The 15 Funniest Secret Service Code Names

jackethead, iStock / Getty Images Plus
jackethead, iStock / Getty Images Plus

The tradition of Secret Service code names goes back to at least the Truman administration, when the large protection detail was permanently established for the president, his family, the president elect, and the vice president (though the agency itself has been around for more than 150 years). Still, the names themselves have never really been kept a secret. The code names—relics from before the encryption of electronic communications—often play into some part of the personality of the protected individual. Below are some of the more entertaining monikers that have been chosen over the years.

1. Edith Wilson // "Grandma"

President Woodrow Wilson and his wife Edith with a secret service escort in 1917.
President Woodrow Wilson and his wife Edith with a secret service escort in 1917.
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Woodrow Wilson's second wife, Edith, was the first First Lady to receive Secret Service protection, but her code name had been around long before that legislation was passed in 1917. President Wilson had been widowed during his second year in office, and within months of his first wife's passing, he met and became enamored of Edith. Wilson's camp was concerned that the public wouldn't take well to his being in a new relationship so soon, and his protection took to referring to Edith by the decidedly unsexy code name "Grandma."

2. Meghan McCain // "Peter Sellers"

Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and his daughter Meghan McCain at a campaign rally in 2008.
Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and his daughter Meghan McCain at a campaign rally in 2008.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When her father, John McCain, was the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, he went by "Phoenix." Because, per Secret Service rules, immediate family members need code names that begin with the same first letter, Meghan wound up with "Peter Sellers." Hers was the only full name ever to be shared with another person. Her siblings chose cartoon characters: "Popeye" and "Pebbles."

3. Newt Gingrich // "T-Rex"

Newt Gingrich in 2009
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The former Speaker of the House had a Secret Service detail when he was a presidential candidate in 2012 and chose his code name based on his love of dinosaurs. While he was in Congress, he famously had a replica T. rex skull on display in his office. 

4. Josh Bolten // "Fatboy"

White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten speaks during a taping of "Meet the Press" in 2006.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images for Meet the Press

George W. Bush's Chief of Staff had a fondness for riding Harleys, and he chose his name based on his favorite motorcycle model. "My Secret Service detail loved the code name," Bolten once said. "Even the female agents, who end up getting called Fatgirls."

5. Frank Sinatra // "Napoleon"

Frank Sinatra at an airport in 1956
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though Sinatra hung around the Kennedy family a lot, it was President Nixon who requested he have a Secret Service name and occasional protection. It came in handy though: Ol' Blue Eyes was also a staple in the Reagan White House.

6. Happy Rockefeller // "Shooting Star"

Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and his wife, Happy Rockefeller, circa 1963.
Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and his wife, Happy Rockefeller, circa 1963.
Harry Benson/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Gerald Ford's vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, had the perfectly normal sounding code name "Sandstorm." However, his wife Happy's had to be changed once agents noticed how problematic calling someone "Shooting Star" could be. Former Secret Service agent Joseph Petro wrote, "Within a few days someone realized [that] wasn't such a good name, because in a broken transmission all you might hear was the word 'shooting,' and that could inadvertently set off a chain reaction and an awful lot of problems." Mrs. Rockefeller's code name was quickly changed to "Stardust." 

7. Ronald Reagan // "Rawhide"

President Ronald Reagan speaking during a press conference in 1981.
President Ronald Reagan speaking during a press conference in 1981.
Gene Forte/Consolidated News/Getty Images

President Reagan's love of ranching, and maybe also his history as an actor in Westerns, resulted in his code name, "Rawhide." Once, when a member of his security detail, Larry Rowlett, was asked if he ever called the president "Rawhide" to his face, he replied, "Yes—he was always very congenial and just kind of one of the guys. You know, if somebody referred to him as that he'd get a chuckle out of it." First Lady Nancy was only ever called Mrs. Reagan.

8. Karenna Gore // "Smurfette"

Al Gore and his daughter, Karenna
PAUL J. RICHARDS // Getty

Al Gore's daughter was 19 when he became vice president, and she spent years thoroughly regretting the code name she chose. "Ever since four years ago, when I was put on the spot and told 'two syllables' and 'it has to start with an s,'" she wrote in a Slate essay in 1997, "I have been cringing in the back seat when identified as 'Smurfette.'"

9. Ron Nessen // "Clam Chowder"

Press Secretary Ron Nessen holds a daily briefing with the press corps at the White House, circa 1974.
Press Secretary Ron Nessen holds a daily briefing with the press corps at the White House, circa 1974.

By all accounts, Gerald Ford's press secretary had a great sense of humor (he even hosted Saturday Night Live once!). He also apparently had an affinity for clam chowder, a code name that is somehow made funnier because of its specificity.

