Cryptonym, or code names, are words, symbols, or numbers used in place of the actual name of a person, item, or planned event. The term is derived from two Latin roots, crypto meaning secret, and nym , meaning name. A security and counterintelligence measure, code names facilitate covert communication and enhance secrecy.
Cryptonym have long existed in many forms, each tailored to fit the circumstance in which they are used. To preserve security, military and intelligence operation code names most often have littler or no relationship to the classified item, person, or event that they represent. Sometimes, such cryptonym are intentionally misleading. During World War II, the American military used the code name "Husky" to refer to a planned 1943 invasion of North Africa.
Intelligence and military agents working in the field often use cryptonym to disguise their identity. As means of protecting both volunteer operatives and the organizations, members of partisan groups in the French Resistance referred to each other by code names. Names of French villages, historical persons, and professional titles were commonly used cryptonym. Resistance volunteers adhered to the codename system to minimize the chance of Gestapo infiltrators, or with captured partisans under duress, easily identifying organization members.
Other types of cryptonym include number series, now commonly used in reference to military and computer technology, and symbols. Though used extensively throughout history as a means of maintaining a secret identity, the practice of substituting secret symbols for proper names has fallen out of favor. In medieval France and England, knights and nobles wishing to send secret communications often signed their messages with secretive wax seals different in color and design from their family crests or signature seals.
Although assigning intelligence matters of great importance a cryptonym is one of the oldest espionage and enciphering technologies, the practice remains commonplace today. Code names are no longer the exclusive domain of governments, military, or intelligence agencies. With the advent of the Internet, the ever-present user name, or handle, has become the most popularly used from of cryptonym.