Professor Hobbes: Perhaps you could tell us your name!The stereotypical anonymous name, usually "John Smith" (or "Jane Smith" for women). Other examples include "John Doe/Jane Roe" (used in legal documents about a person whose name is unknown, or is being concealed, and in American hospitals for unknown dead people) or common names like "Johnson", "Jane" or "Jones". The equivalent in Japanese works is "Tarō Yamada" for men and "Hanako Yamada" for women. The success of this trope is supposed to work due to just how common it is. If you take a name like 'Xavier', people will recognise you. 'John Smith' is just so average that you're forgettable, and even if they do recall you, it will be nearly impossible to track down. Subversions can occur with people either recognising that it's way too common, or a person might try the alias in a time or place where it isn't actually common. Note: This trope only refers to someone using an obvious pseudonym — not someone whose name just happens to be Smith, as in the title character of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The Men in Black or The Spook are likely to do this, as is the Operator from India. See also Smithical Marriage (when an unmarried couple use the Mr and Mrs Smith alias as a Paper-Thin Disguise) and The Nameless. Compare Alan Smithee, No Name Given, Sue Donym, Real Name as an Alias and Special Person, Normal Name. Ominous Mundanity subverts this trope.
The Doctor: What does it matter?
The Hostess: Then tell us!
The Doctor: ... John Smith.
Professor Hobbes: Your real name.
The Doctor: What does it matter?
The Hostess: Then tell us!
The Doctor: ... John Smith.
Professor Hobbes: Your real name.
— Doctor Who, "Midnight"
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Anime & Manga
- Kyon from Haruhi Suzumiya used John Smith as an alias. He is a Japanese person in Japan, so it was never intended to be taken seriously. Possibly a reference to Doctor Who, since Kyon was time travelling at the time.
Young Haruhi: What's your name anyway?
Kyon: John Smith.
Young Haruhi: ...do you think I'm an idiot?
Kyon: Oh, just let me use it as an alias.
- Gunslinger Girl. John Doe or "Joe The Nameless" is an alleged former CIA agent who teaches child assassin Pinocchio.
- "Mr. Smith" is a common fake name in the spy-filled world of Darker Than Black, which most people in the business treat as "I wish to remain anonymous". November 11 uses it in the first season, while the second season has a character only known by this title.
- Chaser John Doe, a Badass monster cat dream demon armed with a guillotine from Yumekui Merry.
- Mai-HiME and Mai-Otome have John Smith, who is part of the Searrs Foundation in the former and the head of Schwarz in the latter, although the latter case is a name adopted by whoever is in charge; the one in Sifr is a different person from the one in the main series, whose younger self appears in Sifr.
- In Bleach, Hanatarō Yamada's name is a combination of Tarō Yamada and Hanako Yamada; the Western equivalent would be something like Jack Smith.
- Black Lagoon. Balalaika introduces herself as Captain Jane Doe to a US black ops group.
- In Inquisitor Carrow Chronicles The God-Emperor Of Mankind is disguised as a particle physicist at CERN, complete with the alias Jon Schmidt.
- Mr. & Mrs. Smith, about a pair of married assassins called John and Jane Smith. Strangely the trope is only lampshaded once, when Jane asks for a database search on her husband and her assistant points out it's the most common name in the English language.
- Two Fathers Justice (1985). The mercenary camp the two protagonists join calls all its trainees "Mr Smith" to preserve their anonymity. This comes in handy later on when they have to get past a guard who was also trained at the camp; they pointedly call him Mr Smith and pretend they were sent by his trainer to check security.
- In The Matrix, the agents are men in black who use generic surnames like Brown or Jones. Their leader is, of course, Agent Smith.
- The Matrix Reloaded introduces Agents Jackson, Johnson and Thompson.
- Men in Black:
- The protagonist in A Fistful of Dollars is actually called 'Joe' in the script, but as his name wasn't spoken on screen Clint Eastwood instead became The Man With No Name.
- Likewise "Mr Smith", the protagonist of Shoot 'em Up. The fact that his name is an obvious pseudonym highlights the fact that he's like the Man With No Name from The Western. Subverted in that it may also be a Meaningful Name — it's suggested that he's a former gunsmith.
- The serial killer in Se7en uses the alias John Doe, as it's his "message" that's supposed to become famous, not himself.
