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The name "John Doe" is used as a placeholder name for a male party in a legal action, case or discussion whose true identity is unknown or must be withheld for legal reasons. The name is also used to refer to a male corpse or hospital patient whose identity is unknown. This practice is widely used in the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker, but is rare in other English-speaking countries (including the United Kingdommarker itself, from where it probably originates – see "Origin" below). In the United States, the term John Doe is sometimes used to refer to a generic male. On various forms, the first name listed is often John Doe, along with a fictional address or other fictional information, to provide an example of how to fill out the form.

The female equivalent is Jane Doe, whilst a child or baby whose identity is unknown may be referred to as Baby Doe (or, in one particular case only, as Precious Doe). Additional persons may be called James Doe, Judy Doe, etc. However, to avoid possible confusion, if two anonymous or unknown parties are cited in a specific case or action, the surnames Doe and Roe may be used simultaneously – for example, "John Doe v. Jane Roe". Other variations are John Stiles and Richard Miles, now rarely used, and Mary Major, which has been used in some American federal cases.

The Doe names are often, though not always, used for anonymous or unknown defendants (but see "origin" below). 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.marker Supreme Courtmarker abortion decision Roe v. Wade).

Even outside specific legal and medical contexts, the name John Doe is often used in general discourse and popular culture to refer to an unknown or "typical" person. A famous example is the Frank Capra film Meet John Doe. In this context its use is very similar to that of John Q. Public or Joe Public.

Bearing the actual name John Doe can cause difficulty, such as being stopped by airport security or suspected of being an incognito celebrity.


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

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". (Note that this is in marked contrast to current 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.)

Since its original use in 1659, John Doe has been used to describe unknown men and has been used frequently in popular culture. Some of these uses include comics, albums, movies, and was even the name of a 2002 American television series starring Dominic Purcell.

Court cases

  • The landmark 1973 United States Supreme Court abortion case Roe v. Wade gets half of its name from Jane Roe, an anonymous plaintiff later revealed to be Norma McCorvey.
  • A Torontomarker woman, publicly known only as Jane Doe, waged an 11-year court battle against the Toronto Police Service after being raped in 1986, alleging that the police had used her as bait to catch the rapist. She won the case in 1998, and was named Chatelaine's Woman of the Year that year. She published a book about her experience, The Story of Jane Doe, in 2003.
  • A St. Catharines, Ontariomarker minor known as "Jane Doe" was drugged, raped and sodomized by the notorious Canadian killers Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardomarker, who videotaped the assault. Her identity remains protected by law.
  • A Doe subpoena is a tool of discovery that a plaintiff may use to seek the identity of an unknown defendant. Doe subpoenas are often served on online service providers and ISPs to obtain the identity of the author of an anonymous post.

See also


  2. See, e.g., Dendrite International, Inc. v. Doe, 775 A.2d 756 (N.J. App. Div. 2001); Krinsky v. Doe 6, 159 Cal. App. 4th 1154 (pdf) (2008).

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