10. Ted Kennedy // "Sunburn"

Ted Kennedy addresses the Democratic Convention in New York in 1980.
Ted Kennedy addresses the Democratic Convention in New York in 1980.
Keystone/Getty Images

He was often referred to as the "Lion of the Senate," but during his presidential campaign for the 1980 election, the youngest of the Irish-Catholic Kennedy brood was code-named "Sunburn." Fittingly, his mother, Rose Kennedy, was called "Coppertone."

11. Ron Ziegler // "Whaleboat"

Ron Ziegler, Press Secretary to U.S. President Richard Nixon, speaks during a news conference in 1968.
Getty Images

Ziegler was just 29 when he took the job as Richard Nixon's press secretary, and though the Secret Service called him "Whaleboat," the reporters he gave cagey answers to twice a day preferred to call him "Zig-Zag."

12. William French Smith // "Flivver"

President Reagan with William French Smith making a statement in the Rose Garden in 1981.
President Reagan with Attorney General William French Smith making a statement in the Rose Garden in 1981.

We're not really sure why Reagan's Attorney General from 1981-1985 was called "Flivver," but it's not a terribly flattering term—it's slang for a cheap car in poor condition.

13. Hillary Clinton // "Evergreen"

First Lady Hillary Clinton in 2000.
Darren McCollester/Newsmakers/Hulton Archive

Quite an appropriate name, given that it's in its third decade of use. Clinton received the name "Evergreen" when her husband, Bill, moved into the Oval Office in 1992. And though she has lifetime Secret Service protection as a former First Lady, she would have needed it anyway in her high-profile roles as secretary of state and presidential candidate.

14. Prince Charles // "Unicorn"

Prince Charles talking to President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy at a private dinner in the White House in 1981.
Prince Charles talking to President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy at a private dinner in the White House in 1981.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Visiting dignitaries will sometimes receive code names, and Prince Charles got "Unicorn"—fitting, since it's a symbol the Brits use regularly.

15. Pope John Paul II // "Halo"

Pope John Paul II meets with President Jimmy Carter and his family in 1976.
Pope John Paul II meets with President Jimmy Carter and his family in 1976.
Keystone/Getty Images

Because, obviously.

This story was republished in 2019.

A Colorful History of Paintball

kadmy/iStock via Getty Images
kadmy/iStock via Getty Images

Having spent a month arguing with no end in sight, Charles Gaines and Hayes Noel decided to resolve their conflict the old-fashioned way. They agreed to a gun duel at 20 paces.

It was the late 1970s and Gaines, a writer and fly fisherman best known for authoring Pumping Iron, a book later turned into a documentary that helped usher Arnold Schwarzenegger to superstardom, had been verbally sparring with his friend Noel about who would be better-equipped as a survivalist. Gaines believed someone with outdoors skills like himself would excel. Noel, a Wall Street stockbroker, thought his urban instincts would prove superior.

After going back and forth like this while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, Gaines returned home to New Hampshire and spotted something in an agricultural catalog. It was the Nel-Spot 007, a gun powered by carbon monoxide (CO2) gas and used to mark trees or cattle using a gelatin ball filled with oil-based paint. Gaines thought it would make for an interesting combat simulator. Instead of testing survivalist skills with ammunition, they could test it with globs of paint.

After getting the guns, Gaines and Noel engaged in a duel that Gaines won—this according to Gaines—and also crept around in the woods hoping to snipe the other, a situation which both men later said they had gotten the upper hand in.

These conflicting narratives failed to settle their argument, and so the two friends decided a bigger, more involved experiment was in order. Purely by accident, they created the game of paintball in the process.

A person playing paintball is pictured
PogodakPB/iStock via Getty Images

Weapons that shoot projectiles using compressed air are nothing new. In the 1940s, Britain’s commercial freighter ships used steam-powered cannons to launch grenades at enemy aircraft. When they were bored, the sailors used the cannons to shoot potatoes or beer bottles instead. Much later, sports teams would adopt T-shirt cannons powered by the same principle to dispense apparel to fans in the upper decks.

The idea to use CO2 for paint came from the Nelson Paint Company in the 1960s. Hoping to assist foresters with marking trees that weren’t easily accessible on foot, the distributor marketed the Nel-Spot 007, which shot the gelatin balls with a resounding splat. Farmers also used them to indicate cattle that had been bred. (Because the paint was used for marking, the guns were and typically are still called paintball markers, not paintball guns.)

By the time Gaines became aware of the device in 1979 or 1980, it still had no practical use outside of agricultural purposes. Along with Noel and another friend, a ski shop owner named Bob Gurnsey, the trio decided to arrange a combat simulator using the Nel-Spot 007. The duel had proven that being hit with the paintballs resulted in no serious injury. (Gaines reportedly tried it on his wife, Shelby, as well, who reported that “It didn’t hurt much.”) Gurnsey developed a rudimentary set of rules for the competition, which would see the three men and nine other competitors attempt to capture flags from four stations in a 100-acre field in Henniker, New Hampshire, a site not far from Gaines’s home. The object would be to grab the flags and head for a premarked exit without being shot.

