"John Doe" (for men) and "Jane Doe" (for women) are multiple-use names that are used when the true name of a person is unknown or is being intentionally concealed. In the context of law enforcement in the United States, such names are often used to refer to a corpse whose identity is unknown or unconfirmed. Secondly, such names are also often used to refer to a hypothetical "everyman" in other contexts, in a manner similar to "John Q. Public" or "Joe Public". There are many variants to the above names, including "John Roe", "Richard Roe", "Jane Roe" and "Baby Doe", "Janie Doe" or "Johnny Doe" (for children).
Use in criminal investigation
In other English-speaking countries, unique placeholder names, numbers or codenames have become more often used in the context of police investigations. This has included the United Kingdom, where usage of "John Doe" originated during the Middle Ages. However, the legal term John Doe injunction or John Doe order has survived in English law and other legal systems influenced by it. Other names, such as "Joe Bloggs" or "John Smith", have sometimes been informally used as placeholders for an everyman in the UK, Australia and New Zealand; however such names are seldom used in legal or police circles in the same sense as John Doe.
Well-known legal cases named after placeholders include:
- the landmark 1973 US Supreme Court decisions regarding abortion: Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton (1973) and;
- the civil cases Doe dem. John Hurrell Luscombe v Yates, Hawker, and Mudge (1822) 5 B. & Ald. 544 (England), McKeogh v. John Doe (Ireland; 2012) and Uber Technologies, Inc. v. Doe I (California, 2015).
Use of "John Doe" in the sense of an everyman, includes:
- the 1941 film Meet John Doe.
Use of "John Doe" in the sense of an unidentified man (anonymous), includes:
- the 1995 film Seven.
Use of "Jane Doe" in the sense of an unidentified corpse, includes:
- the 2016 film The Autopsy of Jane Doe.
The names "John Doe" (or "John Do") and "Richard Roe" (along with "John Roe") were regularly invoked in English legal instruments to satisfy technical requirements governing standing and jurisdiction, beginning perhaps as early as the reign of England's King Edward III (1327–1377). Though the rationale behind the choices of Doe and Roe is unknown, there are many suggested folk etymologies. Other fictitious names for a person involved in litigation in medieval English law were "John Noakes" (or "Nokes") and "John-a-Stiles" (or "John Stiles"). The Oxford English Dictionary states that John Doe is "the name given to the fictitious lessee of the plaintiff, in the (now obsolete in the UK) mixed action of ejectment, the fictitious defendant being called Richard Roe".
This usage is mocked in the 1834 English song "John Doe and Richard Roe":
Two giants live in Britain's land,
John Doe and Richard Roe,
Who always travel hand in hand,
John Doe and Richard Roe.
Their fee-faw-fum's an ancient plan
To smell the purse of an Englishman,
And, 'ecod, they'll suck it all they can,
John Doe and Richard Roe ...
This particular use became obsolete in the UK in 1852:
As is well known, the device of involving real people as notional lessees and ejectors was used to enable freeholders to sue the real ejectors. These were then replaced by the fictional characters John Doe and Richard Roe. Eventually the medieval remedies were (mostly) abolished by the Real Property Limitation Act of 1833; the fictional characters of John Doe and Richard Roe by the Common Law Procedure Act 1852; and the forms of action themselves by the Judicature Acts 1873–75."
Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs v Meier and others (2009).
In the UK, usage of "John Doe" survives mainly in the form of John Doe injunction or John Doe order (see above).
8.02 If an unknown person has possession of the confidential personal information and is threatening to disclose it, a 'John Doe' injunction may be sought against that person. The first time this form of injunction was used since 1852 in the United Kingdom was in 2005 when lawyers acting for JK Rowling and her publishers obtained an interim order against an unidentified person who had offered to sell chapters of a stolen copy of an unpublished Harry Potter novel to the media.
Unlike the United States, the name "John Doe" does not actually appear in the formal name of the case, for example: X & Y v Persons Unknown  HRLR 4.
In 2009, the New York Times reported the difficulties and unwanted attention experienced by a man actually named John Doe, who had often been suspected of using a pseudonym. He had been questioned repeatedly by airport security staff. Another man named John Doe was often suspected of being an incognito celebrity.
In cases where a large number of unidentified individuals are mentioned, numbers may be appended, such as "Doe #2" or "Doe II". Operation Delego (2009), which targeted an international child sexual abuse ring, cited 21 numbered "John Does", as well as other people known by the surnames "Doe", "Roe", and "Poe".
"John Stiles", "Richard Miles" have been used for the third and fourth participants in an action. "Mary Major" has been used in some federal cases in the US. "James Doe" and "Judy Doe" are among other common variants.
