What do you call a spy's code name?

  • 27
    Uh, "code name".
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 12, 2018 at 1:36
  • 2
    Handle, perhaps? The real question is "What do spies call a spy's code name?" I suspect that the answer is code name.
    – Mick
    Jan 12, 2018 at 1:43
  • @NigelJ Good job I wasn't drinking my cofveve. It would have gone all over my keyboard. :D
    – Mick
    Jan 12, 2018 at 1:44
  • @NigelJ Why did you delete it? Let the mods do that.
    – Mick
    Jan 12, 2018 at 1:45
  • 3
    NOC, official cover, or "legend". Also, CIA have "work" names. Other than that, the answer by Nigel J is good. Jan 12, 2018 at 2:53

5 Answers 5


The official word for a clandestine name appears to be cryptonym.

CIA cryptonyms are code names or code words used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to refer to projects, operations, persons, agencies, etc.

Each CIA cryptonym contains a two character prefix called a digraph, which designates a geographical or functional area.[2] Certain digraphs were changed over time; for example, the digraph for the Soviet Union changed at least twice

Examples from publications by former CIA personnel show that the terms "code name" and "cryptonym" can refer to the names of operations as well as to individual persons


  • I found this site if you want to cite it. Oh, wait a minute, that's the one you used. Jan 12, 2018 at 3:30
  • The military in general (of which, arguably, the intelligence community is a subset, and which also conducts covert operations of its own) uses callsign.
    – flith
    Jan 12, 2018 at 12:04
  • 1
    @flith that sounds like it could be a separate answer
    – JAD
    Jan 12, 2018 at 12:27
  • 2
    When you say "The official word", I believe you mean "The official CIA word". This answer is very specific to a particular country and agency, for how they generate code names or code words. Jan 12, 2018 at 12:39
  • To refute the other Nigel, you might want to use the RAF Museum website, where they also use the word cryptonym to variously name Philby as Stanley, MacClean as Homer , etc. While this word (cryptonym) is used by the British in this case, note that the name was assigned originally by NKVD, later absorbed into the KGB. These names are unlike the all-caps cryptonyms often used by CIA, and sometimes Mi-6, (such as the "double" NODDY in Polish UB), (continued...) Jan 12, 2018 at 14:23



  1. a false name used to conceal one's identity; an assumed name:

from dictionary.com


pseudonym could be used since a spy's code name is a fictitious name

  • Pseudonym could be what the OP is looking for.
    – Mick
    Jan 12, 2018 at 1:51

If you're in London, you can use 'monikker' (or monicker, moniker) - it means slang name, or 'name you go by' 'name you are known by' (but not your real name). Apparently that's from an old Irish word for 'name'.


Example: 'Usually Demery's monikker was agent 091, when he was working.'

If in America, how about 'handle' - the word for a trucker's slang name. (And apparently much earlier, according to this link).


'Demery's handle was agent 091.'

Here are some rather posh ones 'sobriquet' 'epithet'

But for spies how about 'nom de guerre' (lit . war name in french).


I'd use 'code word' 'spy code' 'agent code' 'agent key'.

Example: 'Demery - agent code 091 - left the building, concealing his weapon under his heavy coat.'

  • 3
    London but not the rest of England or the UK? How come? Jan 12, 2018 at 10:30
  • 2
    Google ngram shows no signs of monikker. Moniker/monicker appeared about 1910, and the former has nearly always been marginally more common until 1980; since then it has become overwhelming so (25:1) Jan 12, 2018 at 10:33
  • @MartinBonner: Yes - and I can find no reference to "monikker" in any of the dictionaries I've looked in (though they all have the other two forms). Jelila, do you have any references that support using this as the preferred form?
    – psmears
    Jan 12, 2018 at 10:46
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit I am from London and know it from there but I can't speak for the rest of the UK. I know it from TV shows like The Sweeney and just from heard speech. Eg: Winstone plays Jack Regan, a Detective Inspector with the Flying Squad – or Sweeney Todd to give the organisation it’s somewhat ridiculous cockney moniker – who is waging war on London’s most violent villains. That's from a review of The Sweeney but still using that kind of language! ign.com/articles/2012/09/11/the-sweeney-review
    – Jelila
    Jan 12, 2018 at 11:57
  • @psmears no I don't, I only know the word from hearing and absorbing it and monikker was my hunch on spelling - it being unusual or logically, impossible in English to have a single 'k' and a soft 'o'. (It should sound 'mon eye ker' if spelt like that. Whereas it sounds 'mon ick er'. But it's a slang word, I thought it could come from a name or be Cockney rhyming slang, I was surprised it was older and came from Ireland!
    – Jelila
    Jan 12, 2018 at 12:01

The definition of code name is a word used for secrecy or convenience instead of the usual name. e.g “‘using the code name ‘Charlie’, Dick was on the phone with the President more and more’”


undercover name

Examples of usage

  • “It's me,” she responded. “My room in thirty minutes.” Jake's undercover name was Antonio Bonelli, and if he were in trouble, he would've answered as Tony.

  • In the British spy drama MI-5 (known as Spooks in the U.K.), what is Tom Quinn's undercover name at the beginning of the series? .

  • Virgilio worked in tandem with another spy who was situated in Paris, Enrico Insabato, whose undercover name was 'Dante'.1

Via Google Books

  • 1
    An undercover name and a code name are different things though. James Bond's code name is 007. The names he used when undercover include 'David Somerset', 'Charles Morton' and so on jamesbondwiki.com/page/James+Bond+Aliases Jan 12, 2018 at 13:51
  • @PeteKirkham the Oxford Dictionary doesn't cite an example with numbers. I checked. e.g. I don't know why the Secret Service gives out the code name, but his code name is Tumbler.’ The term is more elastic than you interpret it to be.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 12, 2018 at 16:43
  • 1
    The code name can be anything. The point I'm making that the code name (e.g. 007) and an undercover name (e.g. 'David Somerset') are not the same thing. One is secret, the other is public. For your first quote, searching for code names in the book yields things like 'AppleJack' and 'le lion' rather than plausible aliases used when undercover books.google.co.uk/… Jan 12, 2018 at 16:57
  • 1
    @PeteKirkham so the best answer is "code name".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 12, 2018 at 17:00

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