1. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Codenames or Surnames?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by TLK, Jun 23, 2013.

    So, in one of my ideas for a novel I'm juggling with, there's a top secret government organisation. It's not like MI5 or anything like that, it's something the public don't know about, and shouldn't, as it deals with a very scary threat. Think Department 19 in Will Hill's book of the same name, and you get the idea. The people in this organisations, the high ranking ones at least, are referred to as "Agent", though I don't always use this term when referring to them in narration.

    My issue is how to name the people that work for this organisation, bearing in mind the fact they'll be interacting with other people outside of it. Since the organisation is all hush-hush, and security is paramount, I'd originally thought to use codenames, for example "Agent Lance". However, although I'm happy with the individual codenames I've come up with, I still think the idea is perhaps a little silly, or just not right. I thought that using surnames may be a better idea.

    So what do you all think? Codenames or Surnames?
     
  2. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    What did Tarantino use in Reservoir Dogs?
     
  3. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I second that. Great film, great names.
     
  4. huntsman40
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    huntsman40 Active Member

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    Well for starters I wouldn't use "agent" at all. Top secret organisations don't tend to want their people identified as working for anything at all, and so calling them agent Jones quickly does exactly that. The fact is that people that work for highly covert organisations look ordinary and tend to have ordinary names, though of course these are likely false names.

    It's up to you of course how you write it. Are they going to be dealing with the public? if not then they would not have the need to ever use terms like "agent" and would be blowing their cover. Codenames would normally be more for radio talk if you wanted.

    Maybe I missed your point, as if your characters are going to be going to crime scenes and having to talk to the public in an official way they would have to use something, but even then they would likely have fake names and credentials from one of the other branches of law enforcement if they are that secret.

    Your best bet if they are super-secret is to maybe think Bourne Identity with lots of fake names and papers for any situation.
     
  5. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Ah yes, well Agent is only a term used within the organisation. The idea, for me at least, behind it is to distinguish the higher ranking people with the lower ranking people. So, for example, if you were in this organisation, and you received a piece of intel from "Agent Bob", it'd have more credibility. Bad example, but you get the idea. Agent is something they introduce themselves as to the public.
     
  6. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Fox and Dana always introduced themselves to the public and police as Agents Mulder and Scully
     
  7. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    Personally I'd go with surnames. Since their identities are supposed to be secret maybe go with made up surnames in the field? Or at least names that are not their actual names.
     
  8. Erasmus B. Dragon
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    Erasmus B. Dragon Member

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    Have you ever seen the TV show The Unit? They have code names they use in the field, and on the radio, but one of them would never go into a bar and introduce himself to the pretty lady on the next stool by saying, "Hi, I'm Betty Blue, and my buddy over there is Snake Doctor."

    Any super secret covert agent is going to have a legend - that is, a cover identity that seems absolutely normal to all of the ordinary people he deals with. The legend can change if the mission changes, and an agent may have a number of legends for different situations. One job may require the creation of a legend with a full and unassailable back story, IDs, and paper trail, another may be as simple as wearing a workman's coveralls and carrying a tool box to blend into the background. Among themselves, they would likely use code names, but to further confuse eavesdroppers, those code names would probably be normal sounding surnames that have nothing to do with the actual identity of the agent.

    Something as super secret as you are describing, they would probably never use any sort of title like Agent, even among themselves. Too risky. Perhaps a set of special code names, like Mr. Bunyan, Ms. Oakley, and Mr. Hickok (or whatever genre) could denote someone higher up in the hierarchy?

    Of course this is just my take on the subject, it's your story, and only you know what works.
     
  9. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    I really like what they did with Bond, giving the high-ups letters instead of names. M and Q come to mind. But that's such a well known concept that you probably would be better off not using it. Numbers are nice but have also been done before, a lot. I've used letters, too, but I use the NATO phonetic alphabet. It feels very different calling someone Mike than it does calling them M. Even though it's the same thing.

    Codenames can be totally random and normal-sounding, I have one character who talks almost exclusively in code and it's all just normal words and sentences. The code is in the way he orders his words, in his body language, and in his tone of voice.
     
  10. huntsman40
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    huntsman40 Active Member

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    Based on your first post if this really is a super-secret government organisation that is more secret than MI5, one that the public knows nothing about, they would just not use agent ever. Codenames, fake names and perhaps the use of terms like "sir" for those in real authority. You never know when people are listening after all.

    They would also not be able to deal with the public, or at least not without claiming to be from one of the known government agencies. For example perhaps the FBI, or whichever agency would be the most credible for the situation. After all you can’t have them deal with the public and just have them introduce themselves as “Agent Smith” without saying who they work for and expect the public to deal with them. Would you? I sure as heck wouldn’t answer questions off someone that gave no credentials.

    So if you are going super-secret you need to be just that or people won’t likely believe it. I read a book recently that did this exact same thing, and I stopped reading it when people were being questioned by “men in black” that gave no credentials and were answering them like it was normal.
     

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