Name Your Operation, Know Your Audience (Including Late-Night Talk-Show Hosts)

The Defense Department names things—buildings, seagoing vessels, operations. There are guidelines, but a name needs to inspire its intended audience and it needs to fit.

Marine historian Bob Aqualina has done a flawless job naming Marine stuff. Though he had to give up the coveted duty recently because of a well-deserved promotion, he remains the naming gold standard.

In contrast, there have been some ghastly choices. As we have written in the past, the Navy has veered well off course. Case in point: the naming of a Virginia class submarine after former Virginia Senator John Warner. Political move? (We guess the crew will not find inspiration from a former husband of Elizabeth Taylor.) But we digress.

So it is with military campaigns. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, naming tactics have changed to meet military tactics. Operations targeting local populations in an effort to win them over need to be soft and inviting, like “Operation Good Tidings” (which we think is a terrible name, but may work with well a local populace).

Names for internal consumption targeting soldiers and Marines on the ground, are designed the get them pumped. Sort of like a sound track for hipster warriors or for out-of-control, aging aviators. (Top Gun. There’s another great name that says it all.)

Most names are for low-level operations and named by junior leaders. These tend to be more creative. Some operations are named after sports terms (Triple Play), some are foreboding (Operation Black Typhoon). Some follow other themes like science fiction. “Operation Close Encounters.” (It was reported “Operation Earth Girls Are Easy” was nixed. We’re serious.)

They say Winston Churchill was the master in the naming area. He developed guideless during World War II. Battle names should not “imply boastful or overconfident sentiment” or “be names of frivolous character.”

“It may be no surprise Adolf Hitler understood the power in a name He changed the German invasion of the Soviet Union from ‘Fritz’ to ‘Barbarossa,’ after the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I.”

“‘Operation Infinite Justice’ was the moniker planned for operations in Afghanistan, “But ‘infinite’ is too long, and the reportedly word offended Muslims who believe such benevolence can only be provided by Allah.” Operation Enduring Freedom has proved superb and accurate.”

Names have been late night fodder more than once. “Starting September 1st — this is true,” Jimmy Kimmel, of ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ said, “the war will be known as ‘Operation New Dawn.’ It’s twice the grease-fighting power of the original ‘Dawn.’ It will make your war spotless.”

Recent Posts