Long hours, stressful work, and constant ridicule. Sounds like a dream job, right? Well, if you enjoy living in a big mansion, getting your own airplane, and being the leader of the free world, then perhaps being President wouldn’t be so bad. Another plus is that you get your very own Secret Service code name.
US Presidents have had Secret Service code names since Harry S. Truman. The use of code names was originally for security reasons. With advances in telecommunications technology during the mid-20th century, the danger of spies potentially listening in on private conversations became a real fear. Today, classified or sensitive electronic communications are usually encrypted, but the names remain for purposes of brevity, clarity and tradition.
Like any good nickname, Secret Service code names are usually given by others, though Presidents can have a say in what they ultimately are. It is the White House Communications Agency that is tasked with assigning them.
In general, code names should be unambiguous and easily understood by all who transmit and receive voice messages. Usually, all of a President’s family members will have code names that start with the same letter. Code names might change over time for security purposes, but are often known by the public.
Though not always perfectly fitting the individual, the White House Communications Agency does a commendable job of picking names that can somehow relate to each President.
Here’s a look at the past Presidential code names, and a little extra info about each. First Lady code names are in parenthesis:
Harry S. Truman – General (Bess Truman – Sunnyside)
- Truman was never actually a general, but he did have military experience. He’d been a captain in World War I, and some believe his code name selection represented a fantasy that he might have worked his way to be general.
Dwight Eisenhower – Scorecard or Providence (Mamie Eisenhower – Springtime)
- General would have been fitting for Eisenhower, who was actually a general, but since it was taken he opted for the name Providence. Once Ike retired, he was called Scorecard because of his affinity for golf.
John F. Kennedy – Lancer (Jacqueline Kennedy – Lace)
- Kennedy’s administration was often compared to Camelot, the magical court of the King Arthur. Lancelot was one of the Knights of the Round Table in Arthurian legend.
Lyndon Johnson – Volunteer (Lady Bird Johnson – Victoria)
- Not a lot is known about the origins of LBJ’s code name. It is perhaps a nod to the Silver Star medal he was awarded during WWII, in which he was recognized for volunteering as an observer on a hazardous aerial combat mission.
Richard Nixon – Searchlight (Pat Nixon – Starlight)
- Nixon’s code name proved to be a bit ironic after his attempts to cover up what became the Watergate scandal. A searchlight can reveal a lot, afterall.
Gerald Ford – Passkey (Betty Ford – Pinafore)
- Ford’s code name was also a bit ironic. His pardon of Richard Nixon locked the door on any possible criminal prosecution for the former President.
Jimmy Carter – Deacon (Rosalynn Carter – Dancer)
- One of the more fitting code names, Carter was a devout Baptist Christian who went on to teach Sunday School after his presidency.
Ronald Reagan – Rawhide (Nancy Reagan – Rainbow)
- Reagan’s code name was also quite fitting of his cowboy persona. The former Hollywood star had an affinity for Western movies.
George H. W. Bush – Timberwolf (Barbara Bush – Tranquility)
- No one is really sure why Bush was given his Timberwolf code name. In contrast to to the fierce animal he chose, his wife Barbara was called Tranquility.
Bill Clinton – Eagle (Hillary Clinton – Evergreen)
- Clinton also chose an unexplained animal name. Perhaps this was due to his affiliation with the Boy Scouts. An Eagle Scout is the organization’s top rank, which is fitting for someone holding the highest office in the land.
George W. Bush – Tumbler, later Trailblazer (Laura Bush – Tempo)
- Bush changed his code name to Trailblazer upon taking office. His code name during his father’s presidency was less complimentary. Tumbler was allegedly given to him based on his propensity to party.
Barack Obama – Renegade (Michelle Obama – Renaissance)
- Obama picked a cool sounding code name, but there isn’t much of a story behind it. It is rumored that he chose his name from a list of options that began with the letter ‘R’.
Donald Trump – Mogul (Melania Trump – Muse)
- When Trump was a candidate, he said he would select Humble as his code name. His current code name seems a bit more fitting.
Secret Service Code Names – They’re Not Just For Presidents
Here’s a look at a few other interesting code names:
Roger Clinton – Headache
- The half-brother of President Bill Clinton, notorious for his conviction for cocaine use among other controversies, got his nickname for obvious reasons. “I don’t have a choice of being first brother,” he recently told The New York Times.
Ted Kennedy – Sunburn
- Before he was a Senator, the brother of JFK went by the code name Sunburn. Apparently, summers in Hyannis Port were not all fun and games for the Kennedy’s.
Happy Rockefeller – Shooting Star
- The wife of former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller had a code name that seemed innocent enough. However, Secret Service agents soon noticed using the word ‘shooting’ in a code name might be problematic.
Karenna Gore – Smurfette
- Put a 19-year-old on the spot, and who knows what name they’ll pick. The daughter of Vice President Al Gore was asked to pick a two syllable ‘S’ name. She has regretted choosing the code name ever since.
Meghan McCain – Peter Sellers
- John McCain went by Phoenix. Per Secret Service rules, his daughter had to have the same first initial in her code name. Somehow, she ended up with the same name as a certain Pink Panther star.
Frank Sinatra – Napoleon
- Turns out Ol’ Blue Eyes hung around the White House a lot. Though he was friends with the Kennedy’s, it was President Nixon who requested he have a Secret Service code name.
William French Smith – Flivver
- You might not remember Reagan’s Attorney General, but he has the distinction of having one of the least flattering code names. Flivver is slang for a cheap car in poor condition.
Prince Charles – Unicorn
- Apparently, My Little Pony was already taken. In all seriousness though, unicorns are common symbols in Britain, so the name seems to fit.
Pope John Paull II – Halo
- Seems about right for a pope.
Think you know your Secret Service code names? Test yourself to see how many you can remember – Secret Service Code Names Quiz
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.