Where did the term "John Doe" come from?

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  • 1 decade ago
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    Umm here

    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. "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."

    In Friedman v. Ferguson, 850 F.2d 689 (4th Cir. 1988), the plaintiff pro se somewhat famously used the following creative variations on John Doe: Brett Boe, Carla Coe, Donna Doe, Frank Foe, Grace Goe, Harry Hoe, Marta Moe, Norma Noe, Paula Poe, Ralph Roe, Sammy Soe, Tommy Toe, Vince Voe, William Woe, Xerxes Xoe.

    John Doe is typically used in the United States as a placeholder name for a male party in a legal action or legal discussion whose true identity is unknown. Male corpses or emergency room patients whose identity is unknown are also known by the name John Doe. A female who is not known is often referred to as Jane Doe. A child or baby whose identity is unknown can be referred to as Baby Doe, or in one particular case, as Precious Doe. Additional people in the same family may be called James Doe, Judy Doe, etc. Commonly used in the United States of America, though rarely used now in developed countries.

    The Doe names are often, though not always, used for anonymous or unknown defendants. Another set of names often used for anonymous parties, particularly plaintiffs, are Richard Roe for males and Jane Roe for females (as in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court abortion decision Roe v. Wade). The Oxford English Dictionary states that John Doe is "the name given to the fictitious lessee of the plaintiff, in the (now obsolete) mixed action of ejectment, the fictitious defendant being called Richard Roe". Likewise, the Nuttall Encyclopaedia states that John O'Noakes or John Noakes is a fictitious name for a litigious person, used by lawyers in actions of ejectment.

    Even outside the specific legal context, the name John Doe is often used in general discourse and popular culture to refer to an unknown person.

    Source(s): Wikipedia.com
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  • 4 years ago

    Here's one good theory: DEAR JOHN LETTER [Q] From Pien Metz: “As a non-native speaker of the English language, I still wonder where the phrase Dear John letter comes from. I have always taken it to be a letter in which the recipient is told a love affair is over, but I might be amiss.” [A] No, you have it right. It’s conventionally a letter from a woman to a boyfriend or husband saying that all is over between them, usually because the woman has found somebody else. A much more recent phrase that reflects today’s sexual equality is Dear Jane letter. The expression seems from the evidence to have been invented by Americans during the Second World War. At this time, thousands of US servicemen were stationed overseas for long periods; many of them found that absence didn’t make the heart grow fonder. The unhappy news was necessarily communicated in a letter. A writer in the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, NY, summed it up in August 1945: “Dear John,” the letter began. “I have found someone else whom I think the world of. I think the only way out is for us to get a divorce,” it said. They usually began like that, those letters that told of infidelity on the part of the wives of servicemen... The men called them “Dear Johns”. Why Dear John? That isn’t entirely clear but a couple of pointers give a plausible basis for it. John was a common generic name for a man at this period (think also of terms like John Doe for an unknown party to a legal action). Such letters were necessarily written in a formal way, since any note of affection would obviously have been out of place. So a serviceman getting a letter from his wife or girlfriend that started so stiffly knew at once that a certain kind of bad news had arrived. Several subscribers have mentioned a song on the theme of receiving a “Dear John” letter, suggesting it was the origin of the phrase. However, online sources say it appeared only in 1953, several years after the phrase had become established. A more plausible source was suggested by **** Kovar — in a pre-World War Two radio programme called Dear John, starring Irene Rich, which was presented as a letter by a gossipy female character to her never-identified romantic interest and which opened with these words. Proving a link is likely to be impossible, but it’s conceivable this played a part in the genesis of the term.

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  • 1 decade ago

    But back to origins. The choice of John is easy enough to understand. It was the second most popular name in England even earlier than the 15th century (William took first place). John is used even today as a generic reference (John Barleycorn, John Q. Public, etc.) The need for a common, well-known fictional name in matters of law is reflected in early Roman legal proceedings, in which the fictitious persons included Gaius, Titius, and Seius.

