Being president or a member of the First Family comes with a long list of perks, including getting a personalized Secret Service code name. The secrets are out, and the code names of past and present presidents, candidates, and first family members have been revealed. From the fitting to the absolutely baffling, we’ve got the unique stories behind each of these strange titles.
1. Richard Nixon: Searchlight
When it comes to presidential code names, there are plenty of different ways in which they are chosen. Sometimes, the White House Communications Agency chooses them for each president, and sometimes the presidents get to chose them themselves based on a list of choices. In President Richard Nixon’s case, no one is quite sure how he was assigned the code name Searchlight.
But the code name ended up getting more attention than others. During the Watergate Scandal, and the search for answers afterwards, much attention was given to this seemingly ironic code name. There was certainly a searchlight out for him as the scandal played out. His wife, Pat, on the other hand, was given the name Starlight.
2. Bill Clinton: Eagle
“The Eagle has landed.” While that might seem like a cliché line from some sort of action film, this was a reality for the Secret Service agents whose job it was to protect former President Bill Clinton. While many might assume Clinton was given the code name Eagle for patriotic reasons, there were also some other factors possibly at play.
Beyond being a famous American symbol, some speculate that Clinton was given this particular moniker because of his background. Clinton had been a former Boys Scout and worked his way up to becoming an Eagle Scout in his youth, an experience he often touted on the campaign trail.
3. Jimmy Carter: Deacon
President Jimmy Carter is the longest-living president, the longest-retired president, and the first former president ever to reach the age of 95. But he also just so happens to be one of, if not the only, president to have consistently taught Sunday school lessons from as young as his teenage years.
In fact, even after his presidency, Carter continued to teach Sunday School classes as the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. So it is no wonder why the Secret Service gave him the code name Deacon, based on his Baptist roots. His wife Rosalynn was given the name Dancer, while his oldest daughter Amy was given one of our favorite code names: Dynamo.
4. Ronald Reagan: Rawhide
Former President Ronald Reagan did not exactly grow up in the Wild West, but it became synonymous with his image in his early days. After growing up in Illinois, Reagan quickly moved to California, and it was there that Reagan began his acting career. After starring in a few film roles, this Midwest man quickly made a name for himself as a Western star.
And, according to reports, we mean “made a name for himself” quite literally. Reagan’s Secret Service code name Rawhide reportedly comes from his Western film roots and Western image, which he referred to on multiple occasions as he campaigned for the presidency across the United States.
5. Hillary Clinton: Evergreen
When a president is given a Secret Service code name, it is tradition that other members of his (or hopefully one day, her) family get their own code names that begin with the same letter. In Hillary Clinton’s case, her husband’s Eagle code name meant that her name was also required to start with an E, as well as the nickname of her daughter, Chelsea.
Clinton was given the code name Evergreen. And the name was so evergreen, in fact, that when Clinton ran her own presidential campaign in 2016, she kept the same code name that had been used during her time as First Lady. Her daughter was given the nickname Energy.
6. John F. Kennedy: Lancer
The assassination of former President John F. Kennedy is one of the the most tragic events in modern American history. And in the wake of that devastating time, former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis gave a heartbreaking and now famous interview to Life Magazine, quoting her fallen husband’s favorite line from the musical Camelot.
From that moment on, the media and soon the entire country began to compare the Kennedy Administration to the mystical romantic legend of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table, with Kennedy in the role of the King Lancelot. The fact that Kennedy’s Secret Service code name was already Lancer seemed eerily fitting.
7. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: Lace
Even more than half a century after former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis served in the White House, she is still one of the most influential figures in all of fashion. Her impeccable style helped popularize fashion statements like pillbox hats, tailored suit jackets, and strapless gowns. So it is no wonder why the code name for “Jackie O” was taken from an expensive, chic fashion stable.
