Decoded: Secret Service code names

With the hubbub of the inauguration behind us, the United States Secret Service recedes from the media spotlight, and goes back to operating within the shadows. But the infamous code names given to the first families live on in history.

The purpose of the code names these days is for ease of communication (in previous times they were used for security purposes, when transmission encryption wasn’t always available). Names are assigned by the White House Communications Agency, and in some cases, the code name refers to a characteristic of that person. The families may also be given a list of choices. If the choices are deemed awful, they can offer their own suggestions (Karenna Gore famously chose the unfortunate Smurfette).

The choices should:

  • be unambiguous and easily pronounced
  • be readily understood by voice transmission
  • start with the same letter for all family members (The Obamas cover the “Rs:” the President as Renegade, Michelle Obama as Renaissance, Malia as Radiance, and young Sasha is referred to by the legendary Rosebud handle)

Those in office before January 1, 1997 continue to receive Secret Service protection for their lifetime. After that date, presidents and first ladies receive protection for 10 years after leaving office. President Clinton is the last president to receive lifetime protection.

Here’s an infographic of recent Secret Service code names. Here’s the place to visit for the complete list of names throughout history.

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Listen to some code name history from NPR.

What would your code name be? Find out here.

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