemblance is uncanny. As I previously mentioned in another thread on this blog, I’ve actually seen my ‘twin’ (very briefly in passing) and it was shocking for both of us.

    But in reading this post and with further reflection, is it really so surprising that it happens? There are after all just so many distinguishing characteristics in the human face. Skin color, hair, hairline, shape of the ears, eyes, eyebrows, cheekbones, shape of the nose, lips, jawline and chin. And for men, shape and texture of facial hair growth, if evident.

    Genetically there are only so many variations available and given the genetic free for all in human mating and offspring is it really so improbable that occasionally the same mixture occurs?

    On a related note, remember the movie “Dave” with Kevin Kline? Politics aside, that is perhaps one of the best explorations of doppelgangers ever made with only the “The Man in the Iron Mask” surpassing it. 🙂

  2. holmes Says:

    I’m going to skip the somewhat racist joke I was going to make and say that a friend of mine knew this Asian guy who insisted, unironically, that he could not tell white Americans apart.

  3. Geoffrey Britain Says:


    Familiarity breeds more than contempt. It takes time and exposure for the subtleties to become more noticeable. Initially, the archetypical differences such as slanted or ’round’ eyes, skin color, etc. override the ability to differentiate.

    We notice the obvious before the ‘hidden’. That is a function of how we process information and react to danger, when seconds may count. The open hand is an immediate indicator of the opposite of a closed fist.

    Bigotry of course is an impediment to ever noticing the differences in those we may prejudge. The Asian racist is so common as to be a cliche. That may have been determinative in his inability to tell white Americans apart. Especially likely if he’d spent any time around whites.

  4. neo-neocon Says:

    Geoffrey Britain: Also “The Prince and the Pauper” and “The Scapegoat.”

  5. Philippa Says:

    I am a mixture of Oriental and Occidental, and I, also, have a hard time telling white people apart – – depending on circumstances. What I’ve noticed is that telling people apart is much harder in areas where generations tend to remain and intermarry. The smaller gene pool decreases variety in appearance. Aging adds its own touch; where I live, the men above age fifty tend to be portly, balding and bespectacled. Combine the smaller gene pool with aging and identifying individuals gets tough. Then there are popular trends in clothing and hairstyles, and those enhance the whole problem – – at least for me. When I lived in another part of the country where a different race predominated, I noticed the same problems for the same reasons.

  6. vanderleun Says:

    Things to ask your semblable:

    That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
    Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
    Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
    Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
    Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again! 75
    You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”

  7. DNW Says:

    “Ever meet someone who looks almost exactly like someone else you know?”

    I’ve never met (speaking of GWB) Bush II but my cousin was locally famous for looking “just like him”, despite being only about 5’10”, and grey/blond rather than grey/brown.

    ” It happens to me every now and then. Once, for example, I was at a wedding, and the groom looked startlingly like my own son, so much so that I almost felt I should jump up and sit in the front row as mother of the groom. ”

    Had a woman come up to me in a store where she was working and ask, in a somewhat wounded tone, why I hadn’t been around to the house for a couple of weeks. Asked if I had broken off with her daughter. Had to show her my driver’s license to prove otherwise. More recently a young woman came up to me and started chatting and saying how much she had enjoyed my classes at WSU , and how proud she was that I had given her paper – apparently in anthropology – some recognition. We eventually got it good humoredly sorted out, both her and her friend exclaiming “Omigod” while grabbing each others shoulders and laughing all the while.

    It may have been partly based on what another commenter mentioned, a racial difference: they were black.

    How depressing though to think that I might look like some anthropologist twerp as a lefty university; even to a 20 something chick. Lord …

    Better pick up the barbells again …

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    DNW: did you see this post?

  9. LAG Says:

    I look just like Harrison Ford. After four beers. In an old mirror.

  10. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States and some Canadian provinces Says:

    Blessed with a twin by the Gene Genie… 😀

  11. RB Glennie Says:

    Hello – I wanted to add something about this “pictures of unrelated people” project that I’ve been seeing in several places over the Internet.

