In order to protect a Secret Identity, or just to make identifying a person easier over a static-y radio, a Super Hero, International Spy or even Ace Pilot will have a Code Name. In the case of a Super Hero, this Nom de Guerre will be indicative of their powers, origin, or national affiliation. International spies and Ace Pilots will more frequently have a randomly assigned Code Name (and in comedies, silly ones at that). Often, the Codename is so descriptive as to defeat the very purpose of not using your real name, since Iron Bear really could only be one guy.
A common way of parodying it is a character with a stupid or silly codename who complains that, when the time came to choose theirs, all the good ones were taken. Frequently they claim it was a choice between their current codename or something far worse.
Common code name styles include:
Nicknames in more-or-less poetic periphrases, such as the Sewing Life Alchemist (Shou Tucker) of Fullmetal Alchemist, or Black Canary of The DCU.
The Token Minority may fall victim to a having a Captain Ethnic Codename; for decades, almost all black superheroes had names with the word "Black" somewhere in them.
Military ranks, noble titles and other honorifics are occasionally incorporated into a Codename, as is the case in Captain America and Doctor Fate. Closely related to Nom de Guerre, which would be when they use the name all the time, and not just "out in public". Reporting Names are essentially Code Names for enemy equipment, especially when the real name is unknown or impossible to pronounce in your own language.
The trope started going out of fashion somewhat, as evidenced by the fact that Comic Book Movies Don't Use Codenames.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
Pretty much every Contractor and Doll in Darker Than Black is like this, with code names ranging from Chinese color and descriptive names for the main characters (Hei, Yin, and Mao) to month-based ones for the team of British agents (November 11, April, and July), to descriptive nicknames (A portly female contractor who has weaponized screaming is called Bertha). There's also a Woolseyism in the dub, as April refers to November 11 as "one-one", underscoring his James Bond similarities (i.e. he's Agent 1-1-1)
All the state alchemists in Fullmetal Alchemist have code names... which may function more like titles, since any random person off the street seems to know, say, that the Fullmetal Alchemist is Edward Elric. Except when they think it's Alphonse.
Colonel Mustang gives his (male) subordinates women's names when on the phone. He's shown having flirty phone calls with the only actual female in the group, who uses an alias, and they use women's names to refer to the male operatives as though she's a shopkeeper and the men are women who work for her. It's such an effective way of encoding the messages that the office workers simply think he spends all day flirting.
In Axis Powers Hetalia, some of the characters have human names. However, these were the creator bending to fan insistence, rather than that he actually wanted to include them (which is displayed in that not only are the names picked with little care, but that they never appear in the series and were deleted from the author's blog).
In Cyborg 009, the nine Cyborgs are given codenames when transformed into living weapons.
The Baroque Works conspiracy deployed its agents in man-woman teams, with the men codenamed "Mister $NUMBER" and the women called "Miss $DAY_REFERENCE". The shapeshiftingcrossdresser of the organization worked without a partner and used both naming schemes: "Mister 2 Bon Clay".
There's also Sanji's Mr Prince.
In Mobile Suit Gundam 00, most members of Celestial Being have codenames. For example, Setsuna F. Seiei's real name is Soran Ebrahim
Heero Yuy of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing is also a code name; his real name is never revealed. He briefly borrows Duo Maxwell's name at one point, when his original code name would have attracted attention.
L has a variety of codenames: L, Ryuuzaki, Ryuuga Hideki, Eraldo Coil, and Deneuve. Although it turns out "L" is his actual first name.
The children at Wammy's House have got codenames too, such as Near, Matt and Mello. Older generations of Wammy's have had them too.
L's regular foot soldiers all seem to use code names as well - specifically, Watari, Aiber and Wedy.
The policemen in the task force are also assigned; this is quietly dropped (with a brief resurgence when Matsuda finds himself in a room full of Kira conspirators), presumably because the main villain knows all their real names already, but deems them Not Worth Killing. (The SPK members, while certainly worth killing in Light's book, use their aliases a lot more consistently).
In Project A-Ko, Operative DC-138621-S113 goes by Codename "D".
Fushigi Yuugi subverts, averts and plays the trope straight. Each Seishi is alternatively known by the constellation he or she is born under, and in some cases (particularly the Suzaku Seven), the Seishi's name fits his or her personality and powers precisely. However, the Seishi's code names can hardly be used to disguise them, seeing as all of them either know how to read kanji, have studied astronomy or both. In fact, their real names are hardly spoken among one another, and some of them go by their code names for most of their lives.
Accelerator is known only by this, as well as Last Order and Index. Sometimes Misaka is called Railgun like a code name, and Touma is called Imagine Breaker once or twice.
From the same series many of the magicians (and those associated with the magic side in general) have a Sorcery Name. Index is Dedicatus 545, Stiyl Magnus is Fortis 931, Kanzaki Kaori is Salvare 000 and Tsuchimikado is Fallere 825.
Detective Conan. Members of the Black Organization are known by the names of alcoholic beverages: Gin, Vodka, Vermouth, Kir, Chianti, Korn, Bourbon, and so forth.
The Kirihara Group of The SoulTaker gives code names to all mutants except Runa. The title character's code name, SoulTaker, is not his own creation but theirs.