    Doe is harder to track down. It does not appear in lists of early inheritable surnames in England. Nor does it seem to come from the usual "bynames" that were in use in the Middle Ages--those names that you did not inherit from your father but acquired yourself. Bynames were derived from either a parent's name (Peterson), your location (Underhill), your occupation (Smith), or some nickname (Wiseman). Feverish research has yielded nothing; no "Doe." So I'm stumped, too! I can only speculate that Doe and Roe were convenient nonsense names, chosen because they were short and easy to remember. And they rhymed. On the other hand, there are a few putatively real Doe's and Roe's listed in modern phone books. Of course, some of them are named "John" or "Richard" or "Jane." I wonder....

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  • 1 decade ago

    Here's an explanation offered on "Maven's Word of the Day" :

    "As you imply by mentioning mysteries and police procedurals, 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.

    By bringing the suit in the name of a fictitious person, who could not deny anything that was said, the landowner was often able to oust the usurper and recover his land legally. Supposedly, the fictional defendant was a traveler who, while passing by, just happened to toss the mythical tenant off the property before going on his way. The chances for victory by the rightful owner were enhanced when the accused Richard Roe did not, for some reason, appear at the proceedings in order to defend himself. And the actual person who wrongfully had possession of the owner's land simply had no legal standing in the suit.

    These particular suits were no longer necessary after the 1852 passage of the Common Law Procedure Act, which eased the previous restrictions. But by then the legal fictions John Doe and Richard Roe had become conventionalized, and they are now used frequently in both English and American law. Current use is quite a bit looser, however. John Doe, Jane Doe, Richard Roe, Jane Roe, or--if need be--Peter Poe, are, according to Random House Webster's Pocket Legal Dictionary, used in legal cases and documents, "either to conceal a person's identity, or because the person's real name is not known, or because it is not yet known whether the person exists."

    We can say, then, that the John Doe of early legal use was always fictitious; the John Doe of current legal use is sometimes a fiction but more often a real person; and the John Doe of extended metaphorical use, 'an anonymous, average man', is a generic--once again not real.

    But back to origins. The choice of John is easy enough to understand. It was the second most popular name in England even earlier than the 15th century (William took first place). John is used even today as a generic reference (John Barleycorn, John Q. Public, etc.) The need for a common, well-known fictional name in matters of law is reflected in early Roman legal proceedings, in which the fictitious persons included Gaius, Titius, and Seius.

    Doe is harder to track down. It does not appear in lists of early inheritable surnames in England. Nor does it seem to come from the usual "bynames" that were in use in the Middle Ages--those names that you did not inherit from your father but acquired yourself. Bynames were derived from either a parent's name (Peterson), your location (Underhill), your occupation (Smith), or some nickname (Wiseman). Feverish research has yielded nothing; no "Doe." So I'm stumped, too! I can only speculate that Doe and Roe were convenient nonsense names, chosen because they were short and easy to remember. And they rhymed. On the other hand, there are a few putatively real Doe's and Roe's listed in modern phone books. Of course, some of them are named "John" or "Richard" or "Jane." I wonder.... "

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  • 1 decade ago

    I am uncertain whether anyone knows the origin of this name or the famous others.... Richard Roe, Jane Doe, Baby Doe, etc. The name dates back to King Edward lll and is thought to have origially been used in a land dispute.

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  • 1 decade ago

    This was a fun question!

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Doe

    History

    "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. "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."

    In Friedman v. Ferguson, 850 F.2d 689 (4th Cir. 1988), the plaintiff pro se somewhat famously used the following creative variations on John Doe: Brett Boe, Carla Coe, Donna Doe, Frank Foe, Grace Goe, Harry Hoe, Marta Moe, Norma Noe, Paula Poe, Ralph Roe, Sammy Soe, Tommy Toe, Vince Voe, William Woe, Xerxes Xoe."

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Maybe some man named John was beating dough for his ill wife. That's how nice he probably could have been

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  • That is an intersting question. I am going to keep my eye on this ? to see what ppl come up with. So far I have seen some wacky things! lol

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    his parents Ed & Edna Doe from West Fargo, ND. That's what i heard anyways

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    That's my real name. A guy stole my wallet, so I killed him, but I forgot to take the wallet back. They put a tag on his toe, found the wallet with my drivers license on him, and the rest is history!

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