Thursday, July 15, 2021

The "recognized fiction" of "John Doe" in Charles Dickens and in history

In Charles Dickens's "The Battle of Life" (1846), the narrator reflects on how two lawyers are unjustly criticized by their wives: "Perhaps the false Craggs and the wicked Snitchey were a recognised fiction with the two wives, as Doe and Roe, incessantly running up and down bailiwicks, were with the two husbands". In legal contexts, the name "John Doe" is indeed "a recognized fiction", a placeholder for the names of people who are unknown or prefer to remain anonymous. It predates Dickens; not only does the use of "John Doe" go back to the Middle Ages, but the name Numerius Negidius was used in a similar way in the Roman Empire. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 July 2021)
1846 illustration by Richard Doyle.

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