The Big Bad Ensemble of the Chapter Black saga in YuYu Hakusho consists of seven espers who, interestingly, present themselves with both their codenames and real names: Minoru Kamiya a.k.a. Doctor, Kiyoshi Mitarai a.k.a. Seaman, Kaname Hagiri a.k.a. Sniper, Tsukihito Amanuma a.k.a. Gamemaster, Sadao Makihara a.k.a. Gourmet, Itsuki a.k.a. Gatekeeper, and Shinobu Sensui a.k.a. Black Angel.
The members of Oracion Seis from Fairy Tail each use a codename based on their magic, abilities, and attributes. While most are played straight, some of their names' meanings are actually subverted, as they try to appear more powerful or intimidating than they really are.
Cobra keeps a giant venomous snake (incidentally not a cobra) to fight for him. He's also a Poison Dragon Slayer.
Racer can move faster than the human eye. Or so it would appear; he really just slows others' perception of time to make himself seem fast.
Hoteye can see through solid objects.
Angel dresses like an angel because she wants to become one, and later learns how to summon angels.
Midnight transforms into a giant monster at midnight. Subverted when it turns out he's actually an illusionist.
In the French and certain European Dragon Ball Z dubs, the members of the Ginyu Force announce what kind of "forces" they each represent instead of their names. Only Ginyu and Jeice get to be called by their actual names (although Ginyu is consistently pronounced as the French "Jineu") near the end of their saga, when suddenly everyone stars knowing what they're called. These supposed code names are:
The organization Zvezda has: Kate Hoshimiya - Lady Venera, Asuta Jimon - Dva, Itsuka Shikabane - Lady Plamya, Natalia "Natasha" Vasylchenko - Professor Um, Yasubee "Yasu" Morozumi - Odin, and Goro Shikabane - General Pepel. Roboko is a sentient robot and keeps her name.
The organization White Light has: Renge Komadori - White Robin, Miki Shirasagi - White Egret, and Kaori Hayabusa - White Falcon.
In Date A Live, organizations like the AST assign code names to the various spirits they track and try to kill or contain, though the spirits don't use these names themselves, and the organizations continue to refer to them by these names even if they learn their real names. Tohka Yatogami is "Princess", Yoshino is "Hermit", Kurumi Tokisaki is "Nightmare", Kotori Itsuki is "Efreet", the twins Kaguya and Yuzuru Yamai are both called "Berserk", Miku Izayoi is "Diva", Natsume is "Witch", Origami Tobiichi is "Angel", Rinne Sonogami is "Ruler", and a mysterious being who turns humans into spirits is called "Phantom".
S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents go by numerical designations that actually convey rank within the organization. Best example would be Sharon Carter AKA Agent 13.
The comics from which the page quote movie is derived use this just as extensively, if not more.
Before she became the superhero Ms. Marvel/Binary/Warhawk (she changes her superhero name almost as often as Hank Pym), Carol Danvers was a fighter pilot with the code name "Cheeseburger", because she'd vomited at one point after lunch. She specifically points out that you just don't get the awesome names outside of movies.
Green Lantern. Hal Jordan's call sign is "Highball". Jillian Pearlman's, a co-pilot, girlfriend and Star Sapphire, is "Cowgirl" because of her Texas accent and cowboy hat.
The teens in Marvel Comics' series Runaways initially had codenames, but they were abandoned after a while. Which makes perfect sense, since one would expect a bunch of kids to a) come up with 'cool" sounding code names for themselves and b) get bored with them fairly quickly.
In 100 Bullets, every member of the Minutemen has one: the Wolf, the Dog, the Bastard, the Rain, the Point Man, the Monster, the Saint, the Boy, and the Girl.
Except for Adam, the core cast of ClanDestine have these. Rory (The Crimson Crusader) and Pandora (Imp) picked theirs out when they started to play superhero; they decided to call Walter "Wallop" partly as a pun on his name and partly because it was a fair description of his powers. "Cuckoo" was Kay's family nickname, and "Hex" was Domenic's stage name when he worked as an Escape Artist. (No explanation for Samantha's "Argent," although presumably it's a poetic description of her silvery armor.)
In Marvel Comics' The New Universe the "DP7" group on the run from the sanatorium they were being held in tried using code names, but after they set them up nobody ever used them except "Skuzz," whose power was an acidic exudate coming out of his pours making anything he touches disintegrate in a few minutes. And that was his nickname before he got his powers.
Power Pack used them out in public. Originally, Alex was Gee, Jack was Mass Master,Julie was Lightspeed,and Katie was Energizer. Later, the powers changed kids after getting transferred to a Super-Snark for a time, Alex was Destroyer, Jack was Zero-G, Katie was Counterweight,and Julie was Molecula. Franklin Richards was Tattletale when he joined the group.
Starfox, an Avenger from the '80s, was given his codename because the president found his real name (Eros) to be "too provocative." The Wasp gave him the name Starfox because he's "a foxy guy" who's "from the stars."
In Top Gun, the various characters go by their callsigns most of the time, and those are the names most fans remember. After all, Maverick is just cool. Pete Mitchell, not so much. And who would want to be Tom Kazansky or Mike Metcalf when they could be Iceman or Viper?
