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A code name or cryptonym is a word or name used, sometimes clandestinely, to refer to another name, word, project or person. Code names are often used for military purposes, or in espionage. They may also be used in industry to protect secret projects and the like from business rivals, or to give names to projects whose marketing name has not yet been determined.

Military origins

During World War I, code names common to the Allies referring to nations, cities, geographical features, military units, military operations, diplomatic meetings, places, and individual persons were agreed upon, adapting pre-war naming procedures in use by the governments concerned. In the British case code names were administered and controlled by the Inter-Services Security Board (ISSB) staffed by the War Office with the word list generated and randomised by GC&CS (later GCHQ). This procedure was coordinated with the United States when America entered the war. Random lists of code names were issued to users in alphabetical blocks of ten words and were selected as required. Code words became available for re-use after six months and unused allocations could be re-assigned at discretion and according to need. Judicious selection from the available allocation could result in clever meanings and result in an aptronym or backronym, although policy was to select words that had no obviously deducible connection with what they were supposed to be concealing. Those for the major conference meetings had a partial naming sequence referring to devices or instruments which had an ordinal number as part of their meaning, e.g., the third meeting was "TRIDENT". Joseph Stalin, whose last name means "man of steel", was given the code name "GLYPTIC", meaning "an image carved out of stone".

German code names

Ewen Montagu, a British Naval intelligence officer, discloses in Beyond Top Secret Ultra that during World War II, Nazi Germany habitually used ad hoc code names as nicknames which often openly revealed or strongly hinted at their content or function.

List of German names:

  • Golfplatz (German for "golf course") – Britain, employed by the Abwehr
  • Samland – The United States (from Uncle Sam), employed by the Abwehr
  • Heimdall (a god whose power was "to see for a hundred miles") – long-range radar
  • Wotan ("one-eyed god") – Based on nothing more than this and the knowledge it was a radar system, R. V. Jones, a British scientist working for Air Intelligence of the British Air Ministry and SIS concluded that it used a single beam and from that determined the system it would have to use. His shrewd assessment was exactly correct. A counter-system was quickly created which made Wotan useless.
  • Operation Seelöwe (Sealion) – Plans to invade Britain (lions being prominent in the coat of arms of the United Kingdom)
  • Operation Barbarossa (Frederick Barbarossa) – Plans to go east and invade the Soviet Union

Conversely, Operation Wacht am Rhein (Watch on the Rhine) was deliberately named to suggest the opposite of its purpose—a defensive "watch" as opposed to a massive blitzkrieg operation, just as was Operation Weserübung (Weser-exercise), which signified the plans to invade Norway and Denmark in April 1940.

By comparison, as a result of the German practice and relative ease of deciphering some element of its content in the post-War period, the British Ministry of Supply adopted the Rainbow Codes system which randomly combined a color and a noun (from a list) to create the name for projects. Though memorable, the names were unrelated to content.

Code names of other powers

Britain and the United States developed the security policy of assigning code names intended to give no such clues to the uninitiated. For example, the British counter measures against the V-2 was called Operation Crossbow. The atomic bomb project centered in New Mexico was called the Manhattan Project, derived from the Manhattan Engineer District which managed the program. The code name for the American A-12 / SR-71 spy plane project, producing the fastest, highest-flying aircraft in the world, was Oxcart. The American group that planned that country's first ICBM was called the Teapot Committee.

Although the word could stand for a menace to shipping (in this case, that of Japan), the American code name for the attack on the subtropical island of Okinawa in World War II was Operation Iceberg. The Soviet Union's project to base missiles in Cuba was named Operation Anadyr after their closest bomber base to the US (just across the Bering Strait from Nome, Alaska). The names of colors are generally avoided in American practice to avoid confusion with meteorological reporting practices. Britain, in contrast, made deliberately non-meaningful use of them, through the system of rainbow codes.

Aircraft recognition reporting names

Although German and Italian aircraft were not given code names by their Allied opponents, in 1942, Captain Frank T. McCoy, an intelligence officer of the USAAF, invented a system for the identification of Japanese military aircraft. Initially using short, "hillbilly" boy's names such as "Pete", "Jake", and "Rufe", the system was later extended to include girl's names and names of trees and birds, and became widely used by the Allies throughout the Pacific theater of war. This type of naming scheme differs from the other use of code names in that it does not have to be kept secret, but is a means of identification where the official nomenclature is unknown or uncertain.