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. When Butch and Sundance decide to give up crime, they tell their employer that their names are Smith and Jones.
- Meet John Doe
- Also played with in An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn where the director wants to take his name off the film but can't, because his name really is Alan Smithee.
- In City Heat (1984) two elderly gentlemen arrive at a brothel. One is greeted by the madam as "Mr Smith", and he introduces his companion who's also called Smith.
Madam: "Come in Mr Smith; we have many of your relatives here today!"
- The A-Team: There is a running gag in the movie that whenever Agent Lynch introduces himself to someone (usually someone rather Genre Savvy), they make a point of asking him if he's related to some other Agent Lynch that they knew in a previous operation. Eventually, another CIA agent appears near the end of the film and introduces himself as Agent Lynch.
- Parodied in The Last Remake of Beau Geste, where every single recruit of the French Foreign Legion introduces himself as "Smith" (including the two brothers). The only exception is a blind man who calls himself "Jones" because Smith was his real name.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Jack Sparrow gives the harbor master a few shillings so he doesn't have to tell his name. The harbor master thinks about this for a beat, then welcomes "Mr. Smith" to Port Royal.
- Die Hard mocks this by having two Agent Johnsons show up ("No relation."). One's white, the other black. Amusingly, at one point when one of the agents is making a call to have the power to Nakatomi Plaza cut, he identifies himself as "Agent Johnson. No, the other one."
- In The Replacement Killers, Chow Yun-Fat's character gives his name as "John Lee," which Mira Sorvino notes is obviously a generic alias.
- During Houseguest, the loansharks after our hero Sinbad try to follow him into the exclusive golf course he's playing at. When asked at the front desk what name their reservation is under, one blurts out "Smith" at the same time the other does "Miller." Luckily for them, a family named the Miller-Smiths happen to have a reservation and so they are admitted without further delay.
- The Big Bad in Skyfall is named "Silva", the most common surname in the Portuguese speaking world. As soon as he is first called that, he immediately demands to be called by his real name.
- The Evil That Men Do. Charles Bronson plays a hitman who introduces himself to a target as "Bart Smith", a tourist from Nebraska.
- The King's Speech. The Duchess of York goes to meet speech therapist Lionel Logue under the alias of Mrs Johnson, causing him to commit a number of faux pas before she reveals she's a member of the royal family. Johnson was the cover name used by the Duke of York when he was a serving naval officer during World War I, to hide his identity from the enemy.
- From Kangaroo Jack:
- In Bill, a disguised King Philip II of Spain improvises the English pseudonym "Jeff Smith". Jeff is a name used by the film's creators in other works often enough to be a Running Gag and Smith is obviously this trope in action.
- Subverted in The Contortionist's Handbook by Craig Clevenger. The main character lives his life in one false identity generated after another. When he meets a woman and starts teaching her the tricks of the trade, he tells her that she needs to have a fake name. She suggests "Smith?" which he rules out as too obvious. It has to be something that you immediately forget, like Carpenter or McIntyre.
- In one of the Deathlands novels, Ryan Cawdor secretly returns to the barony from which he was outlawed. One of his companions suggest he use the alias "John Doe", and Ryan is less than amused to be told it's a pre-Apocalypse term for "corpses that have no name".
- In one spy novel (I think it was Jack Lane's Browning by David Gethin) a secret agent gripes about trying to track down someone using the name John Smith, and asks why people can't have distinctive James Bond names like Moneypenny or Gotobed.
- This was the original intention behind the name James Bond, but the character became so iconic that the name now immediately makes you think of him.
- Dorothy L. Sayers planned out a series of stories (of which only one, "The Leopard Lady," was ultimately published) in which an organization called "Smith & Smith Removals" (featuring Mr. Smith, Mr. Smythe, Mr. Schmidt, and so on) contracts to murder for profit.
- According to Dave Barry Slept Here, the leader of the Jamestown colony was "'John Smith' (not his real name)." The joke is that it was his real name.
- The Australian picture book Puzzle Worlds features numerous examples - Mr. Smith, Mr. Schmitt, Mr. Smythe, Mr. Smithers...