In Hudson Hawk, the CIA agents are called Snickers, Kit Kat, Butterfinger and Almond Joy. Butterfinger is fittingly clumsy.
Almond Joy: Almond Joy. Get it? Candy bars. Well, it's better than when we first started out. Our code names were diseases. Do you know what it's like being called Chlamydia for a year?
Reservoir Dogs was probably inspired by Pelham, using color-themed codenames for a group of crooks. The heist boss assigns them the names Mr. White, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange and Mr. Pink. The crook dubbed Mr. Pink tries to object, but the boss insists on picking the names himself. He mentions having allowed crooks on a past job to name themselves and it resulted in a fight over who got to be Mr. Black. In fact, each Codename fits the character perfectly. Mr. White is the most moral of the group. Mr. Blonde is in it purely For the Evulz. Mr Orange has his outer layers peeled off throughout the film. Mr. Pink survives the film by hiding, something considered effeminate. Mr. Blue gets captured by the police, i.e. "The Boys in Blue." We don't really see much of Brown, though.
Used cleverly in the Clue movie. Since the boardgame characters name are reference to the color of their game piece, the film has the names being codenames so the people attending the dinner remain anonymous — Mr. Green, Prof. Plum, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. Scarlet, Mrs. Peacock, Mrs. White, Wadsworth the Butler. It's not clear if Mr. Boddy or Yvette the French Maid are a pseudonym. In a touch of irony, unlike the board game, none of the characters wear the color they represent in the game — Mrs. Scarlet and Mr. Green wear blue while Mrs. White wears all black, Colonel Mustard and Prof. Plum wear brown and Mrs. Peacock wears gold.
In Kill Bill, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad has five members named after lethal snakes: Black Mamba, Copperhead, Cottonmouth, Sidewinder and California Mountain Snake. Bill himself is the Snake Charmer. Ironically, Vivica Fox's character escapes being the one called "Black Mamba", and then complains about it. The main character herself is called the Bride until the second film.
The Zucker Brothers' film Top Secret! featured members of the French Resistance with a set of bizarre French code names - one group has French phrases for names, including Détente, Avant Garde and Déjà Vu (who asks the protagonist if they've met before), while another has food names, including Soufflé, Croissant, the Token Minority character Chocolate Mousse, and the frequent Almost Dead Guy Latrine.
In Sky High, students in the Sidekick program are not allowed to have code names. Upon graduation, they are paired with a hero who gives them a name and costume (presumably to avoid clashing). However, three students in the "Hero" program apparently have code names: Hothead (Warren Peace), Lash, and Speed (though these might have just been regular high school nicknames). Others in the "Hero" classes go by their names (Will, Gwen, & Penny).
All of the pilots in the various movies have humorous call signs from the faintly ridiculous "Topper" Harley to the hilariously appropriate "Dead Meat" and "Washout" ("washout" being US military slang for someone who fails flight school).
There's also the enemy pilots' call signs in the first film all being types of food.
Shown correctly in, of all things, Flight of the Intruder, in which one new pilot is given the callsign "Razor" because he'd missed a bit while shaving the morning they were doling out names. Reverting back to trope, he later became Straight Razor "because you've become a real weapon, kid". Sheesh. In the book the movie was based on, Razor's callsign was because he was the only pilot in the squadron with a mustache. In the movie, the mustache was given to "Tiger" Cole.
In Raising Arizona, Gale snaps at Evelle for constantly dropping his name during a bank robbery. After an awkward pause, Evelle suggests that "Gale" is actually his code name, and Gale weakly tries to back up his ruse.
In the page quote from X-Men, Wolverine ridicules the fact that they have code names, which is some Hypocritical Humor on his part, as he has one, too.
In X-Men: First Class, the ridiculous codenames given to the characters which have nothing to do with anonymity (as demonstrated by them using them for each other in the most mundane of situations) that give rise to the page quote are explained as a result of precedent established by teenagers in over their heads in the CIA.
Smokey and the Bandit: Back in the CB radio days everyone used some kind of appropriate code-name (referred to as their "handle"): Bandit, Frog, Grave Robber, Silver Tongued Devil, etc. Jerry Reed's character was Cletus Snow, known better by his handle, Snowman.
Undercover Brother. Undercover Brother, Smart Brother, Conspiracy Brother, Sistah Girl, The Man. "Mr. Feather" might be one.
In Father Goose, Commander Frank Houghton is Big Bad Wolf, Ensign Stebbings is Bo Peep, the base at Kingsport is Briar Patch, and Walter Eckland is Mother Goose.
A fan theory about the James Bond films is that the name "James Bond" is an alias passed down from one agent to the next. This neatly justifies The Nth Doctor.
In S Club: Seeing DoubleS Club 7 give themselves code names while investigating their clone counterparts, clearly for Rule of Funny. Jon is Bird Dog, Tina is Mr Black, Bradley is Big Pants, Hannah is Hedge Pig, Rachel is The Shopper and Jo is initially Essex Terrier but decides to change it to Tough Sirloin.
Played for laughs in Big Ass Spider when the exterminator heroes uses these for absolutely no reason while communicating with his security-guard helper via walkie-talkie.
Color code names are used by the criminals in The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3: Mr. Blue, Mr. Gray, Mr. Brown and Mr. Green. (Note that in this case the color-coding is partially hidden by the fact that these four are also normal English/American last names.)
