1) A fictitious name used for parties at the time lawsuit is initiated i.e., substitute litigants. In some cases, John Doe pseudonym is used to protect plaintiff’s anonymity but more commonly John Doe preserves the plaintiff’s claim by standing in for an unknown defendant (i.e., fictitious defendant) while the plaintiff tries to determine the defendant’s actual name. Although some state statutes and rules of procedure provide for the designation of parties ‘fictitious names’, neither the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure nor the Judiciary Code give federal courts guidance on the proper procedure for the use of Doe parties. Nevertheless, since the mid-1960s, federal litigants, with increasing frequency, have named Doe parties in civil complaints forcing courts to try to reconcile Doe Practice with the inconsistent rules of federal civil procedure. This led to different courts setting different standards for this practice. In the majority of federal courts, the use of Doe defendants is looked upon unfavorably, however, courts have recognized that defendant may be designated by a fictitious name in unusual circumstances.
2) The temporary fictitious name given to an unidentified hospitalized or dead man.
John Doe is a fictitious name usually used for males, Jane Doe is usually used for females. There are some additional variations used ex. John Roe, Richard Roe, Jane Roe, Baby Doe, Janie Doe and Johnny Doe (for children).
[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]