Tuesday, March 10, 2015

My Year With Marvel: Names and Code Names


Superhero comics are a lot like Russian literature in that everyone has at least two names: their real name and their code name. And hey, maybe they’ve also got a nickname, an alias, three former code names, and a complicated relationship with the other six people who’ve used any one of them over the years.

Because we can’t make things too simple, now can we?

The question then becomes, what do we call these characters? The majority of the Tumblrites I encounter are big into real names. They talk about Steve Rogers, not Captain America, and Natasha Romanoff rather than Black Widow. It’s the everyday identity that matters to them; the person behind the mask.

Me, I’m... inconsistent.

Like, really inconsistent.

Try though I might, I just can’t spot a pattern within my superheroic naming practices. At first, I thought I might draw mental divisions between each superhero team. I never refer to any of the Young Avengers by their code names; they’re just Kate and Cassie, Billy and Teddy, Eli and Tommy, America and Noh-Varr and David (and Loki, I guess). In contrast, I call all the X-Men by their code names, not their real names, so the team thing felt like a logical conclusion to jump to.

Except I don’t think I’ve ever called Kitty Pryde Shadowcat. I don’t even know if she goes by Shadowcat anymore. And I have no idea what I’d call Jean Grey beyond, well, Jean Grey.

Could it be a gender thing, then? It’s true I’m more likely to talk about Carol Danvers than Captain Marvel, and I don’t think I’d ever refer to her as Ms Marvel since I met her after she dropped that name. Besides, Ms Marvel is now firmly Kamala Khan in my mind.

Cover of All-New X-Men featuring Jean Grey Cover of Ms Marvel featuring Kamala Khan

Except I’ve never, ever called Kamala Khan Ms Marvel. She’s just Kamala. Likewise, Jessica Drew is almost never Spider-Woman on my tongue, Phyla-Vell’s various code names escape me most of the time, and I can’t imagine seriously calling Jennifer Walters She-Hulk. Ditto the aforementioned Kate Bishop. I only call her Hawkeye if I’m explaining her to someone.

But for that matter, Clint Barton is rarely Hawkeye either, and I’ve never, ever called Peter Quill Star-Lord. And Natasha Romanov is always Black Widow, unless I’m in conversation with someone who insists on "Natasha" (see: Tumblrites).

The only reason I ever call Nova Richard Rider is because I feel the need to distinguish him from Sam Alexander, who is also Nova. I’m far more inclined to discuss Captain America than Steve Rogers, but I’m about 50/50 on whether I talk about Tony Stark or Iron Man.

So maybe it’s slightly gendered, but slightly not?

Or maybe it’s completely random.

I’d like to say there’s a deeper component to it all; like, I’ll call a superhero by their real name if I empathize with them and by their code name if I see them as a power rather than a person, but that ain’t the case very often. Yeah, I’ll grant you my extreme love for Kate Bishop, Carol Danvers, and Jessica Drew probably leads me to call their by their real names, but I’m also exceedingly fond of the majority of the X-Men, and Richard Rider’s Nova is one of my favourite Marvel characters. I still call ‘em all by their code names rather than their real names.

Maybe the multiple-characters-per-code-name has something to do with it, or maybe it’s dependent on whether I first met a character under their code name or their real name. Maybe it’s simply a matter of verbal aesthetics. Some code names are fun to say. Some real names are fun to say. I go with whatever feels best on my tongue.

What about you? Do you prefer code names or real names when you’re talking about superheroes?


  1. I think I tend to go with whatever version of the name comes to mind most easily; or secondary to that, whichever name I prefer. So I say "Hawkeye" because I don't care for "Clint Barton" as a name, but I'm super into "Kate Bishop" as a name, so I call her that. But it's not a real system. It's totally arbitrary.

    1. "Kate Bishop" is so much fun to say. Plus, it's important to use her full name so people don't assume you're talking about Kate Middleton.

      (Wouldn't it be cool if Kate Middleton moonlighted as a superheroic archer?)

  2. Maybe it has to with how well you identify with the character as a person versus a super hero?

    1. I'd say that's a fair assumption within the Avengers Tumblr fandom, but it doesn't really fit me. I'm about 50/50 as to whether I call my favourites by their real names or their code names, and I refer to plenty of good-but-not-fave characters by their real names.