In fact, some of Jackie O’s most iconic looks were made of lace, including her jaw-dropping wedding dress and the white and pink lace dress she donned during a presidential visit to Paris. John F. Kennedy Jr. was also given an L-themed code name, referred to by Secret Service as Lark.
8. Harry Truman: General
Presidents were not always flanked by Secret Service agents. In fact, it was not until the 33rd President of the United States, Harry Truman, took office that the Secret Service practice began. And as the first president to ever receive a Secret Service code name, he was given the moniker “General”.
No one is exactly sure how and why Truman was given that name. While he was in the military, he had only risen to the rank of captain in World War I, and was never a general. Historian Michael Beschloss told NPR: “Maybe this is his Walter Mitty fantasy that he might’ve been a general.” Personally, we think commander-in-chief sounds more impressive.
9. Bernie Sanders: Intrepid
It turns out that someone does not even have to be elected president in order to get their own Secret Service code name. If a presidential candidate gets far enough in the election cycle, or if crowds get large enough to warrant Secret Service protection, agents are assigned as soon as primary election season rolls around. That’s exactly what happened to Senator Bernie Sanders.
In 2020, Sanders reportedly denied having Secret Service protection during his run for president. But during the 2016 elections, a leak revealed that Sanders’ Secret Service code name was Intrepid. When asked what he would chose as his own nick name, Donald Trump jokingly said he would pick “Humble”. Read on to find out the new code name Trump chose after he won his election.
10. George H.W. Bush: Timberwolf
Secret Service detail does not end once a presidential term ends. Instead, the same agents that are assigned to protect a president usually continue to do so after they leave office. And oftentimes, the presidents and their Secret Service personnel form a really beautiful bond. Former President George H.W. Bush, for example, definitely formed an incredibly deep bond with his agents.
So much so that at age 89 the former president — whose code name was Timberwolf — shaved his head in support of an agent’s 2-year-old son who had been diagnosed with leukemia. He was so beloved that when Bush passed away, the Secret Service tweeted out one final dispatch, concluding Timberwolf’s detail and calling their time serving him as an “honor”.
11. Barbara Bush: Tranquility
Secret Service agents are not supposed to be seen or heard. As fixtures of First Family lives, they work hard to protect those they are assigned while trying to stay as invisible as possible. But according to the Secret Service agents who spoke up after First Lady Barbara Bush passed away, she was one of the few that would treat them like family.
“The United States Secret Service code name for Barbara Bush was ‘Tranquility,'” agent Jonathan Wackrow wrote in a CNN op-ed. “It exemplified her demeanor and its calming, humanizing and gentle effect on those around her. She will forever be missed.”
12. Joe Biden: Celtic
Unlike former presidents, former vice presidents of the United States do not receive Secret Service for the rest of their lifetimes. In fact, the perk ends right after a VP leaves office. But in the case of former Vice President Joe Biden, that Secret Service detail returned when he decided to run for the presidency in 2020.
And just as his detail returned, so did his Secret Service code name. CNN reported in 2020 that Biden chose the code name “Celtic” for this 2020 presidential bid, the same name he had as vice president. The name is said to be a very clear nod to his Irish-American roots.
13. Dwight Eisenhower: Providence and Scorecard
Anyone should consider themselves pretty lucky and successful if they get to have a Secret Service code name. But former President Dwight Eisenhower got to have two different monikers throughout his life. When he was holding the highest office in the land, Eisenhower was called “Providence”.
No one is quite sure why, considering he does not seem to have a connection to the Rhode Island city. And it seemed that Eisenhower was not so sure about the nickname either. When he left office, he changed his official Secret Service code name to “Scorecard”, reportedly based on his love for golf during his retirement years.
14. Barack Obama: Renegade
For many of the more recent presidents in American history, Secret Service names are chosen rather than assigned. But that does not mean that a president can pick any word in the dictionary. Secret Service code names usually begin with a pre-selected letter, should be at least two syllables (although some have broken that rule), and must be easy to clearly convey in a pinch.
