The 15 Funniest Secret Service Code Names


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 just celebrated its 150th anniversary). 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"

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"

Nancy Ostertag // Getty

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"

AFP // Getty

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"

TIM SLOAN // Getty

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"

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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"

By Unknown or not provided (Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum) via Wikimedia Commons

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 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." Nancy was only ever called Mrs. Reagan.

8. Karenna Gore // "Smurfette"

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"

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"

Harry Benson // Getty

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"

Ziegler was just 29 when he took the job as 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"

White House Photo Officevia Wikimedia Commons

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"

Alex Wong// Getty

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”

Alan Crowhurst // Getty

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"

Because, obviously.


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On This Day in 1933, FDR Gave His First Fireside Chat
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Getty Images

On March 12, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his first "fireside chat" on the radio. It was just eight days after his inauguration. He began: "I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking." Citizens across the nation tuned in to listen.

During the depths of the Great Depression, FDR took to the airwaves to explain to Americans why there had been a recent, ahem, "bank holiday." After a series of bank failures, FDR closed all U.S. banks on March 6, to prevent them from failing as panicked citizens tried to withdraw their holdings. While the banks were closed, a program of federal deposit insurance was created in order to insure the stability of the banks when they reopened.

So imagine, if you will, that your bank has been closed for six days, banks are failing left and right, and the newly-inaugurated president gets on the radio to talk about the situation. You would likely listen, and you'd want a really solid answer. That's just what Americans got.

It was a stunning moment, a roughly 13-minute speech in which the American president spoke directly to the people and asked them to understand how banks work. As an extension of that understanding, he asked people to trust what he and Congress were doing to resolve the problem. While the chat didn't solve the country's financial problems overnight, it did create a remarkable sense of connection between FDR and the citizenry, and it helped prevent a complete collapse of the banking system.

FDR's "fireside chats" (the phrase was coined by press secretary Stephen Early, conveying the intimacy of communication) were among the best examples of a president using mass media to bring a time-sensitive message to the American people. He would go on to do 29 more chats over the course of his long presidency.

So if you've never heard that first "fireside chat," take a few minutes and listen. Here it is with slightly cleaned-up audio:

If you're not into audio, just read the transcript. The text is a model of clear communication.

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The Only 4 Private Citizens to Lie in Honor at the U.S. Capitol
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Billy Graham, the most famous Christian preacher of the past century, died in his home on February 21 at age 99. As a noted spiritual advisor of U.S. presidents, he held a special position of influence in American history. Now, he's being granted another privilege extended to very few Americans: This week, his body will lay in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

From February 28 to March 1, members of the public will be invited to visit the Capitol and pay their respects to the late reverend. It's an honor that has been bestowed upon only 33 Americans since the tradition began with Henry Clay in 1852. Of the distinguished citizens who have "lain in state," 11 were U.S. presidents. Several elected officials and military officials have also been commemorated under the rotunda, but only three private citizens—and with Graham, four—have their names among their ranks.

The first two private citizens to lie in honor were Capitol Police officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson. Both were killed in the line of duty during the Capitol shooting incident in 1998.

The third private citizen to receive the distinction was Rosa Parks. She died in 2005, 50 years after refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger, thus helping set the civil rights movement in motion. So far, she's the only woman whose body has lain in honor at the U.S. Capitol.

Congress chooses which individuals get to receive the honor, either by passing a resolution or having congressional leadership obtain permission from the surviving family. When Graham's body arrives at the Capitol this week, it will be displayed on the same platform used to support Lincoln's body and that of every person (except the two police officers) who has lain in the rotunda since 1865.



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