Fictitious Names

Landowners in the 14th Century had a problem. They needed to establish ownership of properties they owned. If they brought legal actions against squatters and tenants who had defaulted on their leases, the disputes often became enmeshed in detail that would complicate the ownership decision they hoped to resolve.

To get an ownership resolution, the landowners would bring action against a fictitious person. This removed the complications from any specific personal situation but established the ownership question they needed.

Over time, the strategy of using fictitious names grew in legal practices. Often fictitious names were used to hide the identity of a person. This was especially the case when the person could be endangered when the legal actions they undertook were brought against powerful people or were unpopular.

The use of fictitious names took on a more somber role when they were used for the identification of people who had died but could not be identified. Often these were homeless people, those who died in mass casualty events, or genocides.

Countries around the world have commonly used fictitious names. In the U.S., the most commonly used fictitious names are John and Jane Doe. The name Roe is also commonly used (e.g., Roe vs Wade). There is no definitive agreement on why these names were first used. At the time, they were common names in England. They also have connections to deer. Whatever their origin, they have remained with us for over 7 centuries.

The Doe Network was created in the U.S. in 1999 to connect missing persons with persons who had died but were unidentified. The Doe Network has now gone worldwide.

Like many beginnings, John Doe has changed from its original use to a far different use today. In a time when people pay to have their name splashed over everything, it’s comforting to think we can still give names to people who might not otherwise have one.

* * *

“In our world today, how can we ever verify a person said what they are quoted as saying?” – John Doe

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.