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Placeholder names are intentionally overly generic and ambiguous terms referring to things, places, or people, the names of which or of whom do not actually exist; are temporarily forgotten, or are unimportant; or in order to avoid stigmatization, or because they are unknowable or unpredictable given the context of their discussion; to de-emphasize in which event the precise specification thereof is otherwise impossible, or to deliberately expunge.[1]

Placeholder names for people are often terms referring to an average person or a predicted persona of a typical user.

Linguistic role

These placeholders typically function grammatically as nouns and can be used for people (e.g. John Doe, Jane Doe), objects (e.g. widget), locations ("Main Street"), or places (e.g. Anytown, USA). They share a property with pronouns because their referents must be supplied by context; but, unlike a pronoun, they may be used with no referent—the important part of the communication is not the thing nominally referred to by the placeholder, but the context in which the placeholder occurs.

In their Dictionary of American Slang (1960), Stuart Berg Flexner and Harold Wentworth use the term kadigan for placeholder words. They define "kadigan" as a synonym for thingamajig. The term may have originated with Willard R. Espy, though others, such as David Annis, also used it (or cadigans) in their writing. Its etymology is obscure—Flexner and Wentworth related it to the generic word gin for engine (as in the cotton gin). It may also relate to the Irish surname Cadigan.

Hypernyms (words for generic categories, such as "flower" for tulips and roses) may also be used in this function of a placeholder, but they are not considered to be kadigans.


Placeholder words exist in a highly informal register of the English language. In formal speech and writing, words like accessory, paraphernalia, artifact, instrument, or utensil are preferred; these words serve substantially the same function, but differ in connotation.

Most of these words can be documented in at least the 19th century. Edgar Allan Poe wrote a short story entitled "The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.", showing that particular form to be in familiar use in the United States in the 1840s. In Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, W. S. Gilbert makes the Lord High Executioner sing of a "little list" which includes:

... apologetic statesmen of a compromising kind,
Such as: What d'ye call him: Thing'em-bob, and likewise: Never-mind,
and 'St: 'st: 'st: and What's-his-name, and also You-know-who:
The task of filling up the blanks I'd rather leave to you.

Some fields have their own specific placeholder terminology. For example, "widget" in economics, engineering and electronics, or "Blackacre" and "John Doe" or "Jane Doe" in law. "X-ray" was originally a placeholder name for an unexplained phenomenon.

Companies and organizations


Main article: Metasyntactic variable

Placeholder names are commonly used in computing:

Domain names

Certain domain names in the format example.tld (such as,, and are officially reserved as placeholders for the purpose of presentation.[5] Various example reserved IP addresses exist in IPv4 and IPv6, such as in IPv4 documentation and 2001:db8:: in IPv6 documentation.

Geographical locations

Placeholders such as Main Street, Your County, and Anytown are often used in sample mailing addresses. Ruritania is commonly used as a placeholder country. Acacia Avenue has been used as shorthand for an average suburban residential street in Britain.

Something-stan and its demonym something-stani, where something is often profanity, is commonly used as a placeholder for a Middle Eastern or South Asian country/people or for a politically disliked portion of one's own country/people. For example, Londonistan, to evoke the perception of London's high Muslim population.[6]

Timbuktu, which is also a real city in the country of Mali, is often used to mean a place that is far away, in the middle of nowhere, or exotic.

Podunk is used in American English for a hypothetical small town regarded as typically dull or insignificant, a place in the U.S. that is unlikely to have been heard of. Another example is East Cupcake to refer to a generic small town in the Midwestern United States.[7]

Similarly, the boondocks or the boonies are used in American English to refer to very rural areas without many inhabitants.

In New Zealand English, Woop Woops (or, alternatively, Wop-wops)[8] is a (generally humorous) name for an out-of-the-way location, usually rural and sparsely populated. The similar Australian English Woop Woop, (or, less frequently, Woop Woops)[8] can refer to any remote location, or outback town or district. Another New Zealand English term with a similar use is Waikikamukau ("Why kick a moo-cow"), a generic name for a small rural town.[9]

In British English, Bongo Bongo Land (or Bongo-bongo Land) is a pejorative term used to refer to Third World countries, particularly in Africa, or to a fictional such country.




Often used in example names and addresses to indicate to the serviceman where to put his own details.


Main article: indefinite and fictitious numbers


Main article: List of terms related to an average person

See also: persona (user experience)


In chemistry, tentative or hypothetical elements are assigned provisional names until their existence is confirmed by IUPAC. Historically, this placeholder name would follow Mendeleev's nomenclature; since the Transfermium wars, however, the consensus has been to assign a systematic element name based on the element's atomic number.[19] Examples of these systems in use would be "ekasilicon" (germanium) and "ununseptium" (tennessine) respectively.

Similarly, the name "unobtainium" is frequently used for a material of highly desired characteristics which does not exist or which would be prohibitively expensive to mine, procure or synthesize.

Spoken and written language

See also


  1. ^ thingummy, n., Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  2. ^ "Why do I see the same fake names in Microsoft samples over and over? - The Old New Thing".
  3. ^ Raymond, Eric. "Foo". The Jargon File (version 4.4.7). Retrieved September 24, 2018.
  4. ^ "J. Random". Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  5. ^ "".
  6. ^ Caldwell, Christopher (June 25, 2006), "After Londonistan", The New York Times, retrieved December 12, 2009
  7. ^ Gail Collins (April 30, 2014). "It's Only a Million". New York Times. It will never occur to them that if voters had not given them that stint of public service, they would be processing divorce cases back home in East Cupcake.
  8. ^ a b "Woop Woop". Oxford Dictionaries. Archived from the original on September 28, 2016.
  9. ^ McCloy, Nicola (2006). Whykickamoocow: Curious New Zealand Place Names. New Zealand: Random House. ISBN 1-86941-807-7.
  10. ^ Waterman, Shaun (October 24, 2005). "Military interpreter 'used false identity'". UPI Security & Terrorism. Retrieved March 9, 2022.
  11. ^ Makeig, John (December 28, 1991). "Mute suspect nabbed, but identity still at large". Houston Chronicle. p. 29.
  12. ^ Nash, Bruce M.; et al. (2001). The New Lawyer's Wit and Wisdom. Running Press. p. 199. ISBN 0762410639. Retrieved January 19, 2008.
  13. ^ "Médecine légale: X Ben X, l'énigme du cadavre anonyme". L'Economiste (in French). September 23, 2016. Retrieved October 9, 2023.
  14. ^ "حملة أمنية تحصي المتشردين و المتسولين لتحديد هوياتهم !" [A security campaign counts the homeless and beggars to determine their identities!]. Rue20 (in Arabic). April 8, 2019. Retrieved October 9, 2023.
  15. ^ Elhor, Aziz (February 17, 2012). "حقائق صادمة عن أطفال يحملون اسم «X بن X»" [Facts about children named "X Ben X"]. al-Massae. Retrieved October 9, 2023.
  16. ^ "GNYHA Naming Conventions" (PDF).
  17. ^ "Terminal Lance #114 'Myths and Legends IV'". Terminal Lance. March 18, 2011.
  18. ^ "Telephone numbers for drama use (TV, Radio etc)". Retrieved December 10, 2014.
  19. ^ "Recommendations for the Naming of Elements of Atomic Numbers Greater than 100". IUPAC. Retrieved February 1, 2024.