- Subverted in Stephen King's The Dead Zone. A man buys a rifle in a store under the name "John Smith". The clerk thinks "If I never saw me an alias before in my life, there's one there." However, the man (the protagonist) is actually named John Smith.
- In the TV series, Johnny Smith has constant problems of this nature.
- A straight example in Different Seasons : "Jane Smith" is the name the unwed mother chooses.
- "Jones" is the last name selected for the title character (a creche-raised clone) of Friday by Robert A. Heinlein, from a list of standard creche names.
- A Piece of Resistance, a novel by Clive Egleton set in a Soviet-occupied Britain. The protagonist takes the cover name of "David Daniel" and his girlfriend comments sardonically that at least it's more original than Smith.
- The Amelia Peabody series has, as a recurring character, a British spymaster who often goes by "Smith," partly because spies use pseudonyms and partly because it's so much easier than coping with his real name of "the Honorable Algernon Bracegirdle-Boisdragon."
- In Foundation, a man, for the sake of conspiracy, introduces himself as Jan Smite.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire:
- When Jaime suspiciously asks Osney Kettleblack who gave him his knighthood, he says, "Ser Robert... Stone," which is an obviously generic name in Westeros. Robert is the name of the previous king, making it especially common, and "Stone" is a generic surname for bastards from the Vale. Jaime also thinks the last name may have come as a result of Kettleblack looking at the stone wall of the room as he answered.
- Qyburn calls his Frankenstein's monster of a knight "Ser Robert Strong." Robert, again, for the previous king, and Strong because he's, well, strong. There's also a House Strong which was effectively destroyed many years before.
- John Smith is the pseudonym Daddy-Long-Legs instructs Judy to use. She dislikes it because it is so bland and calls him "Daddy-Long-Legs" instead. His real name is eventually revealed to be Jervis Pendleton.
- The Agatha Christie novel The Secret Adversary has the mastermind behind a Dirty Communist plot be known only to outsiders and even his own minions as Mr. Brown. It works so well that Tuppence realizes she actually saw a clerk named Mr. Brown at one point, but doesn't remember a thing about him because he had such an ordinary name.
- When they take their first case as Blunt's Brilliant Detectives in Partners in Crime, Tommy deeply impresses his first client (who admittedly, is a bit of an idiot) by deducing that "Er ... Smith" isn't his real name. Tommy, in Sherlock Holmes mode, goes on to expound that he doesn't know anyone called Smith, and is thinking of writing a monograph on the subject. He's a bit taken aback when a real Smith appears by the end of the case.
- P. G. Wodehouse had a character named Rupert Smith, who was so dissatisfied with the commonness of his surname that he changed it to Psmith. (The "P" is silent, as in psychology. And pshrimp.)
- Mr John Not-A-Vampire-At-All Smith from the Discworld Reformed Vampires Diary and Thud! who has apparently decided that part of "being human" means not having an Uberwaldean name and a list of titles that goes on for several pages, but as with so much of his efforts, has got it slightly but obviously wrong.
- In AtlasShrugged, Fransisco d'Anconia marvels aloud at Jim Taggart's wedding at how many men named Smith or Gomez can afford to own large chunks of his company. Of course, this just made him curious as to who was really behind those names. Many of them are at this very party. Later, he deliberately creates a panic that crashes his stock price.
- In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo Baggins travels under the common hobbit name of "Mr. Underhill". It backfires when he reaches Bree and meets a group of hobbits actually named Underhill who, being genealogy buffs (a common interest among hobbits) ask him detailed questions about this supposed lineage to try and find out how their families are related.
- Inverted in William Tenn's short "Lisbon Cubed": Alfred Smith's actual last name causes some alien spies to think he's the alien spy they were intending to meet, who had, of course, chosen the name Smith as a cover, and had previously occupied the same hotel room as Alfred.
Live Action TV
- In the BBC adaptation of Breaking the Code (1996), MI-5 agent John Smith tells Alan Turing he has an awful time with hotel clerks, as they never believe that's actually his real name.
- Highway To Heaven: Michael Landon plays a "probationary" angel named Jonathan Smith, the main protagonist. (Contrast that with Victor French's role as Mark Gordon.)
- Mr & Mrs Smith, a 1996 series about two Undercover as Lovers spies. Not related to the above film starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (a pilot for a TV adaptation was made, but was unsuccessful).