When former President Barack Obama was preparing for his Secret Service detail, he was given a list of pre-approved names to choose from, all of which started with the letter R. In the end, Obama chose to go by the name “Renegade”.
15. Michelle Obama: Renaissance
As goes decades-long presidential tradition, once a president chooses their own Secret Service code name, the rest of the family has to fall into line. And by that, we mean they have to choose a nickname that begins with the same letter from a pre-determined list. Usually, these lists are a bit different than what the president is presented, sometimes to accommodate children.
In the case of the Obama family, former First Lady Michelle Obama chose the name “Renaissance”, a name that channels her vision and creativity. In that same vein, Malia was given the name “Radiance” while Sasha was called “Rosebud” (Orson Welles, eat your heart out). Even Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Shields Robinson, got her own R-name. She was called “Raindance”.
16. George W. Bush: Tumbler and Trailblazer
President George W. Bush has had multiple stints in the White House. Not only was he elected for two terms, but he also was a regular at the White House as the son of President George H.W. Bush. Because of that, Bush actually has had two separate Secret Service code names.
According to Ronald Kessler, the author of In the President’s Secret Service, Tumbler was Bush’s original moniker as the son of the sitting president, due in part to his cheerleading background and, in part, to his drinking. Bush “later changed it because he didn’t like the word’s connotation with drinking,” Kessler wrote. So by his presidency, he had given his name a mighty upgrade: Trailblazer.
17. Mike Pence: Hoosier
Before Mike Pence became Vice President of the United States and, thus, the second most powerful man in the entire nation, he was the governor of Indiana. And throughout the 2016 campaign, Pence continually touted his Midwest roots and promised to bring a little bit of Indiana into the White House.
And Pence’s Secret Service code name shows that he has done just that. Beginning even before his vice presidency, during the campaign, news leaked that the Secret Service had given him the nickname “Hoosier”, based on the name given to residents of Indiana. The Second Lady, Karen Pence, was given the name “Hummingbird”.
18. Melania Trump: Muse
Melania Trump is not like any of the First Ladies who came before her. She is the first First Lady to be a naturalized citizen (former First Lady Louisa Adams was the first to be born outside of the United States), and is the first in her role to not have English as a first language.
The Slovenian-born First Lady had a long career as a model, first in Milan and Paris and later in New York City. So when the Trump family was given a list of code names to choose from that began with the letter M, it is no wonder that she chose to be referred to as Muse, a nod to her fashion industry roots.
19. Donald Trump: Mogul
When President Donald Trump was running for office, he chose the Secret Service code name “Humble”. But while he might have come from these “humble” beginnings, the name quickly changed as soon as he entered office. In an unsurprising mood, considering his history as a businessman, he chose the new name “Mogul”.
The rest of the family also chose similar M names, all of which line up pretty well with their hobbies. For example, Donald Trump Jr., an avid outdoorsman, decided to go by “Mountaineer”, while his hunting brother, Eric, chose “Marksman”. Daughter Ivanka Trump reportedly goes by “Marvel”, while her husband Jared Kushner is known as “Mechanic”.
20. Sarah Palin: Denali
Former Vice Presidential Candidate and Governor Sarah Palin once joked that she could see Russia from her house in Alaska. But while that might not exactly be true, when it came to picking a name for Palin, the Secret Service was inspired by something that was basically in the politician’s back yard.
Palin was given a name fitting her her home state, and was called “Denali”, after the national park in Alaska. In an ironic moment, Palin later battled with the Obama Administration about renaming Mount McKinley back to its original name of Denali. We mean, who wouldn’t want the tallest peak in North America to be named after them? Well, sort of.
21. Mitt Romney: Javelin
When the Secret Service gives presidential candidates a list of code names to go by, they are not entirely random. Usually, beyond meeting the requirements, the list is tailored to refer to specific things about the candidate’s background or political brand. And this definitely holds true for former candidate Mitt Romney, who went by the code name Javelin.
