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Why do people trying to find out the identity of dead people use John/Jane Doe until they find the actual name?

Does anyone know why?

2 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
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    It's done at all to allow the unknown person the dignity of a name, and not just "Corpse Number 5".

    Why "John Doe" in particular is more obscure. It has been used as an

    anonymous name for a long time in other places -- any number of legal cases have been brought under the names of "Doe" or "Roe" (think "Roe v. Wade"). Not sure what the whole history of the name is, but it is well-established.

    Hah! Here you go, good old Wikipedia:

    "The name was used at least as far back as 1659, in England—"To prosecute the suit, to witt John Doe And Richard Roe"[1]—and perhaps as early as the reign of England's King Edward III." (Edward III was in the 1300s!)

    PS: Another long-established pseudonym is used in theater and movies "George Spelvin". This is sometimes used by actors in a show they know is going to be awful and don't want to be associated with it later in their careers!

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  • 1 decade ago

    "We found the answer to your question at The Word Detective, a treasure trove of etymological explanations written by syndicated columnist Evan Morris. Morris, in turn, says he discovered the origin of "John Doe" in a book called What's in a Name?, by Paul Dickson.

    The phrase is older than you might think. "John Doe" dates from the reign of England's King Edward III (1312-1377). A famous legal document from this period labels a hypothetical landowner "John Doe," who leases land to a "Richard Roe," who then claims the land as his own and kicks out poor John.

    The names don't have any particular relevance, other than the fact that a doe is a female deer, while a roe is a smaller species of deer. But the land dispute in question became a famous legal debate, and the names survived their circumstances.

    The online legal dictionary FindLaw defines John Doe as a "party to legal proceedings (as a suspect) whose true name is unknown or withheld." The female equivalent is Jane Doe or Mary Major. A second male suspect is dubbed Richard Roe, and subsequent ones are referred to as John Stiles and Richard Miles."

    Source(s): It's actually from one of those "Dear/Ask Jenny" type columns.
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