    I noticed, when reading the captions (on another site) that the vast majority of these `unrelated’ people are from the province of Quebec.

    It means, in fact, they ARE related, if distantly.

    Why? The vast majority of French-speaking Quebeckers – Quebecois – are descendants of a the original settlers to New France in the seventeenth century.

    There were only about fifty-thousand of these colonists – if I remember from history class – and I might be overstating the number.

    There are about six million Quebeckers who trace their ancestry to these settlers. Virtually all of them are thereby related to each other as distant cousins.

    You can see this if you looked at a phone directory of any sizable Quebec city – Montreal, Quebec, Gatineau, etc. – and you’d encounter far less diversity of names than would the case for a city in a different province or state, of comparable size. (I’d guess you’d have to find an old phone book to do this, as these are not published any longer, but nevertheless…)

    There might be, for example, several hundred “Trudeaus”, “Chretiens” or “Leducs” or “Laframbroise” or what have you.

    It is virtually unknown for any `pure laine’ Quebecker (that is, those who trace their ancestry back to New-France settlers) to have an uncommon surname (as, for example, mine is…).

  12. Lord Squirrel Says:

    Oddly enough, this actually happened to *me* once. Way back in high school, I moved to a new school. It turned out that there was someone at that school that looked uncannily like myself, especially when we were not standing next to each other.

    In fact, a couple of students came up to me shortly after I moved there and asked me point blank if I was so-and-so.

    My look alike and I were so very, very similar in appearance, fashion sense, and demeanor it was really quite disturbing sometimes. There were a few key differences, though. He was far more athletic, being one of the star cross-country runners for our school. I, on the other hand, tended to be more intellectual as I was taking the honors courses in school and he wasn’t.

  13. Lizzy Says:

    I have been blessed with “one of those faces” and I am often told I look just like their high school friend/cousin/former coworker, etc.
    The best instance of this was about 10 yrs ago, when a book store cashier casually asked me if I was often mistaken for someone else. I took a closer look at her and realized we looked alike. So I called over my sister, who is often mistaken for my twin, and the three of us had a good laugh. The reassuring part is that I remind people of someone they like.

  14. DNW Says:

    neo-neocon Says:
    February 7th, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    DNW: did you see this post?”

    Pretty remarkable. There’s a difference of course between looking very much like someone and being able to really pass for them. We’re usually comparing separate photographs, unlike the cases you just presented.

  15. DNW Says:

    “There are about six million Quebeckers who trace their ancestry to these settlers. Virtually all of them are thereby related to each other as distant cousins.”

    Speaking of French Canadians. A guy who works for me looks – to my mind at least – just like Inspector Clouseau in one of the later Sellers’ movies. And Unlike Peter Sellers, he is French on both sides (Canadian). Also quite a bit older than Sellers at the time of Sellers’ death.

    I may have mentioned before that I’ll occasionally ask him to do that “shrug thing” after he’s unconsciously just done it. I think he actually enjoys being French. In fact I am certain of it.

  16. Gringo Says:

    When I was in my 20s, I was twice mistaken in my hometown for another resident who was several years younger than I. What made it more confusing is that I am X Gringo, and my double’s name is X Smith. When someone with whom I have a passing acquaintance says, “How ya doing X,” and shortly into the conversation I find out he thought I was X Smith- it is rather amusing. Coincidentally, X Smith has a sibling who had 15 minutes of fame as a pop star.

    When I went out into the world to seek my fortune, I was mistaken a number of times for someone else. I stopped getting surprised about it.

    I decided that I had a 50th percentile face. As my ancestry is a composite of the Northern Europeans [ & Indians] who made up the population of the US circa 1850, there is some accuracy in that label.

  17. sheldan Says:

    I really enjoyed the movie “Dave.”. Thanks for reminding me of it.

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