: Perhaps you could tell us your name! The Doctor
: What does it matter? The Hostess
: Then tell us! The Doctor
: ... John Smith. Professor Hobbes
: Your real
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 near 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
are likely to do this. 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
and Special Person, Normal Name
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Anime & Manga
- Kyon from Suzumiya Haruhi 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.
- 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 Dream Eater 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.
- "Yamada" the Knowledge Broker in both has a similar name to Hanataro of Bleach, below, although Natsuki suspects in Mai-HiME that it's not his real name, especially because he doesn't look Japanese.
- In Bleach, Hanatarō Yamada's name is a combination of Tarō Yamada and Hanako Yamada; the Western equivalent would be something like Jack Smith.
- 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.
- "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 one of the Kingsguard 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 in the Crownlands.
- 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.
Live Action TV
- 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: Crime Scene Investigation universe, unsurprisingly given the number of unidentified bodies they get to deal with in those series.
- Person of Interest. A woman who works as a professional fixer is amused and naturally skeptical when John Reese introduces himself as 'John'. Of course John Reese is simply the name he prefers to use anyway, rather than his real name (Though all evidence suggests that his first name really is John - the rest of his real name is unknown apart from his middle initial being H).
- 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.
Video & Tabletop Games
- 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.
- 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.
- The oldest of these, John Doe, was originally a name for a fictitious plaintiff in a lawsuit — there was no such person, but everyone involved pretended he existed, in order to avoid certain inconvenient features of the law of the time, such as Trial by Combat.
- 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.