How Wars Are Named

Friday, March 25, 2011


When the American military's code name for the current intervention in Libya, Operation Odyssey Dawn, was made public, the name generated some jeers (comedian Jon Stewart pointed out that it sounded like an album by the progressive rock band Yes). Which made us wonder: how do operations get named? Bob talks to linguist Geoffrey Nunberg about how it works and how American war names have changed over time.

    Music Playlist
  • The Dambusters March
    Artist: Eric Coates

Comments [4]

Peng Hardin from Boston

Actually the folks at NPR's "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me" created a new podcast called How To Do Everything ( and on last week's podcast they asked about how military operations are named. There's actually a very good reason why the operations in Libya are called Odyssey Dawn, as HTDE epidose 6 shows.

Mar. 28 2011 12:16 PM
L. Zeveloff from Ogden, Utah

From first mention of Odyssey Dawn, it sounded to me like a name you would find in Utah, which is famous for its creative naming of children. There used to be and maybe still is a Mormon name generator on the internet. On the site, my youngest daughter's name translated to "Denverly Dawn." So, for me, the name Odyssey Dawn lacks the gravitas of the operation.

Mar. 27 2011 06:33 PM
don Roberto

I was disappointed in Bob's reference to Wotan as a "mythical deity." I don't notice references to Jehovah or Allah as "mythical," so why Wotan? And if you think the worship of Wotan or other deities from ancient times is extinct, have a quick chat with your colleague Krista Tippett over at "On Being." This bias against non-mainstream religions is endemic in the media, but I expect better from NPR.

Please feel free to contact me if you'd like me to find some contemporary worshipers of Wotan. I'm pretty sure I can find some in a very short time indeed.

Mar. 27 2011 05:06 PM
William Scanlan from Swampscott, MA

First, the "troops" aren't usually let in on the code names. It is usually just "Get your gear ready, plenty of ammo and water, and lets go." In Vietnam operational codewords ranged from Attelboro through Beau Diddley to Starlight - hardly enlightening as to our intended course of action. I would rather the services pick them than the political director at the White House. They just sound silly and juvenile now.

Second, I wish you had run the theme from the movie "Dambusters" longer.

Mar. 27 2011 11:46 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.