cryptonym

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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Cryptonyms are false names often used by intelligence agencies. (TARIK KIZILKAYA/Gettty Images)

Definition

A cryptonym is a word or name that's secretly used to refer to a particular person, place, activity, or thing; a code word or name.

A well-known example is Operation Overlord, the cryptonym for the Allied invasion of German-occupied western Europe during World War II.

The term cryptonym is derived from two Greek words meaning "hidden" and "name."

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

 

Examples and Observations

  • "Cryptonyms are often temporary, are known to only a select group of people, and are usually of unrelated or at best covert meaning. Some cryptonyms are simply combinations of letters and figures."
    (Adrian Room, An Alphabetical Guide to the Language of Name Studies. Scarecrow, 1996)
     
  • "'Reinhard' was the cryptonym for the German plan to exterminate the Jews of Poland."
    (Michał Grynberg, Words to Outlive Us: Voices From the Warsaw Ghetto. Macmillan, 2002)
     
  • White House Cryptonyms
    "The Oval Office's next occupant opted for this moniker [Renegade] after being presented with a list of names beginning with the letter 'R.' As custom dictates, the rest of his family's code names will be alliterative: wife Michelle is known as 'Renaissance'; daughters Malia and Sasha are 'Radiance' and 'Rosebud,' respectively."
    ("Renegade: President-elect Barack Obama." Time magazine, November 2008)
     
  • CIA Cryptonyms
    The true identities of cryptonyms are among the most precious secrets of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 

    - "The CIA often used multiple cryptonyms for the same entity to strengthen operational security and maintain compartmentalization of the information.

    "In the CIA nomenclature, cryptonyms always appear in capital letters. The first two letters were used for cryptographic security and were based on factors such as the geography or type of operation. The rest of the cryptonym was a word selected randomly from a dictionary, in principle with no particular relation to the place or person the cryptonym was supposed to mask. However, it is not difficult to imagine tongue-in cheek CIA officers picking words like 'wahoo' for Albanian, 'drink' for Greece, 'credo' for Rome, 'gypsy' for communist, 'roach' for Yugoslavia, 'crown' for United Kingdom, 'steel' for Soviet Union, and 'metal' for Washington, D.C."
    (Albert Lulushi, Operation Valuable Fiend: The CIA's First Paramilitary Strike Against the Iron Curtain. Arcade, 2014)

    - "Vladimir I. Vetrov--who had the cryptonym FAREWELL--reported to Western intelligence services that the Soviets had placed bugs on the printers used by the French intelligence service for communications."
    (Ronald Kessler, Inside the CIA. Simon & Schuster, 1992)

    - "The longtime personal physician of the Castros' mother and some of her daughters was a reporting source. Bernardo Milanes, known to the Agency by his cryptonym AMCROAK, was recruited in December 1963 in Madrid. At the time he and others were plotting an assassination attempt against [Fidel] Castro."
    (Brian Latell, Castro's Secrets: The CIA and Cuba's Intelligence Machine. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) 

    - "The Farm was known officially by the cryptonym ISOLATION. The names of places and operations were a special language in the Agency."
    (Don DeLillo, Libra. Viking, 1988)

    - "'Flower' was the overall top-secret code-name designator given to anti-Qaddafi operations and plans. Only about two dozen officials, including the President and Casey, were given access. 

    "Under Flower, 'Tulip' was the code name for a CIA covert operation designed to topple Qaddafi by supporting anti-Qaddafi exile movements."
    (Bob Woodward, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987. Simon and Schuster, 2005)

     

    Pronunciation: KRIP-te-nim

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "cryptonym." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-cryptonym-1689946. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, March 3). cryptonym. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-cryptonym-1689946 Nordquist, Richard. "cryptonym." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-cryptonym-1689946 (accessed October 17, 2017).