German Language Stack Exchange is a bilingual question and answer site for speakers of all levels who want to share and increase their knowledge of the German language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

(At least) in America, not yet identified dead persons are named "John (or Jane) Doe". If you read of a John/Jane Doe, then you know that this is a still unknown dead man/woman.

Does any similar term exist in the german language? suggests "Otto Normalverbraucher", but I don't think that this matches.

share|improve this question
Indeed, "Otto Normalverbraucher" doesn't match at all. That's used in a completely different context. – Hendrik Vogt Jun 16 '11 at 6:42
It's not only for dead people. Unidentified people that are the target of litigation are also called Does. For that I don't think there is an equivalent. – musiKk Jun 16 '11 at 7:01
We also have "N.N.", "Lieschen Müller", "Erika Mustermann" and "Max Mustermann", but they aren't quite the same either. – starblue Jun 16 '11 at 7:08
up vote 38 down vote accepted

John Doe can mean different things:

  • As you say, an unidentified corpse. In German you'd go the long way and say something like "eine (noch) nicht identifizierte Leiche" ("a (yet) unidentified corpse"). The Wikipedia article also mentions "N.N." for "Nomen nominandum" which curiously redirects to "Nomen nescio" in the English WP. But I don't know Latin...
  • A fictional person that represents the general public (Joe Sixpack is also common, I like that one). Here you'd use Otto Normalverbraucher.
  • A placeholder name for sample documents. Here Max Mustermann (or Erika Mustermann) is almost exclusively used.
  • An unknown target in a litigation (e.g. you only have an IP address without a name). In criminal law this is known as "Anzeige gegen unbekannt" ("charges against person or persons unknown").
share|improve this answer
+1 for the Mustermann family. – Takkat Jun 16 '11 at 7:14
For ligitations it's usually "Anzeige gegen Unbekannt" (= "charges against unknown persons" or "charges against an unknown person") – Joachim Sauer Jun 16 '11 at 7:32
By the way, in German you'd rather say "eine nicht identifizierte Leiche", rather than unidentifiziert, especially in official contexts. Unidentifiziert is not wrong though, just much less common. Great answer anyway. – OregonGhost Jun 16 '11 at 8:20
"Nomen nominandum" which curiously redirects to "Nomen nescio" "Nomen nominandum" heißt: Der Name muss (erst noch) genannt werden. "Nomen nescio" heißt: Ich kenne den Namen nicht. Die erste Übersetzung passt also besser in Fällen, wo der Name absichtlich geheimgehalten wird. – Phira Jun 16 '11 at 8:46
It's also "Monika Mustermann" instead of Erika. ;) – ladybug Jun 16 '11 at 8:59

Whenever an unknown person needs a name for administrative purposes the gender and estimated age is used in a hospital emergency room setting:

weiblich, [unbekannt], 30 Jahre

männlich, [unbekannt], 70 Jahre

where [unbekannt] may be omitted.

Another term would be:

Unbekannte [männl./weibl.] Person, ca. 40 Jahre

where männlich or weiblich is abbreviated in most cases.

share|improve this answer

I don't think there actually is an equivalent. I've never heard such a name in German news. If there is an unidentified person found dead the usual way to reference him/her would be "that unidentified man/woman we found the other day".

share|improve this answer

On credit cards, forms etc. (that feature a "sample name") Hans Mustermann is often used in CH.

share|improve this answer
Yes, but that's because it's a sample, not because it's unknown. – Hendrik Vogt Jun 16 '11 at 11:58
I consider this a legitimate example of a "random" name. – Tom Au Jun 17 '11 at 13:09

rarely used, for a person, where the name doesn't matter:

Meier, Müller, Schulz

3 very common surnames.

"Das erledigt dann Meier, Müller, Schulz."

share|improve this answer

The name I've heard for a random person is "Meyer." Similar in this regard to "John Doe."

Reportedly, Air Marshall Herrmann Goering said, "If the Allies bomb Berlin, my name is Meyer.

There is a German-American (or German) expression "Vereinsmeyer" which translates into "party goer," or more figuratively, "Joe Sixpack" (an average Joe).

share|improve this answer
@fzwo why is the quote tasteless? It's a prominent example of the usage of "Meier" in the context of the question. That it was made by one of the most evil persons in German history doesn't really change any of that. – Pekka 웃 Jun 16 '11 at 19:43
"Vereinsmeier" is a slightly outdated, but still valid expression, although in my experience, not at all used in the context of "party goer" - it is rather used to describe a person engaged in traditional "organized" social activity ("Sportverein", "Schützenverein") – Pekka 웃 Jun 16 '11 at 19:46
@fzwo calling Göring by his full title is nothing like calling Hitler "Führer". Examples from DER SPIEGEL, who are happily using the title: 1978 2003 Whether the answer is factually correct is another question, but I can really see no tastelessness here – Pekka 웃 Jun 16 '11 at 20:05
Whether tasteless or not, this is not an answer to the question. None of these can be used for an unknown (dead or alive) person if one doesn't want strong additional connotations. I also fail to see how the Göring quote connects to the question. Moreover, a Vereinsmeier is not a party goer. – Hendrik Vogt Jun 16 '11 at 20:39
The significance of the Goering quote seems to have been overlooked so far; it is not that he was saying "you can call me John Doe". He was saying that you could call him "Meyer Goering", as in "Moyshe Goering". The postscript to the story, as I heard it, was that by the end of the war, they were indeed calling him Meyer. – Marty Green Aug 23 '11 at 22:45

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.