John Doe and his ilk: pitfalls of pseudonymity
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2008/08/28
A little while ago, I remarked on the anonymity of commentator “Fulano de Tal”, who later insisted he was a genuine “de Tal”, namely, Mengano de Tal; and in private e-mails ventured the promise (so far unrequited) to tell me his real identity. So I was amused when a friend sent me a link to the following story:
“When it’s time for gossip, here are some handy names: Fulano, Mengano y Sutano”
http://www.amcostarica.com/101606.htm, accessed 30 July 2008
“No, these are not the names of the Three Stooges. They are monikers that are used to refer to people without using their given names. Many Costa Ricans use one of these, for example, when they can’t think of a person’s real name. It’s sort of like ‘what’s-his-name’ in English, or, as the Germans say, ‘dinksbumps.’
A story in which these three ‘characters’ appear might go something like this:
‘You know that Fulano, son of old Don Mengano— the guy who owns the general store —anyhow, this Fulano bought a used piece-of-junk motorcycle off some Sutano who lives in the first house after you cross the old bridge . . . .’
The interesting thing is that these three characters also have the same apellido, or last name, which is De Tal meaning ‘so-and-so.’
When you refer to a person as Fulano De Tal it means he is someone you don’t really care much about one way or the other. A Mengano De Tal, or Menganito, is someone you might feel sorry for. And Sutano de Tal is someone you don’t know at all, a perfect stranger.
Fulano, Mengano and Sutano also have wives. They are Fulanita, Menganita and Sutanita. So, when you are annoyed with the woman who does your shirts you can tell your friend about that little Fulanita down at the laundry who parades around like some kind of movie queen, but all she’s really after is poor Menganita’s husband!
Another way to use these pseudonyms is to make reference to somebody who is just too amazingly stupid. For example you might say to a friend whom you wish to dissuade from making a tremendous blunder: ‘¡No seas tan Fulano!’ Meaning: ‘Don’t be such an idiot!’ Or you could comment on a person who is acting foolishly by saying: ‘Ese Fulano si es menso’ or ‘That imbecile is really stupid.’ But the general principle is always the same, to camouflage, albeit at times rather thinly, someone’s real name. . . .”