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John Doe & Richard Roe

Posted by Eckard on June 15, 2001

In Reply to: John Doe & Richard Roe posted by ESC on June 05, 2001

: : Hi, all,
: : this guy seems to be everywhere. May anyone enlighten me as to how this name came into the meaning of "Man on the street", "certain somebody" or the likes?
: : I've tried The Archive but neither "John" nor "Doe" turned up any result.
: : Regards
: : Eckard

: JOHN DOE -- "Since John was such a common English name, it came to be used as the name of the average, typical fellow by the 14th century. By then 'John Doe' and 'Richard Roe' were already used as substitute names on legal documents in England to protect the identities of the two witnesses needed for every legal action (such as the Magna Charta in 1215). Later these two names were used in standardized court proceedings in which 'John Doe' stood for the plaintiff protesting eviction by a hypothetical 'Richard Roe,' the landlord defendant. Thus 'John Doe' became the common man. 'John' and 'Richard' were common first names in England, but where did the hypothetical last names 'Doe' and 'Roe' come from? Some say from 'doe' (venison) and 'roe' (fish), since these were the foods that typical Englishman liked best - but it could be that 'Doe' and 'Roe' were what landowners called men who poached deer and fish, and who would be just the kind of men willing to witness legal documents against the landowners and their landed rights." From "Listening to America" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982).

Hi, Jim, thank you very much for the competent answer. It helped a lot.
If it may be of any interest to you: In Geman we have different equivalents to the notorious John Doe depending on the context. More general would be a "Herr Jedermann" (or, his female counterpart, "Frau Jedermann"), where "Jedermann" means "everybody". In the lean times right after WWII a certain "Otto Normalverbraucher" came into being - literally the "average consumer". For the demonstration of how to fill in a form, commonly the names "Michael Mustermann" or "Julia Mustermann" are used. Of course one also speaks of the "man on the street", the "Mann auf der Straße" or of "kleiner Mann" ("little man") to refer to the poor, lowly person.