What is the origin of "John Doe", the name usually given to a stranger?

"John" sounds quite logical -a very common name- but how about the "Doe"? how was it chosen? by whom? when?

I would really appreciate the feed back!!!

4 Answers

  • Crash
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    John Doe had its beginnings in legal use. From the 15th century to the 19th, John Doe was, in England, a legal fiction standing specifically for the plaintiff in a dispute over title to real property. Richard Roe was the name given to the defendant. In order to avoid dealing with the rigid restrictions legally imposed on such matters in English common law, someone who wanted to regain possession of land from which he had unjustly been evicted would bring a different kind of action--an "ejectment" suit--in the name of John Doe, his fictional tenant.

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  • lisa h
    Lv 4
    1 decade ago


    Dear Word Detective: Can you please tell me the origin of the expression "John or Jane Doe" used for an unidentified person? I've searched the net, asked anyone I could think of and bought etymology books hoping to get an answer. I guess everyone knows how it feels to be obsessed by something. I just can't give up until find the answer! -- Hanne Svendsen, Oslo, Norway.

    Well, I guess it beats being obsessed by baseball statistics or collecting bits of twine. Actually, on a more serious note, your kind of obsession is the source of much of what we know about word origins, especially the origins of slang terms and popular phrases.

    In any case, you've picked a good question to become obsessed about, because the use of "John Doe" and "Jane Doe" as stand-ins for the names of unidentified persons is so widespread in everyday life that most of us never think to wonder why that should be.

    Fortunately, I happen to have on my shelf a fine book called "What's In A Name?" by the learned and prolific Paul Dickson (Merriam-Webster, 1996) which deals with just this sort of question. It turns out that the "John Doe" custom dates back to the reign of England's King Edward III, during the legal debate over something called the Acts of Ejectment. This debate involved a hypothetical landowner, referred to as "John Doe," who leased land to another man, the equally fictitious "Richard Roe," who then took the land as his own and "ejected," or evicted, poor "John Doe."

    These names -- John Doe and Richard Roe -- had no particular significance, aside from "Doe" (a female deer) and "Roe" (a small species of deer found in Europe) being commonly known nouns at the time. But the debate became a hallmark of legal theory, and the name "John Doe" in particular gained wide currency in both the legal world and general usage as a generic stand-in for any unnamed person. According to Mr. Dickson, "John Doe" and "Richard Roe" are, to this day, mandated in legal procedure as the first and second names given to unknown defendants in a case (followed, if necessary, by "John Stiles" and "Richard Miles"). The name "Jane Doe," a logical female equivalent, is used in many state jurisdictions, but if the case is federal, the unnamed defendant is dubbed "Mary Major."

    Source(s): word detecive
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  • 1 decade ago

    It was originally John DOA. A tag was tied onto the toe of a dead person brought to the Morgue/Mortuary with his/her name on it. If the name was unknown and the body unidentified, the tag read John DOA or if a female Jane DOA. - Dead On Arrival....

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  • 3 years ago

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