The Seekers of Truth use code names to identify themselves, to avoid using real names rather than anonymity. Initially, they do it to give a name to the urban legends that start around them.
The bird-kids in Maximum Ride all have names that sound like code names.
Quiller, the protagonist of the spy novels by Adam Hall. We never find out what his real name is, and he is always referred to by his cover name on missions.
The titular assassin from The Day of the Jackal. Even the people who hired him didn't know his name, and in the end, neither do we.
The presidential nicknames (as mentioned in the Real Life section, below) for the otherwise unnamed president early in the series is "Wrangler", while Jack Ryan's callsign is "Swordsman", for the gift he received at the end of The Sum of All Fears (his wife is "Surgeon", for her civilian job, and the children get names starting with "s").
Ryan's chosen Treasury Department Secretary is tagged with the callsign "Trader", for his civilian life job. It's joked by Ryan to make sure to pronounce it correctly... which is why the Secret Service probably wouldn't use that in Real Life.
The title of Rainbow Six is a reference to the callsign of the unit's leader- "Six" being the traditional number for a CO.
In Wearing the Cape most superheroes have codenames that are descriptive of their power or just cool-sounding. Atlas gives Hope the temporary codename "Astra", which he says is Latin for “star". She keeps it, despite later finding out it's the plural form—"stars".
The Mark of the Lion: Hadassah adopts the name Rapha (Hebrew for “healer”) in book two because she is supposed to be dead. A Meaningful Name because Hadassah is working as a physician’s assistant, and quickly gains a reputation for her Healing Hands (which she attributes to the power of God).
In the Codename Omega stories, unsurprisingly, several characters have codenames: Nuke, Navy, Princess, Knight, Valiant, Victory and, of course, Omega. They have rules about when to use the codenames to prevent their real identities being revealed, even after some of them have been identified. Nuke is unique in that he's the only character whose real name is never revealed even to those on his team.
Shows up in The Stand, where Harold Lauder picks up the codename 'Nighthawk' or 'Hawk' during the clean-up of Boulder after the plague.
In Hidden Talents by David Lubar, many of the kids at Edgeview are known by their nicknames, which come across somewhat like this, especially when the protagonists start sneaking out. Names include: Lucky, because he's the unluckiest guy they've ever met; Torchie, because he has a reputation for being a pyromaniac; Flinch, because his precognition means he sees things coming before they hit; and Cheater, who can read minds and cheats unintentionally on every test he takes.
In The November Man, everyone working for Section R has got a code name, including the main character, Deveraux ("November").
In The Three Musketeers, the titular characters hide their identities behind the well-known noms de guerre of "Athos" (the Count de la Fère), "Porthos" (du Vallon) and "Aramis" (René d'Herblay). In the sequels, Porthos is very fond of the pompous title of Baron du Vallon de Bracieux de Pierrefonds, while Aramis becomes the Abbé/Chevalier d'Herblay, then the Bishop of Vannes and finally the Duke of Alameda.
The Wraiths in the X-Wing Series novels use numbers as a fighter squadron, but generally resort to codenames as an Intelligence operation. Their preferred nomenclature is [Word] Boy or Girl, using a keyword that's either physically distinctive or sums up their role, such as Face's "Poster Boy" (he was a child actor) or Huhunna's "Tree Girl" (as a Wookie, she's naturally arboreal). This pattern is probably a reference to an incident in the first novel where people keep calling Kell "Demolitions Boy" during a mission.
Live Action TV
The 2004 version of Battlestar Galactica turns the rather improbable given names of original characters such as Apollo, Starbuck, and Boomer into pilot callsigns. Other pilots include "Hot Dog," "Crashdown," "Duck," "Racetrack," and many, many more.
Zack and Cody of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody use code names when pulling off some of their more elaborate pranks. Usually Zack picks the code names and gives Cody an embarrassing one and himself a flattering one, such as "Better Looking Twin."
Colonel Hogan's callsign is "Goldilocks" in Hogan's Heroes, apparently because it was his callsign back when he was a fighter pilot. Fairytale-esque names are used for a number of targets and individuals.
Unit operators use colors in place of their real names to hid their identities (Mr. Black, Sgt. White, etc) and also have radio callsigns than range from cool (Snake Doctor, Hammerhead) to silly (Blue Iguana, Betty Blue).
If you're Airborne, Gerhardt's callsign ("Dirt Diver") is hilarious. note A newbie Airborne trooper is sometimes called a "Dirt Dart".
The titular Gladiators from the '90s sports game show all had suitably impressive-sounding handles. The black ones did tend to get the names like "Shadow", "Nightshade" and "Saracen", a fact pointed out by Jeremy Hardy on his Talk to the Nation radio series.
The agents of Sapphire And Steel are named after either precious gems, periodic elements or alloys. In Assignment 5, they recruit a bystander to help them, who asks for a 'code name' of his own, and is told he can be Brass.
And as 'Allo 'Allo! was based on Secret Army, codenames appear there too, most noticeably for Lisa: Code Name Yvette, as well as Albert, who adopts the Yvette moniker after Lisa is killed in a bombing raid. This is to throw the Germans off the scent as they would be looking for a woman.
