Recently I posted some ideas about the characteristics of codes, specifically the codes used to identify the President. Most of it was theorizing on my part.
“…this code has to be easily spoken via phone. No doubt, you’d like a certain about of uniqueness. Also, it should be something that could be understood when spoken over low-quality audio. You never know when those sat phones will get scratchy-sounding (‘I can’t hear you! I’m in a tunnel!’).”
I was very pleased to come across an article today that actually describes some of the codes used by the military, for identifying the President, Vice President, and their families. This was with respect to the new Secret Service code names being assigned for the Obama and Biden families. It turns out, speakability is a factor in their decision.
“The names are chosen to be easily pronounced and understood when agents use radio communications.
The code names have ‘nothing to do with security’ and more to do with ease in radio communication for those agents whispering into microphones up their sleeves.”
There’s a bit more info, along with a slightly funny story from Al Gore’s daughter.
When 19-year-old Karenna Gore’s father became vice-president in 1993 she had to choose her own name.
In 1997, she wrote: “Ever since four years ago, when I was put on the spot and told ‘two syllables’ and ‘It has to start with an s,’ I have been cringing in the back seat when identified as ‘Smurfette’.”
I find this additional “two syllable” requirement to be interesting. It makes sense, since it’s short, but still manages to provide a small amount of redundancy. [Edit: Chas points out that some of the names mentioned aren’t strictly two syllables, but I counter that if you slur them slightly, the names all have two “strong” sounding syllables — they’re not using “The Lotus Blossom”]
Also, the article mentions that the Obama family is being assigned names that begin with ‘R’ — Barack himself is “Renegade”. Karenna Gore said she was told it had to start with ‘S’. Bush and his wife have ‘T’. I think this might be so that the first sound of the word immediately identifies which family is being discussed. I think this is a clever trick.
And ultimately, it’s consistent. You don’t have agents using “Joe the VP”, “Mr Biden”, “The Vice Prez”, “Biden”, or any other possible name. There’s zero confusion. Day to day life is easy, and if they were ever put under stress, it’s one less thing they have to think about. They handle their thinking up front. Kind of like pre-processing data in a computer system. Good job, Secret Service.