Nobodies Abroad: Joe Schmo, Meet Otto Normalverbraucher

Jul 10th 2014

Two weeks ago I talked about the names Americans use as placeholders, showing off the many facets of anonymity. For even greater variety, allow me to introduce the nobodies of other lands.

Many languages have "null names" parallel to John Smith or John Doe. The local equivalents of John are common choices: the Netherlands refers to Jan Jansen, Russia to Ivan Ivanov, France to Jean Dupont, and much of Latin America to Juan Pérez. Another common root name is Fulan/Felani, with variations like the Arabic Fulan Al-Fulani and the Spanish Fulano de Tal.

But as in the U.S., nobodies can be just about anybody. Some of the international placeholders capture an essence that none of our terms quite match. Below are some highlights of the world's colorful everymen and women.

(Fun tip: try searching for these names on supposed "real names" social networks. To get you started, here's a LinkedIn lineup of 25 Australians named Fred Nerk, a local equivalent to Joe Schmo. One lists his occupation as "Head Yokel at Yokels.")

Don Nadie (Spain): "Sir Nobody"

Dozaemon (Japan): An anonymous drowned body. From the name of an 18th-century sumo wrestler with an extremely pallid complexion.

Jan met de pet (Netherlands): "John with the cap," the typical man on the street.

Matti Meikäläinen (Finland): Meikäläinen has the form of a Finnish surname, but actually means "one of us."

Max and Erika Mustermann (Germany): A very literal placeholder, Mustermann translates roughly to "Sampleman."

Ola Nordmann (Norway): A personification of Norway and the typical Norwegian, somewhere between a John Q. Public and England's John Bull.

Otto Normalverbraucher (Germany): "Otto AverageConsumer."

Pihtiputaan mummo (Finland): Literally, "the grandmother from Pihtipudas." Represents the least tech-savvy person imaginable, to whom new products and jargon will be confusing.

Ploni Almoni (Israel): A placeholder name for millenia, Ploni Almoni is the Bible's own John Doe. For more of a "Joe Blow" effect, try Israel Israeli.

Svennebanan (Sweden): "Swedish banana." A kind of Swedish Joe Sixpack, the lowest common denominator of everymen.


A note of thanks: I compiled and cross-referenced these names from many sources, but I'm particularly indebted to Wikipedia's placeholder names page, and a former page on John Doe from NationMaster, now sadly defunct.


July 10, 2014 10:30 PM

Ploni Almoni is from the Talmud, not the Bible, and it's not Israeli per se, but rather is used by Jews who study the Talmud the world over.  BTW both Talmuds (the Babylonian and the Jerusalem) are written in Aramaic, not Hebrew.  OTOH the Tanach (Torah, Prophets, and Writings) is written in Hebrew.The Yiddish version of Joe Blow is Chaim Yankel (Yankel is the diminutive for Ya'akov, that is, Jacob).  The Yiddish name for random little hicktown in the sticks is Yehupetz.

July 11, 2014 6:33 AM

I love the articles you've been posting lately, but I can't help but wonder, when are you going to post the 100 Club for Girls?  

July 11, 2014 7:35 PM

More from Norway: Navn Navnesen (often seen on sample credit cards in advertising).

Russia: Vasily Pupkin is often used as a typical Internet username. For example, it can be seen in an example e-mail.

Also in Russia: Ivanov, Petrov and Sidorov are often used where three surnames are needed (for example, when you're creating three test customers in a database). All three are real, common surnames.

July 14, 2014 4:36 PM

Miriam - While Ploni Almoni is used in the Talmud, it's a reference to Ruth 4:1, as the name of the guy who should be marrying Ruth rather than Boaz. It doesn't take the form of a usual Hebrew name of the era, and it's assumed to be a placeholder.

July 14, 2014 5:24 PM

I think Almoni is supposed to be a toponym.

July 15, 2014 5:25 PM

A common element to many of these is the echoed sound (Jan Jansen, Fulan Al-Fulani, etc.) which makes me wonder why we settled on John Smith instead of the nearly-as-common and bouncier-sounding John Jones (or James or Jim Jones) as our everyman. Purely on numbers? Less poetry in the American soul? (jk)

On a completely unrelated note--Please, please, PLEASE don't have banner ads that will randomly start playing very loud music and dialog while I'm at work (or have a sleeping baby on my shoulder)! Not cool.

July 15, 2014 11:41 PM

nedibes: on the second topic, I find that simply turning off Flash eliminates the really annoying types of ads pretty much everywhere. I use Firefox with the PrefBar plug-in, which gives me a nice handy checkbox for switching it on and off.

Google search turns up multiple Facebook profiles for Névtelen Anonim and Névtelen Senki: Hungarian for Anonymous Nameless and Nobody Nameless. I'm sure there are many other variations on the theme.

July 26, 2014 3:32 PM

The female counterpart to Ola Nordmann is Kari Nordmann.