In order to maintain the central conceit of their debate, Gaines and Noel tried to recruit a cross-section of personalities for the event. There were outdoorsmen like a forester and Vietnam veteran along with would-be urban tacticians like a trauma surgeon and an investment banker. All were armed with the Nel-Spot 007, goggles, camouflage, paintballs, CO2 cartridges, a compass, and a map.

People playing paintball are pictured
JackF/iStock via Getty Images

The competition was held on June 27, 1981. For two hours, the men stalked around the premises, lurking behind foliage and doing their best to seize the flags without being bombarded by paintballs. Gaines grabbed two flags before getting into a stand-off with a Green Beret, who was holed up in an abandoned woodshed. The trauma surgeon wound up shooting nearly half of the dozen players by himself. But in the end, it was the forester, Ritchie White, who emerged the victor, utilizing a stealth strategy that allowed him to covertly grab all the flags and get out without firing a single shot.

Did the event resolve the debate between Gaines and Noel? Not really. But they were having too much fun to care. So was Bob Jones, a participant and writer for Sports Illustrated who published a story on the competition in 1981. Along with other coverage from TIME and Sports Afield, Gaines, Noel, and Gurnsey were inundated with letters and requests for more information about the rules of the game and the necessary equipment.

Sensing a business opportunity, the three formed the National Survival Game, a business devoted to the burgeoning recreational activity. Gurnsey continued to refine the rules while the others assembled kits consisting of the Nel-Spot 007 and the paintballs. Gaines was able to negotiate a deal with the Nelson Paint Company to license the guns and ammo for non-agricultural purposes.

Soon, they were licensing the National Survival Game brand to franchisees, who opened paintball fields and held organized competitions. By 1982, the National Survival Game was promoting a World Championship, and enthusiasts were modifying the weapons to include pump-action loading, larger magazines, and automatic firing. Because other organizations besides National Survival Game were popping up, the more generic name of paintball was introduced. More importantly, the paint became water-based rather than oil-based for easier clean-up.

While paintball exploded in popularity throughout the 1980s, not everyone was on board. In New Jersey, the guns were considered firearms due to their ability to shoot projectiles at velocity. To acquire a paintball marker, one needed a firearms permit. And even if you had one, you might still leave yourself open to legal problems if you used it to “shoot” at another human being.

The issue wasn’t resolved until 1988, when a paintball enthusiast named Raymond Gong sued the state’s attorney general and Monmouth County prosecutor John Kaye to remove the weapons from the New Jersey Gun Control Act. Judge Alvin Milberg asked for a demonstration and watched as a human target was hit roughly a dozen times without suffering injury. The defense also proved the CO2 cartridge used in a paintball marker was not the equivalent of a cartridge used in a real firearm, a term used to describe ammunition. Gong won and was able to open his own paintball field.

Gaines sold his share in National Survival Game early on, leaving the business to Noel and Gurnsey. The activity has since grown far beyond their initial ambition to settle a friendly debate, with players spending upwards of $169 million annually on equipment. Despite the inherently aggressive nature, it doesn’t seem to be particularly risky, with just 0.2 injuries reported per 1000 participants. While not quite as popular as it was in the early 2000s, there’s still plenty of demand to demonstrate survival skills with one well-aimed paintball.

A Romantic Toast: Waffle House Is Taking Reservations for Valentine’s Day

For many people, paltry portions of food and a budget-busting restaurant bill can kill the Valentine’s Day mood just as quickly as a nasty bout of the flu. But this year, you can have your pancake and eat it, too—Waffle House is accepting reservations for February 14.

According to Southern Living, the breakfast chain will offer special menu items and even cover its tables with candles and white tablecloths, creating the ideal ambience for romance and giving your nervous hands a free pass to spill syrup everywhere without feeling too bad.

The tradition started back in 2008 at a Waffle House in Johns Creek, Georgia, where an annual rush of couples on Valentine’s Day inspired the manager to embrace the spirit of love and make the restaurant a little more romantic.

February 14 is now the only day you can make a reservation at a Waffle House—after all, an overcrowded foyer full of people waiting for a table doesn’t quite scream “That’s Amore!” A belly full of bacon and waffles, on the other hand, most definitely does.

This year, almost 200 restaurants across 21 states are participating in the promotion. You can find the full list of locations (along with phone numbers to call to make your reservation) here.

And prepare to dazzle your date with 11 fascinating facts about Waffle House here.

[h/t Southern Living]

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