an anonymous or unknown person
John Q. Public
The name ‘John Doe’ for males, ‘Jane Doe’ for females, or the non-genderspecific ‘Doe’ are used as placeholder names for a party whose true identity is unknown or must be withheld in a legal action, case, or discussion. The names are also used to refer to a corpse or hospital patient whose identity is unknown. This practice is widely used in the United States and Canada, and rarely used in other English-speaking countries including the United Kingdom, from where the use of ‘John Doe’ in legal context originates. Instead the name ‘Joe Bloggs’ is used in the UK, as well as in Australia and New Zealand.
A child or baby whose identity is unknown may be referred to as ‘Baby Doe’. (A notorious murder case in Kansas City, Missouri referred to the baby victim as ‘Precious Doe’. Other unidentified female murder victims were ‘Cali Doe’ and ‘Princess 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’ If several anonymous parties are referenced they may simply be labelled ‘John Doe #1’, ‘John Doe #2’, etc. or labelled with other variants of Doe / Roe / Poe / etc.
The Doe names are often, though not always, used for anonymous or unknown defendants. 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. Supreme Court abortion decision ‘Roe v. Wade’).
Other early alternatives such as John-a-Noakes, John Noakes, John Nokes, John-a-Stiles, John Stiles, Richard Miles and Mary Major are now rarely used.
John Doe is sometimes used to refer to a ‘typical’ male in other contexts, in a similar manner as ‘John Q. Public’, ‘Joe Public’ or ‘John Smith’. For example, the first name listed on a form is often John Doe, along with a fictional address or other fictional information to provide an example of how to fill out the form. Bearing the actual name John Doe can cause difficulty, such as being stopped by airport security or suspected of being an incognito celebrity.
The use of this placeholder name dates back to fourteenth century England, perhaps as early as the reign of King Edward III (1312–1377), ‘John Doe’ sometimes spelled ‘Doo’, along with ‘Richard Roe’ or ‘Roo’ were regularly invoked in legal instruments to satisfy technical requirements governing standing and jurisdiction. John Doe was the name given to the fictitious lessee of the plaintiff, in the mixed action of ejectment, the fictitious defendant being called Richard Roe. This particular use became obsolete in the UK in 1852.
The term 'John Doe Injunction' (or John Doe Order) is used in the UK to describe an injunction sought against someone whose identity is not known at the time it is issued: ‘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 J.K. 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 in 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 
In Indian courts, ‘John Doe’ is sometimes called ‘Ashok Kumar’.
See also Joe Public, Nomen nescio, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and J.K. Rowling.
‘John Doe’, Wikipedia, retrieved 13 October 2013
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