Less often, other surnames ending in -oe have been used when more than two unknown or unidentified persons are named in U.S. court proceedings, e.g., Poe v. Snyder, 834 F.Supp.2d 721 (W. D. Mich. 2011), whose full style is
- Jane Poe, John Doe, Richard Roe, Robert Roe, Mark Moe, Larry Loe, Degage Ministries, and Mel Trotter Ministries, Plaintiffs, v. Rick Snyder, Governor of the State of Michigan, Bill Schuette, Attorney General of the State of Michigan, Kriste Etue, Director of the Michigan State Police, William Forsyth, Kent County Prosecutor, in their official capacities, Defendants and;
- Friedman v. Ferguson, No. 87-3758, unpublished disposition, 850 F.2d 689 (4th Cir., 29 June 1988), whose full style is
- Wilbur H. Friedman, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Thomas B. FERGUSON, Director, Department of Animal Control, a State Actor, In His Official and Individual Capacities; Brett Boe; Carla Coe; Donna Doe; Frank Foe; Grace Goe; Harry Hoe; State Actors, Advisors To Defendant Ferguson, In Their Official and Individual Capacities (identities currently unknown); Marta Moe; Norma Noe; Paula Poe; Ralph Roe; Sammy Soe; Tommy Toe; Private Individuals Who Conspired With the Foregoing State Actors (identities currently unknown); Roger W. Galvin, Chairman, Animal Matters Hearing Board; Vince Voe; William Woe; Xerxes Xoe; Members of the Animal Matters Hearing Board, State Actors, In Their Official and Individual Capacities (identities currently unknown), Defendants-Appellees.
In Massachusetts, "Mary Moe" is used to refer to pregnant women under the age of 18 petitioning the Superior Court for a judicial bypass exception to the parental consent requirement for abortion. "Mary Moe" is also used to refer to such cases generally, i.e. "Mary Moe cases". Sometimes "Mary Doe" may be used for the individuals.
Parallels in other countries include:
- "Ashok Kumar" has been used in court cases in India;
- the abbreviation N.N., which is commonly used in European legal systems, as an abbreviation for Latin terms such as:
- nomen nescio ("I do not know the name") in Belgium, Germany, Italy and Serbia and;
- nomen nominandum ("the name must be mentioned") in the Netherlands.
- Ploni, Almoni, or Ploni Almoni are used in Israel, the names originating in the Hebrew Bible. Israel Israeli is a newer variant, used in Israel today.
In 1997, New York City police discovered a decapitated body and were not able to find the killer. The body was named Peaches (murder victim) and also Jane Doe 3.
Famous court cases
- The landmark 1973 abortion cases Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton get their names from anonymous plaintiffs later revealed to be, respectively, Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano.
- A Toronto 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 Balcony 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: A Book about Rape, in 2003.
- A Doe subpoena is an investigatory tool 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.
- Serial killer Richard Laurence Marquette confessed to the murder of an unknown woman identified only as Jane Doe.
- File sharing websites were blocked in India on 21 July 2011 on some ISPs including Bharti Airtel, BSNL, and Reliance Communications, because Reliance BIG Pictures got a "John Doe" order from Delhi High Court allowing them to serve cease and desist notices on people illegally redistributing the film Singham. This allegedly brought down copyright infringement of the film by 30%.
- On 29 August 2011, Reliance Entertainment procured a 'John Doe' order from the Delhi High Court to prevent the illegal broadcast or streaming of its upcoming film Bodyguard. This order gives protection to the intellectual property owner, Reliance Entertainment, from copyright violation by prospective anonymous offenders.
The use and selection of pseudonyms is not standardized in U.S. courts and the practice itself is opposed to on legal grounds by some and was rare prior to 1969.
Currently there are no court rules about pseudonym use. The rules of civil procedure ...bare silent on the matter ... Rule of Civil Procedure 10(a) reads, '... In the complaint, the title of the action shall include the names of all the parties ...' The rule contains no guidance as to what parties should do to keep their names confidential.
Prior to ... 1969, only one Supreme Court case, three court of appeals' decisions, and one district court decision in the previous quarter-century featured an anonymous individual as the sole or lead plaintiff. Between 1969 and 22 January 1973, the date when the Supreme Court decided Roe and Doe, there were twenty-one district court and two court of appeals decisions featuring anonymous plaintiffs.
- On 18 January 2015, a woman was sexually assaulted on the campus of Stanford University in California. The victim impact statement that the woman, referred to as Emily Doe in court documents, read at her assailant's sentencing hearing the following year went viral, and she was named a "woman of the year" by Glamour magazine. She publicly revealed her real name, Chanel Miller, in 2019.
- On 10 March 2015, HTG Capital Partners LLC filed a federal lawsuit against unnamed "spoofers", whom the suit referred to as John Doe(s), in the hopes of getting a judge to force the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to reveal the names of the firms. HTG said it had found evidence of thousands of such manipulations over 2013 and 2014.
