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What Is a Code Name?

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  • Written By: Renee Booker
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Images By: Ragne Kabanova, ビッグアップジャパン, Kevin Puget
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2016
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When a government, military, or even a business wishes to refer to someone or something in a clandestine way, they often assign a code name, or cryptonym, to that person or thing. The use of code names was especially popular during the World War II as a way to disguise the subject of conversations between allies. Code names have also been used as a way to identify the President of the United States and heads of governments across the world, as well as by business and industry as a way to identify secret projects or inventions.

During World War II, the allies developed a system for selecting random code names used to refer to countries, military operations, and people, among other things. The European allies, along with the United States, developed a list of code names available for use and simply selected the next one on the list when a code name was needed. By using random words, the likelihood that a code name had any relation to the actual word was eliminated.

The United States, as well as many other countries, has also been known to assign a code name to important military or industrial projects. The Manhattan Project, for example, was the code name given to the atomic bomb project in New Mexico. The attack on Okinawa during World War II by the United States was code named Operation Iceberg, as an obvious contrast to the tropical nature of the island.

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The United States Secret Service has given a code name to the President of the United States and his family, along with many other important figures for as long as the Secret Service has been in existence. The original purpose for the code names was to disguise who was being discussed. Now, however, with the ease of encryption in the digital age, the code names are simply an easy and quick way to refer to someone. Interesting examples of Secret Service code names include: Ronald and Nancy Reagan — Rawhide and Rainbow; Richard and Pat Nixon — Searchlight and Starlight; John F. and Jackie Kennedy — Lancer and Lace; and Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower — Scorecard and Springtime.

Industry and businesses sometimes use a code name to refer to a project or development they are working on. The practice of using code names for this purpose is both to disguise the true identity of the project and for ease of communication. Some projects have long complicated names, especially scientific projects, making a code name utilitarian.

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