I posted a question ( https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/92215/john-doe-jane-doe-why-are-they-used-many-times ) and they told me to post that question here. So I'm doing it.

I received answer that John doe is used as anyonymous person (victim in most cases) as placeholder for name.

Is there reason why it's "John Doe"?


John Doe is very generic, rolls off the tongue, and in colloquy is not easily mistaken for a known person, like "John Smith" might be (there was at least one very famous John Smith, and though that name is commonly equated with anonymity the usage is less formal). The John Doe name itself has a very long history; English records of anonymous or unknown persons being called John Doe date back to the 1300s.

The name "Roe" is also used, especially in court cases (most famously Roe v. Wade, where the petitioner, now known to be Norma McCorvey, requested anonymity as "Jane Roe" in the proceedings), and other English-speaking countries have developed other generic names (Joe Bloggs, Joe Smiles, etc).

More recently, besides John/Jane Doe, certain names have come to be associated with qualifying information regarding the anonymous person, where that might be of value; "Juan" and "Juanita" are sometimes used in medical or coroner's reports to indicate the person is of Hispanic descent, while "Precious Doe" or "Baby Doe" are used to indicate the person is an infant. This is more common in large urban areas where a hospital or coroner may be dealing with multiple notable unknown persons.


The specific of John Doe is probably that it rhymes - and John is a very common English name.

It's a very old (medieval) English usage but is now only really used in AE, John Smith is the typical generic name in BE, but it isn't used as a legal term in Britain.

There is no recorded reason why Doe, except there was, and is, a range of others like Roe. So it may have been a set of names that all rhymed and that law students could remember. Or it could be that they were formed from a mnemonic, like the english pronouciation of a prayer or scripture in Latin/Greek.

Interestingly "Doe" has pretty much always meant female animal in English, so I suppose real John Doe's might have been rare. While a common name would cause confusion as Keiths' answer says.

There is a similar usage in cryptography, the two people communicating with each other are called Alice and Bob (ie A and B), as you get more complicated networks there are more and more alphabetically named example people.

  • 7
    John Doe doesn't rhyme; at least not in American parlance. It's simply easy to say.
    – KeithS
    Jul 12 '11 at 15:00
  • @keithS, rhyme was probably the wrong word, but it does flow nicely. In a way that "A. N. Other" doesn't
    – mgb
    Jul 12 '11 at 15:01
  • 1
    I am trying to figure out where the rhyming is...
    – tenfour
    Jul 12 '11 at 15:02
  • So reason is that "John Doe" is very common and very used name?
    – genesis
    Jul 12 '11 at 15:03
  • 2
    @Martin Beckett: blends, bursts or cantilevers would flow nicely as well, but @KeithS's point is that the wrong word here makes your entire answer invalid.
    – Robusto
    Jul 12 '11 at 15:04

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