Who is John Q. Public?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Politicians and other professionals often divide the world into two groups: those who are "in the know" and those who are average, uninformed citizens. This second group is commonly represented by a hypothetical "common man" named John Q. Public, or his adoring hypothetical wife, Jane Q. Public. Together, the Publics represent the sensibilities and beliefs of the typical man or woman on the street. This name represents the ideal everyman for the purposes of gauging public opinion on an issue or theorizing on how an average citizen will react to a political or professional decision.

John Q. Public is a name used to represent the beliefs of a typical man on the street.
John Q. Public is a name used to represent the beliefs of a typical man on the street.

The idea of a hypothetical Everyman dates back a number of centuries. Before he became John Q. Public, this "common man" could have been John Doe or Richard Roe in court documents designed to protect the privacy of the plaintiff or defendant during a hearing. An unidentified body in a morgue may have been tagged with the names John Doe or Jane Roe until identification became possible. The concept of creating a hypothetical name for a theoretical citizen also became popular in early politics, as legislators argued over the effects of a proposed law or tax on John Q. Citizen, John Q. Taxpayer, or Jane Q. Public.

John Quincy Adams may have been used as a reference in the creation of the name of "John Q. Public" for a theoretical citizen.
John Quincy Adams may have been used as a reference in the creation of the name of "John Q. Public" for a theoretical citizen.

The name "John Q. Public" may have been a reference to president John Quincy Adams, at least in the sense of creating an innocuous full name for a theoretical citizen. The name John is very common, and the uncommon last name would most likely keep hundreds of actual John Q. Public's from receiving unwanted attention.

While the use of this name is still used quite often to describe an average citizen with no apparent political leanings or defined social classification, other names have also been created. A working class male, for example, might be considered "Joe Six-Pack" for the sake of an argument, while his wife might be "Jane Wine-cooler". This application of personal alcoholic identifiers arguably brings the concept of a generic John Q. Public to a more specific type of average citizen. While John Q. Public might represent the citizenry at large, Joe Six-Pack and Jane Wine-cooler represent a certain faction of working-class citizens within that group.

The idea of a hypothetical Everyman is used in morgues, where an unidentified body may be called John Doe or Jane Doe.
The idea of a hypothetical Everyman is used in morgues, where an unidentified body may be called John Doe or Jane Doe.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

Terrificli

@Melonlity -- you probably shouldn't take it that way. The problem with the government is too much of a disconnect with the average citizen. Perhaps those politicians that are smart will get back to the business of trying to figure out what the average citizen wants from government and taking stands based on that.

Hey, we can always hope can't we?

Melonlity

Always hated this term because it is more than a bit insulting. Politicians use it to separate the reasonable people (those who agree with their enlightened views) from the unreasonable ones (those who disagree). How about viewing us all as just voters and trying to do what is best with us instead of shoving people into categories and only caring what the "right" people think?

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