Forget about John & Jane Doe!
You might spend your days reading articles on Medium quietly without anyone asking you for help. But, this day might have arrived. I need your help removing "John & Jane Doe" from our daily vocabulary. Why? Because it is about time! I will highlight the why below and the obsolescence of this expression. Stay tuned and grab a good cup of coffee if it is still a bit early.
Following some recent thoughts on what could be the best gender-neutral pronoun option to be used in a contact form ("Mx."), I extended the brainstorming on my side by asking myself what could be the best replacement for some of the dummy data we use daily in the IT industry when we refer to personas or try to anonymize data, "John & Jane Doe". And to be frank,… I was not a massive fan of "Nomen nescio".
Where do John and Jane Doe come from?
"John Doe" and "Richard Roe" (as well as "John Roe") were frequently used in English legal documents to fulfill technical requirements related to jurisdiction. This practice may have started as early as the reign of King Edward III of England (1327–1377). The names were used to fulfill legal requirements in the absence of the true identity of the individuals involved (not so far from what we know today).
Where do we use them now?
John and Jane Doe are "placeholder names" used in various contexts when a person's real name is unknown or kept secret. For example, law enforcement in the United States often uses these names to refer to unidentified bodies (not only in the movies chaps). They are also used to refer to "hypothetical average persons" in other contexts (marketing personas, etc.). Variations of these names include John Roe, Richard Roe, Jane Roe, Baby Doe, and Janie Doe/Johnny Doe (for children). Finally, these names are used in place of a real name when a person's true identity is not known or is being concealed.
Why might it be less inclusive?
This is the part when we need to wake up collectively! The world is not what it used to be in the 14th century. Did I have to write this down?
What we think, say, do, share, and teach… need to be the truthful representation of the world today,… and not necessarily what it used to be. Of course, heritage and traditions are things we need to respect. But inclusive pragmatism and mindfulness are also things we need to embrace. Over the last ten years, many countries have implemented new approaches for trans and nonbinary travelers and do now allow a third gender option ("X") in passports (Australia, USA, Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, India, Malta, Nepal, New Zealand, and Pakistan, etc.).
Among Generation Z (born after 1997), a higher percentage of younger people described their gender as other than male or female. A global average of 4% of respondents identified as transgender, non-binary, non-conforming, gender-fluid, or "in another way" other than male or female.
Additionally, and needless to say, technology has taken a central place in our society in 2023, where 86,41% of the population on earth now has a smartphone. Given all of these facts, is it beneficial for us to continue living in a digital binary denial? The answer is no.
What can I do?
Whether you work in law enforcement, in the IT industry, or at the "Daily planet" with "Clark Kent", you have the unique and privileged opportunity to be a change ally within the system. But, unfortunately, it might even be more of a responsibility than an opportunity. So try to follow those guidance’s:
- First, add an "Mx." option in forms when you can.
- Second, use "Nomen Nescio" or "Kai" instead of "John & Jane Doe".
- Use “they/them” or “she/he/they” to refer to Kai.
If you find yourself (or myself) using non-inclusive language in a meeting, feel free to return to this article. Together, we can work towards creating a more inclusive world, one Doe at a time! Sorry, one “Nomen Nescio” at the time!
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