- One episode of Sliders had our heroes recognize a spy who used this name. However, he had picked because in that world, it's apparently the name of a Greek god.
- Spoofed in The Commish. The coroner slides open a fridge labelled "John Doe" and is outraged to discover an illegally-shot doe the police commissioner is holding for evidence.
- Doctor Who:
- When the Doctor joins UNIT as their scientific advisor, The Brigadier asks for his name for their files. He is unimpressed when the Doctor comes up with "John Smith". The Doctor still continues to use that alias when required.
- The Doctor first used that alias a little earlier, when Jamie saw the manufacturer's name on a piece of medical equipment. The new series has Retconned the First Doctor as using it as well (on his library card).
- On the whole, it works fairly well as an alias. However, it backfires on him in 'Midnight' as the page quote shows. The people, already suspicious, immediately see it for a Blatant Lie. "No-one's called John Smith!"
- Played for laughs when Martha goes undercover in Torchwood. Ianto gives her the name "Samantha" as part of her cover, followed by, "I thought the 'Jones' would be safe" (Ianto's last name is also "Jones".)
- Averted in The Sarah Jane Adventures. Sarah Jane never has to use an alias because her last name actually is Smith.
- A planned Series 5 episode that went unfinished due to Elisabeth Sladen's death would have seen the Smiths' "space computer" (who is actually named Mr Smith) become human. Since the episode was never finished, we never learned whether Mr Smith would have taken the first name John in tribute to the Doctor.
- The episode "General Hospital" of Blackadder Goes Forth featured a man with an amazing German accent in a wartime hospital introducing himself as "Meeester.....Smeeth". Subverted in that he's a British spy, named Brigadier Humphrey Smith, who picked up the accent while undercover in Germany.
- In the TV series John Doe, the title character takes the name because he doesn't remember his own.
- When taking part in Techno Games the Plunderbird team referred to themselves as the Smith brothers.
- Not a pseudonym, but a similar phenomenon: in season 2 of Lost, Libby died before we could find out her last name. Fans clamored for years for more of Libby's story, including her last name, despite having been told by Word of God that none was forthcoming. Finally, at Comic Con between seasons 5 and 6, a montage of deceased characters finally gave her the name... Smith. It was as if the writers said, "You need her name? OK, it's Smith."
- On The Vampire Diaries, Elijah takes on "Smith" as his last name. Needless to say, it doesn't go unnoticed.
- In The Prisoner, Number 6 at one point reveals his name as "Peter Smith" - almost certainly a lie.
- The US law enforcement use of "John Doe" for an unknown victim crops up a lot in the CSI universe, unsurprisingly given the number of unidentified bodies they get to deal with in those series.
- Person of Interest. Zoe Morgan, who works as a professional fixer, is amused and naturally skeptical when John Reese introduces himself as 'John'. The irony is we later find that's actually his real name when Detective Carter discovers his special forces file. However the audience doesn't see the rest of the name because it's obscured, other than his middle initial being H. John Reese is simply the name he uses on a day-to-day basis, as opposed to the temporary identities he uses when needed.
- The 1970s Western Alias Smith and Jones. The show (and its name) were inspired by the Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid example.
- In an episode of Bergerac, Bergerac finds a man has checked into a hotel using the name 'James Smythe', which Begerac remarks is nothing more than an upper-class version of 'John Smith'.
- A season 1 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation focused around a severely injured Alien with amnesia being cared for on the Enterprise. With no name for him, Doctor Crusher dubs him John Doe.
- In the pilot episode of Are You Being Served?, Mr Humphries and Mr Lucas find a booklet that Captain Peacock dropped, indicating that he is a member of the Blue Cinema Club. His alias - Captain John Smith.
- In the second season of iZombie, Blaine adopts the alias "John Deaux." When he becomes a person of interest in a couple cases Clive and Bozzio are working, they figure it's an alias and quickly find his real name.
- Lampshaded in Supernatural after a Leviathan is able to track down Sam and Dean via their Themed Aliases.
"First thing we've got to do is wipe all your old aliases; no more rock Shout Outs. It's Tom and John Smith from now on."
Video & Tabletop Games
- One of the characters you meet in Another Code R calls himself this while he's performing an investigation of Lake Juliet. His real name is eventually found out.