Romney’s connection to the javelin is two-fold. First, the Javelin was a car built in the 1960s and 1970s by American Motors Corp., a company ran by Romney’s father. It also just so happened to be Romney’s first car, as well. Second, the name relates to a popular Olympic sport, a nod to Romney’s time as the CEO of the Salt Lake City Olympic organizing committee.
22. Paul Ryan: Bowhunter
There are some Secret Service code names that take some level of explanation to really understand. Former Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan’s Secret Service code name is definitely not one of them. Anyone who knows the former House Speaker even a little bit knows exactly why he chose the code name Bowhunter.
Bowhunting is Ryan’s favorite hobby, so the name is only fitting. According to GQ Magazine, which first broke the news of Ryan’s code name, “The man is a skilled archer, a hunter of deer, and an aficionado of the sport.” He’s even been a cover model for Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine in October 2015.
23. Eleanor Roosevelt: Rover
Former President Harry Truman was the first-ever president to receive a Secret Service code name. But it turns out that wasn’t the first member of the First Family to get a secretive moniker. That honor, instead, goes to former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Roosevelt was given her code name, “Rover”, during a 1942 trip to England in the grips of World War II. She was on official state business, visiting American servicemen and speaking with women involved in the war effort, according to the National Park Service. The agents protecting her on this secretive trip did not want to say her name over the radio, so instead she became “Rover” and the agents were called “Rover’s Rangers”.
24. Dick Cheney: Angler
As Secret Service code names have evolved over time, some have become reportedly more tongue-in-cheek. “They have a wry sense of humor about the way they give code names,” explained Barton Gellman, the author of the Dick Cheney biography titled Angler after the former VP’s code name.
“Obviously, Cheney is an avid fisherman,” Geller said. “I thought it was a metaphor for the way he works. He tends to approach the levers of power obliquely. He doesn’t like to…have an overt public role.” Rather, Geller notes: “He finds his way to the place where decisions are made and often doesn’t leave many signs of his presence.”
25. Roger Clinton: Headache
Okay, hear us out. We know that Roger Clinton was never a president, vice president, or a first lady, but we couldn’t pass up a chance at sharing this Secret Service code name. It turns out that during the Clinton Administration, the former president’s younger half-brother Roger Clinton was given the code name “Headache”.
The New York Times reported that the less-than-flattering code name was given to him because of his antics that would cause political headaches for the administration. That includes his background spending time in a federal prison, and the headache his presidential pardon caused in the aftermath.
26. Kamala Harris: Pioneer
In August 2020, Senator Kamala Harris of California was declared the vice presidential nominee for the Democratic ticket. And with that great power comes great responsibility, and a great Secret Service code name. It was announced soon after she made her debut with presidential hopeful Joe Biden that she had chosen the nickname “Pioneer.”
And the name seems to fit well with her history-making nomination. Harris is the first Black woman and the first Indian American woman to ever be part of a major party ticket for president. And if she and Biden win the election, she would be the first woman to ever hold the office of vice president.
27. Jill Biden: Capri
When presidential or vice presidential candidates pick their Secret Service code name, it is customary for the potential first or second lady to pick a name of their own with the same first letter. So when Joe Biden chose “Celtic,” Jill followed up by picking “Capri.”
But why exactly did the former Second Lady (and potential First Lady) pick that name? While we are not exactly sure, we are going to guess that it has less to do with her love of capri pants and more to do with the Isles of Capri. The entire Biden family has been known to spend holidays at the vacation destination.
28. Ben Carson: Eli
Remember when there was a short period of time when Ben Carson was considered to be a front runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination? Well, during that time, Carson was the only other GOP candidate to receive Secret Service protection besides Donald Trump. And with that protection came, of course, a code name.
Carson chose the code name Eli, a name that was said to take on two meanings. First, it was a nod to his college days, as a Yale University graduate is sometimes referred to as Eli after the founder, Elihu Yale. Second, Eli was a biblical figure.