As mentioned above, CONTROL agents in Get Smart use numbers. The 2008 film states that only field agents get numbers, while analysts and staff go by their names. In the original series, we learn that The Chief used to be Agent Q, since he was an agent before they switched to numbers.
Ugly Betty features this when they're trying to do a secret fashion show:
Betty: Oh, can we have code names? I wanna be Princess Daisy. Henry: Oh, I'm Dragon! No, Eagle! Dragon, Black Dragon! Daniel: Guys! It's fine, do whatever you want... just as long as it's not Falcon, because that's mine.
The various spies in Alias all had vaguely-evocative codenames, which changed depending on which organization they worked for. Protagonist Sydney Brisow's for example, were "Blue Bird" (SD-6), "Freelancer" (C.I.A. double agent), "Mountaineer" (C.I.A.) and "Phoenix" (A.P.O.).
The actives in the Dollhouse have code names based on the NATO phonetic alphabet: Alpha, Echo, November, Sierra, Victor, and Whiskey. Notice that was the Los Angeles branch we're mostly familiar with. The Washington D.C. branch used the names of Greco-Roman gods.
The Monkees use funny code names in the episode “Art, For Monkees’ Sake” while breaking into an art museum overnight to switch back a stolen painting (“Mission: Ridiculous”). Each name refers to the places where each of the boys are from: "Manchester Marauder" (Davy), "Connecticut Counterspy" (Peter), "Los Angeles Leopard" (Micky), and the "(Modest) but Towering Texan" (Mike).
Married... with Children. When Al, Bud, and Jefferson devise a plot to blow up a scoreboard, they use the codenames 00 Shoe, Son of Frankenstein, and Gold Digger.
Used multiple times in Glee by Sue Sylvester to both (temporary) teammates and various Glee Club members. One of the more common code names being "Porcelain" for Kurt Hummel.
Spoofed in a Hope And Faith episode where Faith and Hope have jobs as lunch ladies at Sydney's school. When Faith gets convinced Sydney is up to no good, she assigns her and Hope the code names "Hot Lunch" and "Tater Tot" when they investigate.
In Smallville, Green Arrow assigns code names to the other heroes when he teams up with them. While the others are their eventual superhero names like "Impulse", "Cyborg", and "Aquaman", he calls Clark Kent "Boyscout". Similar to Wolverine above, Clark thinks this practice is bizarre. Clark eventually starts calling himself "The Blur" because he protects his secret identity by staying in the shadows and moving at super speed so he cannot only be seen by the public as a blur. He only starts calling himself "Superman" in the final episodes.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer ridicules the Scoobies when she returns after a long absence to find them tooled up with radios and using callsigns like "Nighthawk". She is similarly bemused to find that secret agent Riley Finn's callsign is Lilac One.
The Concept AlbumScenes From A Memory has "the Sleeper", Julian (who is somewhat lazy), and "the Miracle", his brother Edward, a senator. One interpretation is that Victoria's Codename is "Metropolis". Technically, these are nicknames.
The Protomen all have code names, such as "Panther" and "Heath Who Hath No Name."
Spectrum agents use colours as codenames, usually associated with the word "Captain" (as in the titular hero, Captain Blue, Captain Ochre, Captain Scarlet, etc.), but sometimes with some other honorific, for example Lieutenant Green and Doctor Fawn.
Also, the female fighter pilots had a (mostly) musical motif. Their numbers included Destiny, Symphony, Melody, Rhapsody and Harmony.
In Aberrant, superheroes of course chose their own code names. However, a secret organization also assigned entirely separate code names to their agents. One, who is basically Batman (but with more skills) in the body of a nebbishy, middle-aged maintenance man, is nicknamed Renaissance Man. He doesn't approve of this, because code names aren't supposed to give hints to the agent's identity.
Shadowrunners seldom use their real names, instead preferring a nickname. One of the recommended ways to flesh out your backstory is to come up with an explanation of how you got the name.
One early piece of Shadowrun short fiction Lampshaded the use of call signs, having a merc captain assign code names that were mostly for laughs. His own call sign was "Georgia Peach", and the runners who hired his squad remark about how it's a dippy name for a male ork, even one with a southern accent.
In Cosmopol, it's common for player characters to be known by a street name or callsign in the context of their (often illegal) "night job", and if the character is a hacker who belongs to the Zero One, callsigns are always used instead of real names.
Spycraft also encourages this for your spies. And it can be even more fun when you refuse to use fake codenames when in front of other spies who know you're spies!
Mage: The Awakening has most mages adopting "shadow names" among their own culture, given that referring to each other by their real names often opens them up to attack. As names have power, no matter how true they are, the shadow name usually matches the character's outlook and personality, and may serve to guide how they develop amongst the Awakened.
Everyone in G.I. Joe had a codename, widely ranging in silliness — from Roadblock and Wild Bill to Snowjob and Ice Cream Soldier.
Most of the groups in the Metal Gear franchise had some convention for their operative's codenames.
