a person who is head of a group, company, etc., in title but actually has no real authority or responsibility: Most modern kings and queens are figureheads.
Nautical. a carved full-length figure or bust built into the bow of a sailing ship.

Origin of figurehead

First recorded in 1755–65; figure + head Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for figurehead

cipher, puppet, nonentity, front, nothing, token, mouthpiece

Examples from the Web for figurehead

Contemporary Examples of figurehead

  • How will we know if Kim, when he eventually surfaces, is ruler or figurehead?

    The Daily Beast logo
    Kim Jong Un: Erased?

    Gordon G. Chang

    October 10, 2014

  • He may be a figurehead, but the president who is elected today is worth keeping an eye on for signs of where Pakistan is going.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Mamnoon Hussain: The New Man in Pakistan

    Husain Haqqani

    July 30, 2013

  • Indeed, Medvedev was never really more than a figurehead president, despite the theoretically huge powers attached to the job.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Return of President Putin

    Owen Matthews

    September 24, 2011

  • At the surface, the man who has emerged as the rescue attempt's figurehead is Laurence Golborne, the Chilean Minister of Mining.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Behind Chile's Miracle Mine Rescue

    Constantino Diaz-Duran

    October 9, 2010

  • He was the figurehead for D.C.'s ambitious school reform program—until he was found shot to death.

    The Daily Beast logo
    The School Murder That Shocked D.C.

    Benjamin Sarlin

    May 1, 2010

Historical Examples of figurehead

  • A carver in the neighborhood engaged to make the figurehead.

    Tanglewood Tales

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Got a figurehead for the porch too, and I'll have an anchor for the gate before I'm done.

    The Manxman

    Hall Caine

  • This gives an air of unreality, a figurehead and type character.

  • Is she merely a figurehead to take orders from the visiting physician?

    Dear Enemy

    Jean Webster

  • Some of them had white bands encircling the throat of this figurehead.

British Dictionary definitions for figurehead



a person nominally having a prominent position, but no real authority
a carved bust or full-length figure at the upper end of the stems of some sailing vessels
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for figurehead

1765, from figure (n.) + head (n.). Originally the ornament on the bow of a ship; sense of "leader without real authority" is first attested 1883.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper