(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?

dict.leo.org suggests "Otto Normalverbraucher", but I don't think that this matches.

  • 1
    Indeed, "Otto Normalverbraucher" doesn't match at all. That's used in a completely different context. Jun 16, 2011 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, 2011 at 7:01
  • 1
    We also have "N.N.", "Lieschen Müller", "Erika Mustermann" and "Max Mustermann", but they aren't quite the same either. de.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Doe#Bedeutung
    – starblue
    Jun 16, 2011 at 7:08

5 Answers 5


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").
  • 4
    +1 for the Mustermann family.
    – Takkat
    Jun 16, 2011 at 7:14
  • 5
    For ligitations it's usually "Anzeige gegen Unbekannt" (= "charges against unknown persons" or "charges against an unknown person") Jun 16, 2011 at 7:32
  • 9
    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. Jun 16, 2011 at 8:20
  • 7
    "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, 2011 at 8:46
  • 2
    It's also "Monika Mustermann" instead of Erika. ;)
    – ladybug
    Jun 16, 2011 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.


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

  • 2
    Yes, but that's because it's a sample, not because it's unknown. Jun 16, 2011 at 11:58
  • I consider this a legitimate example of a "random" name.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 17, 2011 at 13:09

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".


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

Meier, Müller, Schulz

3 very common surnames.

"Das erledigt dann Meier, Müller, Schulz."

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