Joel Stein is looking for a name for his unborn baby. My suggestion: Go ask the Secret Service, by way of the White House Communications Agency. Is there any organization, let alone a government bureaucracy, better at naming?
Current company excluded, that is. A few days back, we got word of the Obama family’s Secret Service code names: Barack is Renegade; Michelle is Renaissance; Malia is Radiance; Sasha is Rosebud. The only name that really impresses me here is Rosebud, owing to Sasha’s obvious charm and the Orson Welles allusion. The others strike me as pretty lame. Obama is a lot of things, but “renegade” is not an adjective that comes to mind, even ironically. Renaissance is too much like baroque. And Radiance is a bit Hallmark Card schmaltzy.
But the recent failures of imagination do little to dim America’s long tradition of fine code names, which have been collected here by the collective wisdom of Wikipedia. My top ten favorites, in no particular order:
Evergreen (Hillary Clinton); Trapline (Neil Bush); Pinafore (Betty Ford); Searchlight (Richard Nixon); Snowbank (Barbara Bush); Scorecard (Dan Quayle); Angler (Dick Cheney); Sunburn (Ted Kennedy, as a candidate); Tumbler (George W. Bush); Lancer (John F. Kennedy)
UPDATE: Karen reminds me that the code names are not always a hit. During his presidential campaign, Jesse Jackson was given the code name Pontiac, which as the AP notes “is the set-up for a well-known racist joke.” (Jackson said publically that he did not take offense.) AP also points to an odd irony to Obama’s new code name. “According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, Renegade’s earliest meanings had to do with deserting one’s religion, coming from the Spanish word ‘renegado,’ originally ‘Christian turned Muslim.’” Oof.