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What Are Placeholder Names?

Placeholders names are terms that you can use instead of words that seem irrelevant or easy to forget. Placeholder words have various functions in different categories.

Placeholders Names in Everyday Life

When communicating in a relaxed social situation, one can address a person using colloquial stand-ins like Macbuddyguypal, and fellow (or fella) when unaware of the person’s name. There are also formal variations for these terms, such as ma’am (for women), sir (for men), and miss, which is used for younger women. Words used as terms of endearment include deardarlingbabe and baby.  Hon, which is short for honey, can be heard quite a bit in the American South.

Given names are also useful as placeholders. Jack (which is actually a nickname for John) ranks among one of the most common names in the history of first male names. An example of this is placeholder Jack Tar, which identified the common sailor. The surname Tar comes from the ubiquity of the scent of tar, which was a common occurrence among seamen. The name John is also a slang euphuism for clients of escorts, as men who engaged their services wished to remain anonymous.

Hypothetical names play a role in different social contexts. One such example is John Q. Public, a sample name representing American citizens and used in government forms. The names Joe Sixpack and Joe Blow are more informal versions that imply an Everyman (which is a placeholder name itself).

Actors that don’t like revealing their names in public will use placeholder George Spelvin. They also use the name on lists of actors and characters to disguise the fact that someone else is playing a certain character.

The name Alan Smithee is the directorial equivalent of George Spelvin. Film directors would use the name to disown a film they feel a studio changed their vision with excessive interference. 

Placeholders Names in Legal Settings

On the other hand, John DoeJane Doe, and similar variants are names employed by plaintiffs in legal cases. This is done in situations when the party’s identity is classified or is irrelevant. Also, if the victim or perpetrator of the crime had not yet been identified, most law enforcement will use the above placeholder names. 

Placeholder Names for Locations 

Similar to John Q. Public, Anytown, is a geographical placeholder and is derived from the sample versions of forms. Derogatory substitutes include Podunk and Hicksville for locations seen as rural or backward. 

The name Peoria, which is an actual Illinois municipality, is frequently used to refer to communities populated by seemingly unsophisticated people who can’t appreciate cultural offerings. Another example of an actual locale being used as a placeholder is Timbuktu or Outer Mongolia, representing extremely remote places. 


Speakers can use different placeholders, such as heapstons, and buckets when referring to large quantities. Similarly, phrases like “a couple of” and “a bit” refer to smaller quantities. The slang variants for these are “a couple-three” or “a couple-few.” Other words that refer to large amounts, intensifying their effect, are kajillion or zillion.

If you are looking for more placeholder name examples, check out – a neat site that generates placeholder names.

Updated: May 14, 2021

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By Michael Faraday

Michael Faraday holds degrees in English education and creative writing. As an educator, Michael specializes in corporate training having worked with IBM, Philip Morris International, and the Danone food company in Paris. He is a published author and is deeply passionate about the written word.

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