FOXHOUND used the formula (Descriptive Word) + (Animal Name) — for instance, Solid Snake or Sniper Wolf. The Cobra Unit used emotions that were felt by the members on the battlefield — for example, The Pain, The Sorrow, and The Fury. "The End" is a bit more esoteric, but comes from the total sense of oblivion he felt when on the hunt. Sometimes, the codenames were cool. Sometimes, not so much. Compare such names as "Psycho Mantis" or "Vamp" to such names as "Fatman" or "Revolver Ocelot". (Just don't do it to their faces...) Every last one is a dead giveaway as to that character's skill and personality, but serves the purpose of obscuring the individual's real name.
Originally, the codenames for the Foxhound Unit were designed in such a way that the animal represented, obtusely, your rank, while the adjective represented, also obtusely, your particular style or skill. This was then completely subverted by Metal Gear Solid, but there are still some references, even as late as MGS4, of Fox being the highest possible ranking/codename for a Foxhound operative. Snake is, oddly enough, somewhere near the bottom (in the original game, Solid Snake was a rookie).
In Metal Gear Solid 2 most of the code names switched to one word nouns or adjectives such as the aforementioned "Vamp" and "Fatman". Solidus Snake and "Iroquois Pliskin" What Solid Snake introduces himself to Raiden as, which itself is a reference to the protagonist of the film "Escape From New York". Solid Snake is based off of him.
In Metal Gear Solid 4, the Beauty and the Beast unit fits this collectively and individually. The names are amalgamations of the emotions (in verb form) of the Cobra Unit of MGS 3 and the animal based nouns of MGS 1's Foxhound. For example, "The Sorrow" + "Sniper Wolf" = Crying Wolf.
After Big Boss' fall, when Roy Campbell took over FOXHOUND he revitalized the codenaming procedure, which could account for the odd names. Additionally, the animal name was not the rank, but an indication of their passing grade.
Characters aren't usually referred to by their full codenames; Solid Snake is almost always called "Snake", Revolver Ocelot is just "Ocelot", and so on. So they actually have nicknames of their codenames.
The Wing Commander series makes use of callsigns for pilots, most of which sound really cool: Maniac, Angel, Bossman, Knight, Spirit, Doomsday, Jazz, Paladin, Shotglass, Shadow, Crossbones, etc. In Wing Commander III, they even gave the main character of the series the callsign Maverick (most famous from its use in the movie Top Gun, one of Chris Roberts' inspirations to make Wing Commander).
In Kingdom Hearts, all members of Organization XIII have three code names. A Number in roman numeral form, an anagram of their "true name" with an X added, and a longer title relating to their powers or fighting style. For example, Xaldin's three code names are III, Xaldin (from his original name Dilan), and "The Whirlwind Lancer".
Inverted in Super Robot Wars. W17 at first didn't care about names, but on her mission to sneak onto the good guys' group, she made up her own codename 'Lamia Loveless'. The codename now sounds more common than the real name.
Barring Captain Price, the SAS guys from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare don't go by their real names, so you get "Soap" and "Gaz". In Modern Warfare 2, the Task Force 141 have the same tradition, so you get characters named things like "Roach", "Worm", "Ghost" and "Rook", while Captains Price and MacTavish go by their rank and surnames (Price still calls him "Soap", though).
David Mason in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 has the codename of "Section", though he's the only important member of JSOC to get one and he's still called by his real name about as often.
The Player Character supposedly has the callsign "Shade", but it's actually used maybe two times in the game, most characters preferring to use his last name, "Crenshaw". In a reveral, his wingmates "Casper" and "Talon" are not given any names other than their callsigns.
In one of the missions, you have to protect Air Force One, who is using the callsign "Eagle".
Every member of the Hero's Guild in the Fable series, including the option to purchase from a variety of options for your character. Well, everyone except Garth.
In Prototype the military uses code names when referring to the three primary vectors of the Blacklight Virus. Alex Mercer, Designated Hero, is ZEUS; Elizabeth Greene is MOTHER; and her child is PARIAH.
In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, all of the main characters go by these throughout the game in order to protect their identities. Each codename corresponds with the number their bracelet has been assigned: Ace (the card representing one), Snake (snake eyes, which is two), Santa (derived from the Japanese word for three, 'san'), Clover (referring to a four-leaf clover though subverted when her name is revealed to literally be Clover), June (the sixth month), Seven (guess), and Lotus (a plant which has eight petals). The 9th Man never revealed a code name before his death, but is referred to as this until his real name is revealed in the Safe and True endings. Junpei (number five), the protagonist, also subverts this in that his name was revealed to the group before everyone selected code names. Made better in that many of these names turn out to have double meanings.
Several characters in Alpha Protocol are known only by their codenames such as Albatross, SIE or Sis.
In Star Wars: The Old Republic's Imperial Agent class storyline, both Imperial Intelligence and the Republic Strategic Information Service use code names to refer to their agents. Intelligence prefers a position and number (such as Fixer Six or Cipher Nine), with the position referring to their general role as a field agent, analyst, technician, etc. The SIS or at least the cell you end up infiltrating evidently prefers codenames drawn from a shared source such as what is basically Space Tarot.
Grisaia No Kajitsu established that Yuuji had the code number of 9029, which is reserved for the best operative in Ichigaya's lineup. Less dignified is two sequels later when the Mihama girls give each other special code names during their rescue Yuuji operation and pick things like OT, or Obnoxious Tsundere.