- Played for laughs in Team Fortress 2 supplementary material: the BLU Soldier's alias (as revealed in the Soldier/Demoman double update teaser comic) is Jane Doe.
- In Shadowrun, the men who give assignments to Shadowrunners are always referred to as "Mr. Johnson", for reasons of deniability ("No, we didn't send people to blow up the manufacturing plants of a rival Mega Corp.! They were hired independently by a Mr. Johnson!").
- Considering how often Johnsons turn on the runners they're hiring (or intended to all along), there's a good reason for that particular name.
- In other regions, "Johnsons" are naturally referred to by region appropriate common names: In Germany it's "Herr Schmidt" or "Herr Müller", in Japan "Mr. Tanaka" and in Hong Kong "Mr. Wu".
- In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge Guybrush tries to trick a guard who is on the lookout for him thus:
Guybrush: Who, me? My name is Smith!
Guard: Smith, eh? That's an unusual name.
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution has a bunch of The Men in Black showing up in sidequests. Unlike the P-series from the original game, these are human G-men types using this trope as aliases: at one point, one of them slips up and nearly says his employer's name before switching back to "Mr. Grey".
- Used loosely in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All. The classy assassin Shelly DeKiller imitates a butler and uses the name John Doe. No one is Genre Savvy enough to think this guy might be a little suspicious.
- The Matrix: Path of Neo has a slightly bigger part for Agents Jackson, Johnson and Thompson from The Matrix Reloaded example above.
- The SCV portrait from the orignal StarCraft is named Jim Smith.
- On Hey Arnold!, one of the residents at the boarding house is a reclusive man named "John Smith". One episode has Arnold visiting the place where Mr. Smith works in an effort to deliver a package, only to find that nearly everyone who works there is apparently named some variation of "John Smith".
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko goes by the name of Lee in his incognito persona. And Sokka's Master tells him to use this name because "There are a thousand Lee".
- A Credits Gag for the South Park episode "Trapped in the Closet" had everybody's name as "John Smith" or "Jane Smith." It's mainly to poke fun at a specific religion's reputation for lawsuits against anyone who pokes fun at them. It is by no means a measure to protect the people who worked on the episode from having disproportionate retribution leveled on them by a sociopathic cult. That would be silly.
- One episode of Inch High, Private Eye featured a casino hidden in a hotel. To gain access, the clients had to tell the clerk they're looking for "Mr. Smith". Its downfall started when the Pinkertons had a lawyer named Smith.
- In the bizarre side one skit from the album How Can You Be in Two Places at Once, When You're Not Anywhere at All by The Firesign Theatre, the central character finds himself in the lobby of a motel. The desk clerk gives him a card to fill out, but it's already been written in. He chuckles "Well, I couldn't get you to believe my name is 'Mr. and Mrs. John Smith', could I?" The clerk cheerily replies "Of course you could - nice to have you with us, Mr. and Mrs. Smith!" He goes by 'Mr. and Mrs. John Smith' for the rest of the album.
- On forms that require you to write your name, the "Example" form will have the name "John Smith" or "John Andrew Smith".
- In the traditional common law of England, and still today in the various legal systems that are derived from it, there is a standard set of fake names for people involved in a legal case whose real identities are unknown or being kept secret: John/Jane Doe, Richard Roe, Joe Bloggs, etc.
- Robin Hood was apparently a generic name used by criminals in medieval times, making it difficult for modern day historians to trace the origins of the legend.
- Hong Kil Dong is the name of a famous thief in a classic Korean novel, but is commonly used nowadays as a filler name in South Korea, presumably because no real person is likely to be so named.
- Some of the advertising for Men in Black lampshaded the fact that its two stars really were named Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones, in keeping with the anonymous theme of the Men in Black.
- People who actually have the surname "Smith" are often subject to additional security scrutiny due to the Truth in Television usage of the name for aliases.
- According to this article, there are 7,000 fewer people named John Smith in the United States than would be statistically expected, and it's mostly due to this trope.
- Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, used the "Mr Smith" alias when traveling incognito to Khartoum in World War II, in preparation for the British move to throw the Italians out of his country. Given that this is a man who was literally worshiped as a god by the Rastafari movement, it's probably the most inappropriate alias imaginable.