The policy of recognition reporting names was continued into the Cold War for Soviet, other Warsaw Pact, and Communist Chinese aircraft. Although this was started by the Air Standards Co-ordinating Committee (ASCC) formed by the United States, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, it was extended throughout NATO as the NATO reporting name for aircraft, rockets and missiles. These names were considered by the Soviets as being like a nickname given to one's unit by the opponents in a battle, such as the U.S. Marines were called by the Germans in France "Devil Dogs", which they appreciated as a feather in their cap. The Soviets did not like the Sukhoi Su-25 getting the code name "Frogfoot".[citation needed] However, some names were appropriate, such as "Condor" for the Antonov An-124.

Code names were adopted by the following process. Aerial or space reconnaissance would note a new aircraft at a Warsaw Pact airbase. The intelligence units would then assign it a code name consisting of the official abbreviation of the base, then a letter, for example, "Ram-A", signifying an aircraft sighted at Ramenskoye Airport. Missiles were given designations like "TT-5", for the fifth rocket seen at Tyura-Tam. When more information resulted in knowing a bit about what a missile was used for, it would be given a designation like "SS-6", for the sixth surface-to-surface missile design reported. Finally, when either an aircraft or a missile was able to be photographed with a hand-held camera, instead of a reconnaissance aircraft, it was given a name like "Flanker" or "Scud"—always an English word, as international pilots worldwide are required to learn English. The Soviet manufacturer or designation has nothing to do with it, and can even be mistaken by the Allies.

Jet-powered aircraft received two-syllable names like Foxbat, while propeller aircraft were designated with short names like Bull). Fighter names began with an "F", bombers with a "B", cargo aircraft with a "C". Training aircraft and reconnaissance aircraft were grouped under the word "miscellaneous", and received "M". The same convention applies to missiles, with air-launched ground attack missiles beginning with the letter "K" and surface-to-surface missiles (ranging from intercontinental ballistic missiles to antitank rockets) with the letter "S", air-to-air missiles "A", and surface-to-air missiles "G".

Military operations since Churchill

Throughout the Second World War, the British allocation practice favored one-word code names (Jubilee, Frankton). That of the Americans favored longer compound words, although the name Overlord was personally chosen by Winston Churchill himself. Many examples of both types can be cited, as can exceptions.

Presently, British forces tend to use one-word names, presumably in keeping with their post-World War II policy of reserving single words for operations and two-word names for exercises. British operation code names are usually randomly generated by a computer and rarely reveal its components or any political implications unlike the American names (e.g., the 2003 invasion of Iraq was called "Operation Telic" compared to Americans' "Operation Iraqi Freedom", obviously chosen for propaganda rather than secrecy). Americans prefer two-word names, whereas the Canadians and Australians use either. The French military currently prefer names drawn from nature (such as colors or the names of animals), for instance Opération Daguet ("brocket deer") or Opération Baliste ("Triggerfish"). The CIA uses alphabetical prefixes to designate the part of the agency supporting an operation.

In many cases with the United States, the first word of the name has to do with the intent of the program. Programs with 'have' as the first word, such as Have Blue for the stealth fighter development, are developmental programs, not meant to produce a production aircraft. Programs that start with Senior, such as Senior Trend for the F-117, are for aircraft in testing meant to enter production.

In the United States code names are commonly set entirely in upper case. This is not done in other countries, though for the UK in British documents the code name is in upper case while operation is shortened to OP e.g., "Op. TELIC".

This presents an opportunity for a bit of public-relations (Operation Just Cause), or for controversy over the naming choice (Operation Infinite Justice, renamed Operation Enduring Freedom). Computers are now used to aid in the selection. And further, there is a distinction between the secret names during former wars and the published names of recent ones. Operation Desert Shield was what the build-up in Saudi Arabia was blatantly referred to in the press, before war was declared. During this time, "Desert Storm" was secret. When the war broke out, the name Operation Desert Storm—but not the tactical details—was also broken to the press.

Another reason for the use of code names and code phrases in the military is that they transmit with a lower level of cumulative errors over a walkie-talkie or radio link than actual names.

Project code name

A project code name is a code name (usually a single word, short phrase or acronym) which is given to a project being developed by industry, academia, government, and other concerns.

Project code names are typically used for several reasons:

  • To uniquely identify the project within the organization. Code names are frequently chosen to be outside the normal business/domain jargon that the organization uses, in order to not conflict with established terminology.
  • To assist with maintaining secrecy of the project against rival concerns. Some corporations routinely change project names in order to further confuse competitors.
  • When the goal of the project is to develop one or more commercial products, use of a code name allows the eventual choice of product nomenclature (the name the product(s) are marketed and sold under) to be decoupled from the development effort. This is especially important when one project generates multiple products, or multiple projects are needed to produce a single product. This allows for subprojects to be given a separate identity from the main project.
  • To decouple an early phase of a development effort (which may have failed) from a subsequent phase (which may be given a "fresh start") as a political tool.
  • To prevent casual observers from concluding that a pre-release version is a new release of the product, thus helping reduce confusion.

