This Wikipedia article has an extensive list of “Informal names for unknown or unspecified persons in various countries/regions” [As of 2017, replaced by this article, “List of terms related to an average person”]; as I said in the MetaFilter thread where I found it, it’s annoying that all the names are lumped together with only occasional attempts to distinguish legal terms (John Doe) from colloquial ones (Joe Blow), but it’s still a lot of fun. Where else are you going to learn that the term in the Faroe Islands is Miðalhampamaður?


  1. michael farris says

    Missing from Poland:
    Pan jakiś tam, Pani jakaś tam (mr whats-his-name, mrs whats-her-name).
    Pan / Pani = Mr / Mrs, Ms
    jakiś tam = (very roughly) some-kind-of, some…
    Does anybody else find it cool that Indonesia uses a Portuguese derived term ‘Fulan’ transparently from Iberian ‘Fulano’?

  2. rootlesscosmo says

    Under “placeholder name” (linked from that Wikipedia article) the Yiddish versions are given as “Chaim Yankel” (which I’ve heard) and “Moishe Zugmir” (which I haven’t); “Moishe Pipik,” however, which my mother and grandmother (born in the Pale of Settlement) used for this purpose, is omitted.

  3. Leo Caesius says

    Are you quite sure that the Indonesian term didn’t come from Arabic Fulān? There’s no shortage of Arabic vocabulary in Bahasa Indonesia.

  4. sassypants says

    Does anyone have a clue if fulan(o) made it into Spanish through the Moors or later, during the 18th and 19th century Arab migration to South America?

  5. michael farris says

    hmmm There’s a fair amount of Portuguese words in Indonesian too so I as thinking it might be from there. But there’s also no reason it couldn’t be Arabic.
    Random barely related factoid: For field methods class I’m doing Sundanese (spoken in West Java) and one of the most common first person pronouns is from Arabic – abdi ‘servant’ echoing a SEAsian pattern also found in Vietnamese, Khmer and Thai (and probably elsewhere).

  6. michael farris says

    Let me also say how much I love the Maltese version of Joe Doe: Joe Borg

  7. sassypants, the RAE says it’s from pre-1492 Andalusian Arabic. The RAE is actually good, if terse, about etymologies in general and has an agreeable user interface to it.

  8. It also lacks the Finnish term “Pihtiputaan mummo” – “the grandma from Pihtipudas” – which is basically a term for the layman unknowledgeable of specialized terms and vocabulary. Pihtipudas is a small municipality somewhere between Jyväskylä and Oulu, not yet in Northern Finland but no more in Central Finland either.

  9. My name is John Johnson, I come from Wisconsin.
    Oddly, the German-American version of the John Johnson song has “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmitt”, which was my nemesis at age six. Perhaps without the “Jingleheimer” it would have been a functional “John Johnson” equivalent.
    “Ole and Lena” are the couple in Norwegian-American jokes. They’re portrayed as stupid, though, and aren’t neutral somebodies.
    “Laobaixing” (= “old hundred names” [= “some peasant”]) may have been elimated by the new regime, or maybe it also isn’t neutral enough since it specifically means a rustic.
    In my hospital accident victims were always “Unid M” and “Unid F” plus a number, and I would occasionaly joke about the Unid family (though not right in the presence of the victim).

  10. The Koreans don’t use “Park”, “Lee”, “Kim” or “Choi”, even those these are about half of the names. Chinese does use Zhao, Zhang, Li, and Wang.
    From my reading of fiction, it seems that some actual Chinese might even be called a near equivalent of “John Doe”. I always assumed, anyway, that if a character is called “Number Four Wang” the implication is that he hasn’t done much in life, since descriptive and honorific designations are routinely invented.
    The most insulting designation I’ve seen — if my reading of these names is correct — was something like “Nine-pound Wang”, because that was what he weighed when he was born.

