Will the real Joe Shmoe please stand up?

When registering, signing up, or filling out a form of some sort, it is quite common that you will be given an example of an imaginary person that has already filled out this form, with their made up information, so that you will know how to fill it out properly. In English, this person is often named John Smith or John Doe. John Smith is a representation for the average population, and his “generic formula name” has become associated with the statistic of calculating norms for the nuclear family. For example, this includes averages of income, housing, social relationships, travel, recreation, etc. As such, if you fit into these normalized ranges, then you live a fairy regular lifestyle. In American culture, “this ‘Average Joe’ is a common fodder for character in television or movies, comics, novels or radio dramas. On television, examples of ‘Average Joes’ include Doug Heffernan (King of Queens), Archie Bunker (All in the Family) and Homer Simpson (The Simpsons)” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Average_Joe#Variants_in_other_countries).

The name John Smith has become associated to the bland normality of the everyday standards. It is therefore not very common to meet a real person with this name since it has become a “generic label.” But in the United States, the names Mario Rossi, Juan Perez or Kalle Svensson are not commonly heard. Funny thing though, these are the “generic labels” in Italy, Puerto Rico and Sweden. We find that each country seems to have some type of unknown identity that is associated to this “Average Joe,” and there is incredible variation between them all.

Here are some examples of different countries “Generic Names”:
United States: John Smith/Doe, Jane Smith
Ireland: Michael Murphy
Germany: Klaus Mustermann, Erika Mustermann
Poland: Jan Kowalski, Anna Kowalska
Sweden: Sven or Kalle Svensson
Denmark: Jens Jensen
Norway: Ola Nordman, Kari Nordman
Italy: Mario Rossi, Maria Rossi
France: Michel Dupont, Marie Dupont
Kenya: John Kamau
Puerto Rico: Juan Perez

Finding these different formula names lead us to the “Unidentified People” of the world:
United State: Joe Shmoe, Average Joe
Germany: Otto Normalverbraucher
Sweden: Medelsvensson
Finnland: Matti Meikäläinen
Danmark: Morten Simpleman
Norway: Ola Nordmann
Poland: Kowalski
Great Britain: John Doe, Joe Blogg

These names aren’t really names at all. The German word “Normalverbraucher” literally means “average consumer,” and the Finnish word “Meikäläinen” means “one of us.” Can you imagine introducing yourself as “Hi, my name is Mr. Average Consumer”?

Although it does not appear that there are a lot of similarities between these names whatsoever, there does seem to be a trend of where the names come from, at least for the generic formula ones. Most have roots in some historically significant figure in the countries development that is looked up to and idolized. Captain John Smith appeared on a 1616 map of New England and was one of the first American heroes. John Smith is also the name of one of the main characters in the Disney movie Pocahontas, representing a Caucasian man. The generic Kenyan name is John Kamau, which was the first president of Kenya after colonial rule.

So in conclusion, the Average Joe does NOT exist in reality – it is just a persona that every civilization has created and needs sociologically as a reference. The idea of being average is also often seen as negative. Consequently, the image of mediocrity differs from one person to another.


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