Different organizations have different policies regarding the use and publication of project code names. Some companies take great pains to never discuss or disclose project code names outside of the company (other than with outside entities who have a need to know, and typically are bound with a non-disclosure agreement). Other companies never use them in official or formal communications, but widely disseminate project code names through informal channels (often in an attempt to create a marketing buzz for the project). Still others (such as Microsoft) discuss code names publicly, and routinely use project code names on beta releases and such, but remove them from final product(s). At the other end of the spectrum, Apple Computer includes the project code names for Mac OS X as part of the official name of the final product, a practice that was started in 2002 with Mac OS X v10.2 "Jaguar".

Famous code names



  • AMD have also been naming their CPUs since 90 nm generations under the K8 micro-architecture after the name of cities around the world. For the CPUs under the Phenom brand, the names of stars were used as code names. For Opteron server CPUs and platforms, cities related to the Ferrari Formula One team were used. Mobile platforms are named after birds (except for Puma). For example:
    • Single-core Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 FX : Newcastle, Venice, San Diego and Lima
    • Dual-core Athlon 64 X2 and Athlon 64 FX: Manchester, Toledo, Windsor and Brisbane
    • Phenom CPUs: Agena (Beta Centauri), Toliman (Alpha Centauri), Kuma (Nu Draconis), Deneb (Alpha Cygni), Propus (Eta Geminorum), Heka (Lambda Orionis), Rana (Delta Eridani), Regor (Gamma Velorum)
    • Opteron CPUs: Barcelona, Shanghai, São Paulo, Istanbul
    • Server platforms: Catalunya, Fiorano, Maranello
    • Mobile CPUs: Griffin, Lion, Swift
    • Mobile platforms: Kite, Puma, Shirke, Eagle
  • Apple Inc. (previously Apple Computer) has named the various major releases of Mac OS X after big cats, such as Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion and the most recent Mountain Lion.[1] Previously, Apple had used music-related codenames for operating system projects, such as Copland, after composer Aaron Copland and Gershwin, after George Gershwin. Two other sources of popular Apple code-names, at least before the 1990s, appear to have been women's names (e.g., Jennifer, rumored for the Macintosh IIx; Lisa, actually sold as the Apple Lisa) and varieties of apples (e.g., CortlandApple IIgs; Macintosh [from McIntosh], actually sold as the Macintosh). In 1994 astronomer Carl Sagan filed two lawsuits against Apple, related to its use of the code name "Carl Sagan" for its Power Macintosh 7100 while it was under development. Sagan lost both lawsuits, and reached an out-of-court settlement with the company.
  • Intel often names CPU projects after rivers in the American West, particularly in the state of Oregon (where most of Intel's CPU projects are designed). Examples include Willamette, Deschutes, Yamhill, Tualatin, and Clackamas. See List of Intel codenames.
  • Microsoft often names projects (in particular, versions of the Microsoft Windows operating systems) after place names. Examples include Chicago (Windows 95), Daytona (Windows NT 3.5), Memphis (Windows 98), Whistler (Windows XP), Longhorn (Windows Vista), Blackcomb/Vienna (Windows 7), and Cairo (originally thought to be Windows NT 4.0, though many observers now believe that Cairo never turned into a project). It is not uncommon for Microsoft to reuse codenames a few years after a previous usage has been abandoned. See Microsoft codenames.
  • For a period of time, Mozilla used code names which are mostly named after national parks to reference different versions of the Mozilla Firefox browser:
    • Firefox 2.0: Bon Echo
    • Firefox 3.0: Gran Paradiso
    • Firefox 3.5: Shiretoko
    • Firefox 3.6: Namoroka
    • Firefox 4.0: Tumucumaque
    • Firefox pre-beta: Aurora
    • Firefox trunk builds: Nightly
  • Nintendo often uses code names for new consoles. The best-known is that of Wii, which was code-named Revolution for over a year. Others include the GameCube's code name of Dolphin, the Game Boy Advance's code name of Atlantis, the Nintendo 64 as Project Reality, the DS code name Project Nitro, the Game Boy Micro code name Oxygen and most recently the Wii U, codenamed Project Cafe.

See also


External links

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