Comics Creators

Do superheroes still need code names?


We’re getting to a stage where knowing Tony Stark is Iron Man or Peter Parker is Spiderman is no longer special knowledge. And even the books themselves are getting away from code names a little. Plus we live in an age where pretty much every English word is some characters superhero name.

The hidden identity is being used less and less these days with characters, and probably changed some time in the 90’s when that kind of character trait seemed to fall out of favor. Without the hidden identity code names start to look a little silly.

It’s not something that’s used in other fiction, and we don’t seem to mind. We can have Marty McFly, Jack Sparrow, Indiana Jones, James T Kirk, Frodo Baggins or Harry Potter and there’s never even a thought that you’d give them some sort of secret code name.

So the question is should the superhero genre give it up too? Are we in a post superhero name world?


Rappers, who have been closely tied to superheroes from day one, have more or less given them up.


We still call Dana Owens Queen Latifah. We still call Curtis Jackson 50 Cent.


I’m talking about the newer artists, Kendrick, Kanye (not so new anymore), Kevin Gates, Vince Staples, Drake, etc.

Obviously exceptions abound but it’s becoming more common to just go with the birth name in some form than it was in the 80s and 90s.

Without thinking too heavily on it I’d say Lauryn Hill was one of the first.


It’s notable in Cap 3: Civil War that they are almost entirely referred to by the public using their real names.


Code names can be trademarked, are easier to make an eye-catching logo out of, and can act as an entry tool for new young readers.

There’s always room for superhero comics that more closely reflect the real world, whether that’s through eschewing codenames and/or costumes, avoiding tropes like having an archenemy, etc. But I think it would be short-sighted to base trends in comics on what works best for the current readership, when it’s the sort of thing that could make it more difficult for future readers.

Also, most profitable superhero film of all time is about a guy who’s referred to as Deadpool as often as he’s referred to as Wade Wilson (if not more).


I think the solo, street level heroes – Spidey, Ant-Man, DD, need it to continue their regular lives. The megapowered ones and/or Avengers who are basically now full-time paramilitary, evidently don’t need it.


It’s also notable that the film isn’t called Steve Rogers 3: Civil War. :slight_smile:


Everybody should use their real names.

Just like on the interwebs.


As long as there are still decent in-story justifications for it, I think it’s a perfectly fine convention. Not everyone wants to have an “I am Iron Man” moment.

Heroes like Spidey demonstrate most clearly why a secret identity and codename might be desirable, but I think it still works for the likes of the X-Men and street-level heroes too, like Sam said.

And even where identities are public, I think a codename helps to separate the hero identity from the personal. They’re also still a lot more recognisable, even in today’s age of increased awareness of these characters: a lot more people will still know Captain America and Iron Man even if they’ve never heard of Steve Rogers or Tony Stark (especially kids).


Like everything else, this will go in cycles, as will the hip hop naming convention that Robert mentioned earlier - (Although I’m struggling to think of any recent superheroes who don’t have a code name).

I’d even argue the point to Robert that they are still essentially creating code names;
Kendrick Duckworth and Aubrey Graham don’t quite have he same ring to them.
Kanye doesn’t count he’s a pop star and his ego is so large that he’d never dream of using any name than his own. You will see that in this age, as more and more people seek fame over the the artform or just to make a quick buck or two, that aliases will naturally become slightly less common. That’s just the narcissism that’s present on a wider scale in this current generation.

Is there any need for an alias, I dunno. But it’s far more marketable and my son doesn’t point to my Avengers tshirt and exitedly tell me ‘Bruce Banner’ and ‘Steve Rodgers’. It’s Captain America and Hulk and I think that will always be the case with superheroes.

Harry Potter is a school child who can do magic and retains his name to be relatable to other kids.

James T Kirk is the captain of a ship and can’t really go under an alias.

Indiana Jones is an archaeologist etc

To answer the question, I don’t think we’ve entered a post superhero codename world, but we are at saturation point where new superheroes are less and less likely to be created because it because more and more difficult to create new properties.

Even the most successful new character in recent years, Ms Marvel, is just a new take on an existing character, which works as a new entry because the character is so interesting and appealing because she leads such a different life to what many of us are used to (and gives young Muslim readers someone they can finally relate to themselves in terms of family life etc).


But his ship is always called “Enterprise” and not “NCC-1701”. Because “Enterprise” sounds cooler.

Same reason the media will always say “Stealth Bomber” and not “B-2”. “Tomahawk Missile” and not “BGM-109”. Colourful names are not only cool, they’re more memorable.


It’s not just about the marketability or trademarking of the name. There’s a sense of timelessness, legend and symbolism associated with superhero code names. It allows room for a different person to be written into the same role to reflect changes in society or increase diversity yet still inherit the legacy and association with the established name. It’s always interesting to see characters who struggle with the burden of living up to all the connotations of the inherited title. Less worldbuilding and exposition is required if it is a pre-existing name which allows the focus to be more on the actual storytelling.

It also ties into the whole sense of names having magical power in mythology; that a person’s true identity should not be something to give away lightly. Rather than using their real name, superheroes can retain something of their own, true self by using a code as a further mask to hide behind.

Code names can also operate in a similar way to military nicknames as a shorthand for what they represent to their teammates and not just simply relating to their inherent superpower. For example, Daisy is Quake, which sums up her powers, but she’s also referred to as Tremors as a pet-name by Mack, her partner in the field.

It’s simpler for kids to identify with and see themselves in the role if they have code names. Kids don’t want to be Jack Sparrow or Harry Potter so much as they want to be a pirate or escape the boring world of Muggles to be a wizard.

Regardless of the practicality involved or the idea of having the character more grounded in reality by not having a secret identity, code names are more fun as well as being easier to remember.

If I was a superhero, I’d be disappointed if I didn’t get a cool code name.


It’s a little bit like when you were a kid, jumping off the bed with a red towel tied around your neck. For that moment, you weren’t you, you were Superman.

Pray tell, have you given any thought to what your cool superhero name would be? :wink:


Or when you fall out of a tree and land on your face because you’re not actually Spider-Man but for a moment you were convinced that you were. Or was that just me?

Heh. It’s me you’re talking to, so obviously. There may have been too much consideration given to what my cool superhero costume would look like too.

I actually did have a superhero-related nickname for a while but I’m not telling you what it is here. You wouldn’t believe me anyway. :wink:


The identifying aspect is definitely part of it. Just look at Spidey - as well as Peter being the ultimate everyman, he wears a full face mask and body suit. He could be anybody underneath - which means he could be you.


I don’t know. I can believe six impossible things before breakfast.

I think that it’s safe to say, in this company, that we’ve all been there at one time or another.


Talking of which, Paul Jenkins and Mark Buckingham play with the identifying aspect really well in Peter Parker: Spider-Man #35:


Oh, go on then I’ll tell you because you’ll get a good laugh out of it but only if you promise not to tell.


I concur. Great book. Much underrated run.