29. Ted Kennedy: Sunburn
Sometimes Secret Service nicknames get chosen by the candidates. Other times, a series of events unintentionally end up landing someone with a less-than-flattering Secret Service code name. For Senator Ted Kennedy, his pale skin laying bare in the sun all day yielded him a pretty horribly red complexion and a pretty hilarious code name.
Yes, it was rumored that the Secret Service began calling Kennedy “Sunburn” after a few pretty unfortunate burns. That’s gotta sting. And, to make matters even funnier, his mother, Rose Kennedy, was given a corresponding nickname. She was called “Coppertone,” which we are pretty sure was the Secret Service making another sly pun.
30. Karen Pence: Hummingbird
When Second Lady Karen Pence was told that she would have to pick a Secret Service code name that started with the letter H, there was no question what she would chose for herself. A huge nature lover, Pence reportedly picked the name “Hummingbird” after her all-time favorite bird.
And her love of the smaller creatures in nature is not only reflected in her Secret Service code name. Since she began living at the Vice Presidential Residence in Washington D.C., she has installed a huge beehive on the grounds. “All types of pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, birds and bats, are critical to providing our nation’s food, fiber, fuel, and medicine,” Pence said at the time.
31. Al Gore: Sawhorse and Sundance
On the campaign trail in 2000, Democratic Presidential Nominee Al Gore used to make jokes at his own expense. “Al Gore is so boring, his Secret Service code name is Al Gore,” he would say to a laughing crowd. But that obviously was not true … we think.
According to reports at the time, Al Gore’s Secret Service nickname was actually “Sawhorse” when he was vice president and “Sundance” when he ran for the presidential seat. His daughter, Karenna Gore, was not as lucky. She chose her name as a child and ended up picking “Smurfette,” which followed her even years later.
32. John McCain: Phoenix
When John McCain ran for president, he was known as being an army hero with an inspiring story, and a lover and fierce representative of his home state. So it made sense when it was announced that his Secret Service code name was Phoenix.
First, the name was a nod to his home state of Arizona. But second, it was an acknowledgment of McCain’s past as a prisoner of war, and how he was able to rise from the ashes to become a presidential nominee. When McCain passed away, the Secret Service honored him on Twitter writing “Phoenix – May you Rest in Peace.”
33. Lyndon Johnson: Volunteer
For many American history buffs, the 36th President of the United States Lyndon B. Johnson is simply known as “LBJ.” But for those serving on his staff of Secret Service agents, Johnson was simply known by his code name, “Volunteer.”
There is not too much information out there on why Johnson was given that Secret Service code name. Johnson took over as president after President John F. Kennedy was tragically assassinated. So some have commented on how the name seems to be oddly fitting for a person who landed himself a spot in the highest office in the land involuntarily.
34. Tim Kaine: Daredevil
Senator Tim Kaine is one of Congress’ favorite dads. And anyone who has ever met the former vice presidential hopeful knows that Kaine is not exactly the most wild person. So when Kaine’s Secret Service nickname was announced, it was met by a few giggles from the Washington crowd.
This gentle-manner Senator was actually named “Daredevil.” Upon hearing the news, The Daily Caller wrote that Kaine’s code name was “so ill-fitting it comes across as a deliberate self-parody. Kaine is famously moderate and hardly a bold risk-taker in anything at all.” Instead, they dubbed Kaine “a nice guy’s nice guy,” and “generic.” Ouch.
35. Gerald Ford: Passkey
While not much is known about how former President Gerald Ford ended up with the nickname “Passkey,” there are a few other secrets that the Secret Service has spilled about the 38th President of the United States. For example, Ford was apparently known to be a terrible tipper.
Ford was known to not carry much money on him, which resulted in a bad reputation. Agents reported that at an exclusive golf course, where normal tips would go up to $50, Ford would often only have $1 on him. On some occasions, the president would turn to his Secret Service detail and ask if they had some spare change to cover the tip.
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