- In November 2016, a woman only identified as "Jane Doe" abandoned plans to go public about allegedly being raped by Donald Trump.
- In October 2017, an unidentified minor Jane Doe detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sued to enjoin the government from obstructing her access to abortion in Garza v. Hargan.
- In March 2021, Justice Molloy of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice named a mass murderer, who was seeking notoriety, as John Doe when reading a highly publicized court decision (R. v. Minassian, 2021 ONSC 1258).
- "Twitched Indictment" (PDF). Justice.gov. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- "The People of the State of California v. John Doe" (PDF). Judicial Council of California. Retrieved 8 February 2019.
- Ireland, Courts Service of. "McKeogh -v- John Doe 1 & ors : Judgments & Determinations : Courts Service of Ireland". www.courts.ie. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
- "Obtaining a John Doe order". PressGazette. Archived from the original on 11 September 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- "Deed Poll Office (D·P·O)". Deed Poll Office. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
- "Uber Technologies, Inc. v. Doe I". Justia Dockets & Filings.
- Campbell, Jean (15 February 2021). "John Doe Exhumed in 40-Year Old Case". Medium. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
- Onomastics, Names: A. Journal of (1 December 1972). "Note". Names. 20 (4): 297–300. doi:10.1179/nam.19220.127.116.117. ISSN 1756-2279.
- What's in a Name. Merriam-Webster. 1996. ISBN 978-0-87779-613-8.[page needed]
- "Why Are Unidentified People Called John or Jane Doe?". mentalfloss.com. 15 February 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
- "World Wide Words – John DoeZ". Worldwidewords.org. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- The Universal Songster: Or, Museum of Mirth: Forming the Most Complete, Extensive, and Valuable Collection of Ancient and Modern Songs in the English Language, with a Copious and Classified Index, Volume 1. London: Jones and Company. 1827. p. 378. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
- "Supreme Court Decided Cases (pdf)" (PDF). Supremecourt.gov.uk. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 April 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- "The Law of Professional-Client Confidentiality: Regulating the Disclosure of Confidential Personal Information, Update". Uea.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 7 July 2003.
- "Uncorrected Evidence 75". Publications.parliament.uk. 18 February 2009. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- Goldblatt, Jeff (8 August 2002). "Slain Mystery Girl Brings Community Together". FOX News Network. Archived from the original on 8 April 2008. Retrieved 30 June 2006.
- Alison Leigh Cowan (29 July 2009). "Meet John Doe. No, really!". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 August 2009.
- Quinion M (15 March 2003). "John Doe". World Wide Words. Retrieved 26 November 2008.
- "Poe v. Snyder". www.leagle.com.
- "Friedman v. Ferguson". Law.justia.com.
- Note that the plaintiff-appellant Friedman represented himself, so his use of fictitious names may not reflect legal custom.
- "Superior Court Standing Order 5-81: Uniform Procedures Regarding Petitions for Abortion Authorization under G.L. c. 112, § 12". Massachusetts Superior Court. 1 October 1988. Retrieved 18 December 2017.
- R Balaji (29 March 2012). "'Kolaveri' against piracy". The Hindu Business Line.
- "Who is JANE DOE?". Walnet.org. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- See, for example, Dendrite International, Inc. v. Doe, "775 A.2d 756". (N.J. App. Div. 2001); Krinsky v. Doe 6, "159 Cal. App. 4th 1154 (pdf)" (PDF). 14 January 2019. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 March 2009. (2008).
- Nikhil Pahwa (21 July 2011). "Update: Files Sharing Sites Blocked in India Because Reliance BIG Pictures Got A Court Order". MediaNama. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- "'John Doe Order' for BODYGUARD to curb its piracy". Bollywoodtrade.com. 29 August 2011.
- Donald P. Balla. "John Doe Is Alive and Well: Designing Pseudonym Use in American Courts" (PDF). Arkansas Law Review. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 July 2012. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
- Milani, Adam A. "Doe v. roe: An argument for defendant anonymity when a pseudonymous plaintiff alleges a stigmatizing intentional tort". Lexisnexis.com. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
- "Glamour Women of the Year: Stanford Sexual Assault Case Survivor Emily Doe Speaks Out". glamour.com. Glamour Magazine. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- de León, Concepción (4 September 2019). "You Know Emily Doe's Story. Now Learn Her Name". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
- Bradely Hope (12 March 2015). "Was 'John Doe' Manipulating Treasury Futures? New Lawsuit Says Yes".
- Carroll, Rory (3 November 2016). "Woman accusing Trump of raping her at 13 cancels her plan to go public". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
- PDF Operation Delego indictment featuring twenty John Does. Accessed 8 January 2014.