origin of ‘Joe Bloggs’ (hypothetical average or ordinary man)



Steve Cooper, playing Joe Bloggs in Monopoleyes, a play written by Will Travis, directed by Susan Mcardle and Paul Brannigan, and produced by Stolen Thread Productions Ltd, was interviewed on 25th October 2016:

“You play Joe Bloggs – could you tell us a bit about your character and what your thoughts are on it?”
“Like the play says, Joe is an Everyman. Nothing special about him. He’s just trying to get through the day and support his family with as much humour and good grace as he can muster. He’s frustrated at his inability to do the basics. A good soul who can’t get an even break.”

source: Stolen thread theatre company




Like Jack, pet form of JohnJoe, familiar abbreviation of Joseph, is colloquially used as a generic term for a lada fellowa chap.

And, like Joe SchmoJoe BlowJoe Citizen and Joe Doakes in American English, Joe Bloggs in British English is a name applied to a hypothetical average or ordinary man.

The earliest instance of Joe Bloggs in the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition – 1989), is from The Guardian of 6th March 1969. But I have discovered an earlier use in Plea for New Points System in Local Darts Tourney: “Scrap Aggregate Totals and Base Results on Individual Games”, by D. M. Naylor, published in the Shipley Times and Express (West Riding of Yorkshire) of Wednesday 10th November 1954:

How soon will the points system that operates in the darts section of the Shipley Licence Holders’ Games League be brought into line with that of other leagues throughout Yorkshire and Lancashire?
A local darts enthusiast put the point bluntly to me the other evening:—“Our way of reckoning the points scored in a match is just plain crazy. The sooner we start doing as other leagues do and award points per games, instead of deciding the match on the aggregate total, then the more the interest will be sustained.”
[…] What my friend wants—and, I am informed, many other league players—is a system which awards a point a game. If you win your game against Joe Bloggs you get one point and if, for example, five of your team win and three lose, then your side win the match by 5-3.

I have also discovered that Joe Bloggs had been a name given to various local characters of weekly short stories set in the West Riding of Yorkshire, written by “The Outcast” and published in the same newspaper in the 1920s and 1930s. A story titled Buying a Greyhound, published on Saturday 27th August 1927, contains:

“Come on, let’s go and interview this dog chap.” So we toddled off, and shortly found ourselves rapping at the gentleman’s door.
Bloggs, his name was, Joe Bloggs, and when he saw Percy he grinned, and said, “Tha’s cummed to see t’ pup Ah reckon.”
[…] Mr Bloggs was not a nice-looking man. He had too many whiskers, far too many, and his face reminded me of a skin rug that we had when I was a lad, and he looked, too, as though he would as soon fight as have his dinner. But here again appearances were deceitful, for he was quite a good chap.

In another story, A New Year’s Party, published on Saturday 3rd January 1931, Joe Bloggs is an entirely different man:

Luckily, at that moment, the arrival of Bob’s brother-in-law stopped his (Bob’s) rather indelicate remarks […].
Now, Mrs Wibble had been a Miss Bloggs, and the name of Robert’s brother-in-law was Joe Bloggs, and he was—so Bob put it to me on the quiet—“a chap ’at it ’ud ha’ paid ’is feyther to ha’ drahnded, an’ kep’ a pig a’stead.¹” so you may imagine that Mr Bloggs was not at all a nice man, and to make matters worse, I saw as soon as ever he entered the room that he had sojourned too long at “The Blue Bell.”

(¹ a chap that it would have paid his father to have drowned, and kept a pig instead)

Finally, Joe Bloggs is a guileless gardener in The Fairies, published on Thursday 13th April 1933:

When I was a lad I used to believe in fairies to some extent. […]
It was this touching innocence of mine that led to the little adventure, that it is now my purpose to relate, an adventure that I shared with another small boy as innocent as myself.
My father, in those clays, employed a gardener, whom, I think, must have been descended in an unbroken line, from Ananias², and one day he told me and my bosom pal, Sam Briggs, a most wonderful story about Hope Hill.
I expect you will know Hope Hill? That lump of ground on the other side of the Aire Valley³ from Wrose Hill, but a good deal nearer to Bingley.
Well, Joe Bloggs, the gardener, told us that the rounded crest of Hope Hill was a favourite resort of fairies from midnight to cock-crow.
“Hi, lads,” he added, “an’ I’ve seed ’em misen.”
“Go on, Joe,” said Sam, his eyes standing out like hat-pegs, “go on, I don’t believe you ever have,” and I, feeling that as Joe was pa’s gardener, I could be more definite, as it were remarked simply,
“You’re a liar, Joe.”
“Oh, am I? clever britches,” said Joe indignantly, “well, all I know is that one summer neet, a gooid mony years ago, I wor goin’ ’ome to Eldwick, wheer I lived i’ them days, ’avin’ bin dahn i’ Bingla’, an’ ’as it wor sich a grand neet I thowt I w’o’d tak a walk o’er t’ top o’ t’ hill […] when orl of a sudden I seed t’ fairies! […] They stood ’appen a foot ’igh, an’ they ’ad wands i’ their ’ands. Arf a duzzen of ’em ther’ was, an’ they made a ring rahnd me, an’ donced away.”
[…] Well, looking back on Joe’s narrative from the wisdom of riper years, I will be charitable, and say that perchance he was not lying, and he had merely sojourned too long in “The Brown Cow,” and had simply imagined what he thought he saw. Ale was ale in those days, I believe.
[…] Joe […] departed to get on with what he called his work, and what my father used to call, if I remember rightly, his exhibition of living statuary.

² In the Acts of the Apostles, Ananias and his wife Sapphira were struck dead because they lied.
³ The River Aire is a major river in Yorkshire.

The reason the author of these short stories called Joe Bloggs several characters might be that it was a name perhaps widespread in the West Riding of Yorkshire. And it is possible that Joe Bloggs as a generic term for an average or typical man originated in this region of England.