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Why Are Anonymous People Called “John Doe” in Legal Matters?

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Zack in Tallahassee, Florida, wonders: Why do we use the name John Doe to refer to someone anonymous or unknown? The names John Doe and Richard Roe go back to at least the 1300s, when they were used in land-related legal matters as pseudonyms for plaintiff and defendant. But those weren’t the only names. Sometimes Doe was spelled Doo, and Roe was spelled Roo. The name Peter Poe was also used, as well as John Den and Richard Fen. Sometimes they were Latinized as Johannes Hunt and Johannes Den, Johannem Doo and Ricardem Doo, as well as John Noakes or John O. Noakes, John Hunt, and Tom Stiles. Jane Doe and Jane Roe are now used as substitute feminine names. In ancient Rome, the names Titius and Seius were similarly used as generic names for Roman citizens. This is part of a complete episode.

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