[ ahy-den-ti-tee, ih-den- ]
/ aɪˈdɛn tɪ ti, ɪˈdɛn- /
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noun, plural i·den·ti·ties.
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Origin of identity

First recorded in 1560–70; from Late Latin identitās, equivalent to Latin ident(idem) “repeatedly, again and again,” earlier unattested idem et idem (idem neuter of īdem “the same” + et “and”) + -itās noun suffix; see -ity

historical usage of identity

Identity comes into English via Middle French identité, ydemtité, ydemptité “the quality of being the same, sameness,” from Late Latin identitās (inflectional stem identitāt- ) “the quality of being the same, the condition or fact that an entity is itself and not another thing.” Identitās is formed partly from the Latin adverb identidem “again and again, repeatedly,” a contraction of idem et idem (“the same and the same”), and partly from Late Latin essentitās, a translation of Greek taủtótēs “identity” (that is, tò auto “the same” and the noun suffix -tēs “-ness”).
“One’s personal characteristics, or the sense of who one is, as perceived by the person or by others,” is a meaning of identity that dates from the early 18th century. Since then, issues of personal identity, especially sexual and gender identity, have provoked discussions about one’s overlapping roles in society. The phrase identity politics “political activity based on or catering to the cultural, ethnic, gender, racial, religious, or social interests that characterize a group identity” was coined in 1973.


non·i·den·ti·ty, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is identity?

Identity is the unique set of characteristics that can be used to identify a person as themself and no one else.

The word can be used in different ways in different contexts.

On a personal level, identity often refers to a person’s sense of self, meaning how they view themself as compared to other people.

Practically speaking, a person’s identity is who they really are. A detective may try to determine the identity of a suspect—meaning who that person is (including things like their real name). A case of mistaken identity involves someone being mistaken for someone they are not. Superheroes often have secret identities.

The concept of identity is complex and can involve all kinds of characteristics, qualities, experiences, interests, and other aspects of a person that make them distinct from anyone else.

In the term identity politics, identity refers to the cultural, ethnic, gender, racial, religious, social, or other facets that a person considers as inherent to who they are, especially in relation to their belonging in a particular group or community of similar people.

Identity can involve physical traits, such as eye color or height, but it doesn’t necessarily involve such things. For example, the crime of identity theft usually involves stealing someone’s personal information, not their physical appearance (except in the movie Face/Off).

Example: The journalist refused to reveal the identity of her source. 

Example: Being a Black bisexual woman is a huge and important part of my identity, but it’s not my whole identity: I’m a coder; I’m a Knicks fan; I love dogs—my identity can’t be easily defined with a few words.

Where does identity come from?

The first records of the word identity come from around 1560. It ultimately comes from the Latin idem, meaning “the same.” Generally speaking, the traits that make up a person’s identity are what identifies them as remaining the same under different circumstances. For example, a person doesn’t become a different person just because they dye their hair or change their name or lose an arm. (In another sense, such a change could be considered to change a person’s identity by adding another unique aspect to it.)

Conception and discussion of identity has evolved over time, especially in the context of sexual identity, gender identity, and racial identity. In these contexts, identities relating to these characteristics were traditionally defined with rigid categories. In contrast, many modern conceptions of these aspects of identity place them along a spectrum or don’t limit them to any predefined categories.

To learn more about the complex aspects of identity—both the word and the concept—take a look at why identity was chosen as the Dictionary.com Word of the Year in 2015.

Did you know … ?

What are some synonyms for identity?

What are some words that share a root or word element with identity

What are some words that often get used in discussing identity?

How is identity used in real life?

Identity is a complex concept, and the word can be used in various ways in different contexts.

Try using identity!

A person’s identity can involve which of the following things?

A. their gender
B. their interests
C. their job
D. all of the above

How to use identity in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for identity

/ (aɪˈdɛntɪtɪ) /

noun plural -ties

Word Origin for identity

C16: from Late Latin identitās, from Latin idem the same
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