Parodied in the webcomic Exterminatus Now!, where the agent codenamed "Elusive Camel" was actually a penguin. It was that or "Urinating Flounder".
In Triquetra Cats, the code name in SERVICE designates which subgroup you are assigned to, such as the Talons (a mineral and a bird) such as Stone Bluejay, Sand Robin or China Cardinal, the Fables, (pseudo japanese version of fairytale characters) such as Sannou White or Raydin Hood, Shinobi Spectrum (words that imply colour) such as Shinobi Tiger (orange) or Shinobi Forest (green) and M-P which are descriptives of their power sets Project: Elemental Cat or Agent Shunmyo.
In thisSluggy Freelance strip, Torg and Riff give themselves holiday themed codenames (April Fool and Hot Chick Appreciation Day, respectively).
Like many of the comedic examples listed above the callsigns for Icebreaker squad in the Girls LoveSpace OperaAngels 2200 are all sarcastic, ironic, or sardonic commentaries on their personalities (or failings). Unlike the comedic examples the recipients are fully aware that they're being mocked and it contributes to their ultimate failure to bond as a team.
Several characters have code names that are actually their real names: Mr. Mighty, Dolly Bird, Professor Odious, Doctor Unpleasant. Other heroes have more "heroic" appellations, which are still based on their actual names (Dot Dash's real name is Dorothea, Matt O'Morph is Matthew, etc.).
The Mysterious Watchful Presence and his pilot use additional code names when arranging for pick-up ... which the pilot complains are unnecessary.
The "all the good names were taken" variant is used in The Noob. A new player, trying to choose a name for his character, is repeatedly told that the name he requested is already taken. In frustration, he shouts out "Oh, for f*** sake!" ... and the game responds, "You have chosen a human male warrior with the name Ohforf'sake..."
At the Super Hero School Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe, all students must have a codename, for security purposes. (Any reports going out to police or criminal organizations will only list the codename, protecting the student's family.) On the first day, the headmistress points out that their codename will become the name they are most known by, and there are repercussions for choosing a bad name or changing later. The supervillain 'Wrecking Ball' is still referred to by his Whateley Academy codename of 'Power Pork', much to his chagrin.
Some members of the terrorist organisation in Survival of the Fittest have code names, these include 'King', 'Queen, 'Jack' and 'Ace'.
The Descendants loves these. Students at the Super Hero School self enforce it as a tradition, but other characters have picked them up from the media or just by being that nerdy.
Since it is a superhero setting, it is easier to list the aversions of this trope from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, like Michael Kayle, David Thorn, Charles Carr, Nicholas Chandler, Josiah Brimstone, and Pamela Odd, all of whom are superheroes and most of whom are Badass Normals.
Red vs. Blue has the freelancer agents, each named after a different state. Except Florida.Poor Florida. Well, there was an Agent Florida.... Sarge also has a habit of using code names like "Maroon One" for Simmons.
Sometimes the FakeAHCrew adopts these for their Heist missions in line with them pretending to actually be criminal masterminds, though usually these are forgotten quickly or used inconsistently. For instance, "Gavin's Heist" just added the word "Secret" in front of everyone's names, "Ray's Heist" used everyone's middle names (first name for Ryan and TAFKAR for Ray himself), although Michael defied this during his Heist, saying that they spend too much time dicking around with fake names and such.
At the Orphanage in Phaeton many of the DPIs use these, some for secrecy, some for fun, some because they don't know their real names.
In the pilot episode of Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, the chipmunks meet an animal resistance movement whose members all take code names beginning with the letter "K", leading to an inevitable "K Sera Sera" gag.
"COPS roll call! Highway. Mainframe. Longarm. Bowzer and Blitz. Sundown. Hardtop. Mirage. Bullseye. Mace. Barricade. And they call me: Bulletproof. These are Empire City's most wanted crooks: Berserko. Rock Crusher. Ms. Demeanor. Turbo Tu-Tone. Dr. Badvibes. Nightshade. Use caution in apprehending."
The Recess crew uses code names when pulling off some of their more elaborate pranks. (Gus once got detention for using Miss Finster's code name, "Crocodilicus", to her face.)
Spoofed in the first episode of Danger Mouse. DM's code name is... Danger Mouse. Penfold's is The Jigsaw, "because when faced with a problem, he falls to pieces."
One of the Running Gags on The Secret Show is that the boss of the heroes has always a different codename and it's always something embarrassing.
One episode of Danny Phantom, where Danny sneaks aboard Axion Labs upon which code names are given that fits the character's current situation; namely Sam's social status and Danny's inability to see her crush on him:
Sam: (through an intercom) Clueless One, this is Goth One. Over.
Danny: Goth One, this is Clueless One...why am I Clueless One?
At the beginning of the South Park miniseries Imaginationland, while trying to catch a leprechaun, Cartman calls himself "Dragonwind", while giving his friends less than flattering code names, including "Blackie" for Token, and "Faggot" for Butters.
The gem guardians in Gargoyles take on the names of the gems they carry, so they're more like callsigns; unlike other Gargoyles, who tended to have Theme Naming (all the Manhattan Clan's Gargoyles but Goliath being known by location names from New York, such as Hudson and Broadway).
