Where does the name "John Doe" come from?

I'm interested to know where the term 'John Doe' comes from. I know that it's used a lot in the USA for naming unidentifed bodies, but wondered why?

7 Answers

  • Mye
    Lv 4
    1 decade ago
    Favourite answer

    Here's what I got from the net:

    In the United States, the name John Doe is used for a defendant or victim in a legal example or for a person whose identity is unknown or is intended to be anonymous. Male corpses whose identity is unknown are also known by the name John Doe. A female who is not known is 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. An anonymous plaintiff is known as Richard Roe, or Jane Roe in the case of a woman (as in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which declared laws restricting abortion in the first trimester unconstitutional). 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 encyclopedia states that John O'Noakes or John Noakes is a fictitious name for a litigious person, used by lawyers in actions of ejectment.

    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."

    'Hope this helps. =)

  • ?
    Lv 6
    1 decade ago

    I think it refers to the death register listings. Where a body is unidentified, it is given the name John if male, and Jane if female.

    The Doe or do surname is an abbreviation of ditto, which was used in death registry recordings where the surname is unknown. It is just assumed that the dead person has the same surname as the previous person on the death registry.

    There is a film called "Meet John Doe" which starred Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck which might help.

    John and Jane were just the most common christian names when this practise was started.

  • 1 decade ago

    This is what I found:

    "John Doe" was the name used by the British to stand in for unknown parties in legal actions. Doe was generally the plaintiff, with his sidekick "Richard Roe" subbing for the defendant. (Get it, roe and doe? Kind of a deer thing.) Use of the name goes back at least as far as the fourteenth century; there's even some speculation that the names are as old as the Magna Carta (1215, if it's slipped your mind), which required two witnesses for every legal proceeding. According to this story, when the wily prosecutors of the day found themselves short of witnesses, Doe and Roe were automatically pressed into service. Then, as now, no one much seemed to mind."

  • 6 years ago

    History of john doe

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  • I seem to recall the custom originated in England several hundred years ago - not sure if the name has any special significance or whether it's just an easy one to use.

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

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    Our friends horrible little boy, he is like Dennis from the film...

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    It came from some dead guy.

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