  11. The Scottish “Jock Tamson’s bairns” is like the Chinese “Children of the Yellow Emperor”.

  12. I hope those of you who are saying X is missing are going on to add it; that’s what Wikipedia is for.

  13. marie-lucie says

    In French the neutral name for referring to a hypothetical person is (Monsieur) Untel, (Madame, Mademoiselle) Unetelle which means more or less “One Such”. (I am not sure if those names would be used in official settings).
    Nobody has mentioned how to address an unknown person, or one (even a close acquaintance) whose name you can’t be bothered to remember or mention: masc. Machin, fem. Machine (similarly in Spanish Fulano, Fulana).
    These words are used for a person you would address by their name if you knew it, such as (if you are a student) a new student in your class, not for a complete stranger such as someone who had just dropped something in front of you: in that case you would call Monsieur! or Madame!. You might refer to some neighbours you don’t know very well as (Monsieur/Madame) Machin if their name does not immediately spring to mind, but it would be extremely rude to use such names in their presence (eg Monsieur Machin is at the door).
    Machin (as reference or address) can be expanded into Machinchouette, Truc-Machinchouette, or even Truc-Machinchouette-Chose (machin, truc and chose being similar in meaning to Eng thing, thingy or thingamajig). There is a novel by Alphonse Daudet (19th C) called Le petit Chose, a poor, victimized boy whose schoolmaster calls him that (“The Thing boy”).
    There may be more up-to-date versions of these names now.
    At a time when I had several friends from Latin America I noticed that the women often called each other Marita even though they knew each other’s names very well. I was puzzled about this but it is probably because most Spanish women’s names are shortened versions of Maria de …, eg Carmen or Pilar are really Maria del Carmen, Maria del Pilar (referring to particular versions of representations of the Virgin Mary).

  14. I very much like the Italian Tom Dick & Harry; Tizio Caio e Sempronio. Nice classic touch.
    ” Oh Tizio Caio & Sempronio where three fine men
    and I never shall have such loving again…”
    Wonder who Little Willy Wee turns out to be in this version of Under Milkwood.

  15. Terry Collmann says

    Joe Bloggs is a puzzle – it’s an unbelievably rare surname in the UK, just 13 bearers on the national electoral roll, though there is the still extremely uncommon surname Blogg, with fewer than 500 on the electoral roll.
    The OED (under Joe, n 2) gives the first mention of Joe Bloggs as 1969, though the idea is much older than that: “Mrs Bloggs” appears in The Times (of London) as a generic everywoman on p12 of the issue of August 2 1860, “Mrs and Mrs Bloggs” are characters in a play reviewed in the paper on May 30 1862.
    However, despite scattered mentions of “Mr Bloggs” or “Bloggs” representing generic persons over the next century, Joe Bloggs doesn’t appear in the paper until February 1 1966.
    Still, none of this answers the question: why, when the French choose “Martin”, the country’s commonest surname, to use as one of the names for everyman, did the UK pick a name born by 0.00002167 per cent of the population?

  16. That is very odd indeed.

  17. Uncle Tom Cobbleigh. And, in Cambridge, Snooks.

  18. “Still, none of this answers the question: why, when the French choose “Martin”, the country’s commonest surname, to use as one of the names for everyman, did the UK pick a name born by 0.00002167 per cent of the population?”
    I was fascinated to discover that my surname is the most common in France (of the myriads of Martins here in NZ, I’m related to 3 of them), but I wonder if “Joe Bloggs”, which is also used here in NZ, wasn’t picked BECAUSE of its rarity rather than IN SPITE of it. Is it not possible that the idea was to use as a label something that had almost zero chance of actually being the unknown’s name? Or to avoid the distress given to those who might know some who did bear the name if it was “John Smith”, for example. I see the possibility for a similar rationale behind the staggeringly unimaginative नामालूम (unknown) in Hindi. Since no-one’s likely to call their kid “unknown”, it’s a safe label for someone who is. Likewise with Joe Bloggs, the name’s very rarity marks it as a joke name, althouh marginally more serious than Incontinentia.

  19. “Doe” and “Roe” are not common English / American names.

  20. Thanks, I finally figured out from that page what the abbreviation NN stands for — I frequently encounter it when doing genealogical research, and knew what it means, but not what the initials stand for. (It’s “nomen nescio,” “I don’t know the name,” and is used as a placeholder on genealogical charts, generally when you’re missing the name of a spouse, or you’re missing a first name, for example “NN Dodson.”)

  21. rootlesscosmo says

    Some police departments use “FNU” and “LNU” (first/last name unknown) to refer to people in crime reports. Pronounced faNOO laNOO, this then becomes a generic term for the uncaught perp.

  22. F. Unid, meets Fanu Lanu.

  23. “Vinnie Boombotz”?! I don’t think so.

  24. sassypants and Aidan-
    My -Breve Diccionario Etimológico de la lengua española- (Guido Gómez de Silva, Fondo de Cultura Económica: México, 1998 – a decent book) states the following under “fulano:”
    ‘persona cuyo nombre no se expresa’ (substantivo), del anticuado fulán (substantivo y adjectivo) ‘persona o cosa cuyo nombre no se expresa’, del árabe fulān ‘cosa cuyo nombre no se expresa’. Compárese tocayo.
    No date given, unfortunately, but I thought the entry might prove helpful.

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