This is lampshaded in a commercial for ''X-Men: Evolution. Xavier calls the team by real name and code name, but when he gets to Jean Grey, she's just Jean Grey. Then she complains about not having a code name.
Justified in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, where each clone trooper introduced is almost always referred to by their chosen codename (Rex, Cody, Fives, etc.) not only because the Jedi feel it allows them to express their individuality, but because their actual real names are just strings of numbers. It's easier to call out "Rex" in the middle of the battlefield than "CT-7567." Certain characters still call them by their numerical designation, either because they feel the codenames are improper, or because they're just plain jerks.
Artemis from Young Justice plays with this. Artemis is her given first name and also makes a very fitting code name when in costume, given she uses a bow and arrow.
Disneys Prep And Landing loves this. Naturally, they're all holiday-themed. One of the protagonists is 'Tree Skirt', for example.
Shows up in The FlintstonesA Flinstone Christmas...Fred uses Sky Sled and Big Red on the sleigh's CB.
Ed, Edd n Eddy gave themselves codenames while spying on Kevin. Eddy's was "Loudmouth", Edd's was "The Professor" (though Eddy kept saying "The Projector" instead) and Ed was "The Claw".
The Monsters Universityshort "Party Central", Mike is called 'Beach Ball', Sulley is 'Throw Rug' and Art is 'Fuzzy Rainbow'.
Quite obviously a Truth in Television—most common in fighter pilots—though rarely are real military callsigns as cool as those found in fiction. This is because real codenames are usually meant to have no obvious meaning to outside observers, or are meant to be in-jokes that only those in the loop will get, and/or a constant reminder to keep a fighter pilot humble by reminding him of his foibles. You will find plenty of guys named things like "Frog" and "Sobs", but not many named "Maverick" or "Deadeye".
Astronaut Michael Collins recounts his being difficult to get the guy on the other end of the radio to understand. It was Flit Gun, but they kept hearing 'Six Gun', no matter how he tried to correct them.
Jetstream, a documentary series following the training of Canadian fighter pilots, shows the allocation process for these names. The pilots themselves have no say in it.
An episode of Mighty Ships set on the largest carrier in the world, the USS Nimitz, showed a rookie pilot getting his callsign, which is usually done by consensus of other pilots in the rookie's flight group. This particular pilot had made no mistakes even when landing on a carrier at night, but when catapulted off for the exercise had, in his own words, screamed like a little girl. Another pilot noted that "screams like a girl" could be acronymed into "slag", which is also a British slang term meaning, roughly, slut, and (though this wasn't mentioned on the show) is originally an industrial term for waste product from smelting. It's also the name of a Dinobot, so it's still kinda badass.
Related to the above are team nicknames, for special forces groups. These are given, among other reasons, for the same reason that pilots are given callsigns.
Another real life example: President Barack Obama's secret service codename is "Renegade". (A few nut-jobs claim that the word is from the Spanish renegado: one who has renounced Christianity!) At least with the Obama family, all the members of the First Family have codenames that start with the same letter (Michelle's is "Renaissance"). The same held true for the Clintons - some of whom are still under Secret Service protection - Bill was "Eagle", Hillary was "Evergreen" and Chelsea was "Energy". George W. Bush's is "Trailblazer". Eleanor Roosevelt's codename was "Rover", while Cheney was "Angler".
Every time a new president is elected, the Secret Service comes up with codenames for the president's family (and, if The West Wing is to believed, the senior staff—CJ Cregg's was "Flamingo")...and then the media immediately reports what they are. The presidential codenames are more for brevity and clarity in communications rather than secrecy, as confirmed by a former Secret Service agent.
George H.W. Bush had the call sign "Skin" during his Navy years, and John McCain was "Playboy".
The head of the SIS/MI-6 is traditionally referred to as "C" after the original holder of the post's habit of signing documents with his initial in green ink, and is the obvious inspiration for the Bond series' alphabet of HQ-staff codenames.
In Al Franken's The Truth (with jokes), in a chapter on pre-Iraq War planning, he talks about the Downing Street memos. There we find out that not only is there an individual designated C, there are also Z, R, and a group called 'the Vowels.'
During World War II, the German military had a bad habit of using code names for projects or systems which were superficially cryptic but actually revealed the nature of the concept they were supposed to disguise. Specialists at Bletchley Park determined that a device referred to in intelligence reports as "Wotan" was in fact a single-beam navigation system; "Wotan" is, of course, the name of a one-eyed god in Anglo-Saxon mythology. English-speakers might know Wotan better by his Norse name, "Odin".
There was also "Operation Sea Lion", the plan for an invasion by sea of Britain, a nation often symbolized by a lion. Yeah, good thinking on that one.
James Bond's codename actually comes from a real British spy's callsign. Dr. John Dee, who served Queen Elizabeth I, used it as a signature. The 0's represented the queen's eyes and the 7 was his personal number.
The Symbionese Liberation Army — the terrorist group of the 1970s best-known for kidnapping Patty Hearst — may have been murderous whackjobs, but they did pick some cool-sounding codenames: "Cinque," "Cujo," "Mizmoon," "Fahizah," and of course Hearst's, "Tania."
Strippers are known this way as well, logically to keep their privacy away from their routine.
Citizens Band radio handles, though mostly just as call signs rather than code.