fig·​ure·​head ˈfi-g(y)ər-ˌhed How to pronounce figurehead (audio)
plural figureheads
: the carved figure on a ship's bow
A wooden figurehead of a sea monster with ears like a lion and a crocodile's jaw was carefully lifted from the sea … by divers bringing up treasures from the wreck of a 15th-century Danish warship.Ilze Filks
: a leader in name only : a head or chief (as of a country or organization) with little or no authoritative power
The President is Iceland's Head of State, a ceremonial figurehead much like kings and queens in other Nordic countries and the UK. While they appoint ministers to Iceland's cabinet and their signature is required for parliament-approved legislation to take effect, their political power is limited.Gréta Sigríður Einarsdóttir
He will not be a mere figurehead, as he intends to play a leading role in upcoming talks for the company's media rights …Paul Schott
: a person who has commanding authority or influence : leader
He has matured into a fine player first and foremost, of course, but has also developed into the undoubted leader and figurehead of the Celtic squad.Graeme McGarry

Examples of figurehead in a Sentence

The king is merely a figurehead; the government is really run by elected officials.
Recent Examples on the Web This has also contributed to the loss of another critical figurehead, Mamata Banerjee—the head of the All India Trinamool Congress—who in January declared that her party would run independently. Astha Rajvanshi, TIME, 2 Apr. 2024 Moreover, the social coordination of meme consumption—be it stocks or products—is not organized by a figurehead or choreographed via a memo. Dr. Marcus Collins, Forbes, 29 Mar. 2024 His death leaves Russia’s opposition, hampered by years of harassment and prosecution, without a clear figurehead. Elizabeth Robinson, NBC News, 16 Feb. 2024 Others are local figureheads: business owners, city council members, the mayor. Jenna Thompson, Kansas City Star, 26 Mar. 2024 The Amazon founder, his wife-to-be and the goddess figurehead spent much of last summer sailing around the Mediterranean, cruising from Spain to Croatia and hosting such famous guests as Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom and Usher. Martha Ross, The Mercury News, 21 Mar. 2024 This shirt harkens back to the various figureheads of the black church experience, from the community through communion on First Sunday to the Sunday’s best that was expected of church members attending the service. Cordell Jones, Essence, 20 Mar. 2024 By almost every metric, the Glazers failed in their role as the Old Trafford club’s figurehead family over 18 years. Graham Ruthven, Forbes, 15 Feb. 2024 Last year, two longtime figureheads of Ireland’s music scene died: Sinéad O’Connor in July at age 56 and the Pogues singer Shane MacGowan in December at age 65. Nina Corcoran, Pitchfork, 8 Jan. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'figurehead.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1759, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of figurehead was in 1759

Dictionary Entries Near figurehead

Cite this Entry

“Figurehead.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


fig·​ure·​head ˈfig-(y)ər-hed How to pronounce figurehead (audio)
: a figure, statue, or bust on the bow of a ship
: a person who has the title but not the powers of the head of something
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!