January 8, 2020

What’s In A Name?

“Eke” is an Old English word meaning “also.” Hence, another name you went by was called “an eke-name,” which eventually morphed into “a nickname.”

Using the name “John Doe” for an anonymous or identity-protected person traces back to an abandoned British legal procedure called an “action of ejectment.” Due to legal complexities, the process often moved faster when fictitious names were used to more quickly determine the rights of the real-life parties, and “John Doe” was frequently the fictitious plaintiff and “Richard Roe” the fictitious defendant. Exact reasons for the use of these names are unclear, but John and Richard were (and still are) common English names, and “doe” and “roe” are both deer-related terms: a doe is a female deer, and roe a Eurasian deer species widespread in England. More recently, “Jane Doe” became the female equivalent of “John Doe,” though the also-anonymous “Roe” made it into the landmark US Supreme Court abortion case of Roe v. Wade before the plaintiff later revealed her real name.

“Santa Claus” is derived from “Sinter Klass,” the Dutch nickname of Sint Nikolaas, or Saint Nicholas.