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A code name or cryptonym is a word or name used clandestinely to refer to another name or word. 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.

Proliferation of code names in World War II

In the Second World War, 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 ISSB (The Inter-Services Security Board) staffed by the War Officemarker with the word list generated and randomised by GC&CSmarker (later GCHQmarker). This procedure was coordinated with the USA 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. Capricious 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, eg 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."

* Reference: Glossary of Code Names from U. S. Army in World War II - Washington Command Post: The Operations Division
* WWII Allied Operations
* Abbreviations, Acronyms, Codewords, Terms Appearing in WW II Histories and Documents
* Information from original files held at TNA:The National Archives formerly The Public Record Office which hold the publicly available records of central government for the UKmarker


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 frequently openly revealed or strongly hinted at their content or function.

List of German code names:



Conversely, Operation Wacht am Rhein (Watch on the Rhinemarker) 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 Norwaymarker and Denmarkmarker 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.

Ironic 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 Mexicomarker was called the Manhattan Project, derived from the Manhattan Engineer District which managed the program. The code name for the American 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 steamy jungle island of Okinawamarker in World War II was Operation Iceberg. And the Russian code name for the project to base missiles in Cuba was that named after their closest bomber base to the US (just across the Bering Strait from Nome, Alaska), Operation Anadyr. 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 the names of the 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 doesn't 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 USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it was extended throughout NATOmarker 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 US 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". However, some names were appropriate, such as "Condor" for the Antonov An-124.

The sequence by which a code name was given is as follows: 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 Airportmarker. Missiles were given designations like "TT-5", for the fifth rocket seen at Tyura-Tammarker. 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".

Churchill on code names for military operations

In a minute on August 8, 1943 Winston Churchill wrote to General "Pug" Ismay, Military Secretary of the Defence Committee of the British Cabinet:
"Operations in which large numbers of men may lose their lives ought not to be decided by code-words that imply a boastful and over-confident sentiment, such as "Triumphant," or conversely, which are calculated to invest the plan with an air of despondency, such as "Woebetide" and "Flimsy." They ought not to be names of a frivolous character, such as "Bunnyhug" and "Ballyhoo." They should not be ordinary words often used in other connections, such as "Flood," "Sudden," and "Supreme." Names of living people (ministers or commanders) should be avoided. Intelligent thought will already supply an unlimited number of well-sounding names that do not suggest the character of the operation or disparage it in any way and do not enable some widow or mother to say that her son was killed in an operation called "Bunnyhug" or "Ballyhoo." Proper names are good in this field. The heroes of antiquity, figures from Greek and Roman mythology, the constellations and stars, famous racehorses, names of British and American war heroes, could be used, provided they fall within the rules above."


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. Americans prefer two-word names. 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 American CIA uses alphabetical prefixes to designate the part of the agency supporting an operation.

In many cases with the U.S. 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, while programs that start with Senior, such as Senior Trend for the F-117, are for aircraft in testing meant to enter production.

In the US, 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 eg "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.

Famous military and espionage code names



Commercial code names in the computer industry

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.

Reasons for a project code name

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.
  • As a political tool by management, to decouple an early phase of a development effort (which may have failed) from a subsequent phase (which may be given a "fresh start").
  • 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 Computermarker has recently been including the project code names for Mac OS X as part of the official product name.

Well-known computer project code names



  • Intelmarker often names CPU projects after rivers in the American West, particularly in the state of Oregonmarker (where most of Intel's CPU projects are designed). Examples include Willamette, Deschutes, Yamhill, Tualatin, and Clackamas. See List of Intel codenames.


  • AMDmarker 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, name of stars will be used as code names. For Opteron server CPUs and platforms, cities related to the Formula One team Ferrari were used as codenames. Mobile platforms are named after birds (except for Puma). Examples such as:-








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