15 Secret Service code names for presidents, first ladies, and first children — and the stories behind them

A Secret Service agent stands guard as US President Barack Obama answers questions during a town hall event at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, March 6, 2015. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
  • First families get their Secret Service code names at the very beginning of a presidential campaign.
  • Presidents get to choose from a list if they’d like, but first families don’t have much choice.
  • Though the names are for security purposes, some stand out as particularly appropriate for the given president, first lady, or first child.

The White House Communications Agency assigns each member of the first family a code name for Secret Service agents to use during their time in the White House.

These names come from a list of agency-approved choices that either the president chooses from or agents pick. Other members of the family are then assigned names that share the same first letter. Sometimes, it’s the same letter as the family’s last name, but not always.

Though they’re meant to be secret, the code names quickly become public either through government filings, sources who leak them to news outlets, or when agents are overheard at public events. Since new technology has allowed security agents to monitor officials in a variety of ways, the names aren’t so top-secret anymore.

Here are some of the funniest, most ironic, and random code names used for past presidents, first ladies, and first children:

Eleanor Roosevelt: Rover

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt arrives in a car in Washington, DC. George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

The iconic first lady’s code name became official when she embarked on an October 1942 trip to England on the advice of her husband to “observe the women’s role in the war effort and visit American servicemen,” according to the National Park Service. Her official handlers were known as “Rover’s Rangers.”

John F. Kennedy: Lancer

President John F. Kennedy sitting in his White House office, April 1961. Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Though the Camelot legend of Kennedy’s dreamy life was reportedly invented by his wife after his death to put an idealistic spin on a relatively practical president who was plagued by personal drama and tragedy, Kennedy’s code name harkens back to Lancelot, one of King Arthur’s heroic Knights of the Round Table.

Jackie Kennedy: Lace

First lady Jacqueline Kennedy showing off a fixture in the White House. Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The first lady Jackie Kennedy’s code was fitting for her image as one of the most elegant residents in the history of the White House, who wore lace for her high-profile wedding to the popular Sen. Kennedy and during events like a widely covered state visit to France.

Jimmy Carter: Deacon

President Jimmy Carter. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Carter’s open devotion to his Christian faith made this codename spot-on. After his retirement from politics, Carter even spent time teaching Sunday school.

Amy Carter: Dynamo

First lady Rosalynn Carter helps her daughter Amy prepare for President Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural Parade in Washington DC, January 20, 1977. Mikki Ansin/Getty Images

Though it’s not clear how the president’s eldest daughter came to be known as “Dynamo,” the nickname shares a first letter with her father’s code name. Carter was the first child to live in the White House since JFK and would go on to be an active participant in 80’s and 90’s activism.

Nixon: Searchlight

Nixon’s given code name adds an ironic tinge to his legacy in the context of the night raid that set off the Watergate scandal and led to Nixon’s resignation.

Ronald Reagan: Rawhide

The former actor had appeared as a cowboy on-screen, but Reagan’s passion for all things Western also shaped his image as president, saying once at the 1988 GOP convention that his run for president was like lighting “a prairie fire … fed by passionate ideas and convictions.”

Susan Ford: Panda

Susan Ford and her escort, William Pifer, dance during the 1975 Holton Arms School Senior Prom, held in the East Room of the White House. Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Though it’s not known how Ford’s daughter was assigned the animal-friendly code name, it presumably set up the opportunity to identify the party she hosted in the White House for her high school classmates as Panda’s prom.

Barbara Bush: Tranquility

Barbara Bush at the 1992 Republican National Convention. Arnold Sachs/Keystone/CNP/Getty Images

It’s not precisely known how the first lady received this name, but after her death, former Secret Service agent Jonathan Wackrow wrote that the name “exemplified her demeanour and its calming, humanising and gentle effect on those around her.”

Bill Clinton: Eagle

President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. Time Life Pictures/White House/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Though he never reached the rank of Eagle during his time as a Boy Scout, Clinton was given perhaps the most patriotic code name of them all.

Hillary Clinton: Evergreen

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Terry Ashe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

The first lady’s name could be considered a foreshadowing of her political career that would grow to include a presidential nomination. Clinton’s codename used during the 2016 presidential election was the same security code name that she had during her time in the White House.

George W. Bush: Trailblazer

In recent years, the White House Communications Agency has grown more open to requests from presidents to change their names if they don’t like them, as the second Bush did from the less-impressive “Tumbler” upon moving into the White House.

Barack Obama: Renegade

President Barack Obama exiting the White House before boarding Marine One, November 6, 2016. Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Though the name matches the bold optimism of Obama’s campaign, the president reportedly just chose his favourite from an approved list of proposed words that started with the letter “r.”

Donald Trump: Mogul

Though he said in a 2015 candidate debate that he would choose the name “Humble” for himself, the one he was ultimately assigned was likely inspired by decades spent in a real estate dynasty handed down from his father.

Melania Trump: Muse

Melania Trump. Win McNamee/Getty Images

It’s been suggested the first lady’s name refers back to her career in front of the camera as a model in New York City before she met her mogul husband.