Person vs. Persona

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks for “some analysis between person and persona.”

Both words derive from an ancient Latin word that originally referred to the theatrical mask worn by an actor. In time, the word came to refer to the character played by the actor wearing the mask. The characters in a play are still referred to as “dramatis personae,” (“persons of a drama”).

From the context of the theater, persona spread to the law courts to describe an individual who possessed certain rights under the law.

Historically, both persona and person have functioned with the same or similar meanings that have included:

any human being
an important person
a person of the Trinity
grammatical person
juridical person
character in a play

In 19th century usage, the word person was sometimes used to refer to people of low social class. Servants announcing callers in novels of the time distinguish between gentlemen, ladies, and persons.

Even today, speakers often use person as a distancing expression: “that person who calls herself my friend.” Generally, person is used to refer to a hypothetical individual or to one who is not known personally. Here are some typical uses:

Cigarette smoking Brazilian man may be world’s oldest person at 126 years old

How does multiple sclerosis change a person’s life?

[To prepare for emergency] identify an out-of-area contact person that your family can call and get in touch with one another.

In general usage, persona is used to refer to the personality that an individual projects in public.

In a literary context, a persona is an assumed role adopted by a writer or by a performer.

In the psychology of Carl Jung, the persona is the outer or assumed aspect of character, the set of attitudes adopted by an individual to fit a perceived social role; the opposite is the true inner personality, what Jung called the anima.

Here are examples of modern uses of the word persona:

My therapist has changed her persona.

Ariana Grande’s fans had their worlds rocked this week when Ariana revealed that she was changing her persona for her next album.

Tom Hanks traces his charming, guy-next-door persona all the way back to high school. 

Brand personas are your personality attributes-and if you’re an entrepreneur…and have created a business, then they’re the qualities that can define your corporate brand as well.

T.S. Eliot creates a persona to mask his emotional immaturity [in] “Hysteria.”

[Ezra Pound] sometimes appears to share the sentiments of the poem’s persona, making for an interesting ambiguity. 

The persona, for Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, was the social face the individual presented to the world—“a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual.”

Note: In the expression “persona non grata”, persona does mean person: a “persona non grata” is an unwelcome or unwanted person:

Israel to declare Robert Serry persona non grata

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