This story was originally covered by PRI's The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.
The international military operation taking place in Libya has been dubbed Operation Odyssey Dawn by the United States. Wired magazine reported that it "sounds like the beginning of a long adventure." Steven Colbert said on his show, "That's not a military operation... that's a Carnival cruise ship."
The name is "just the product of the Pentagon's semi-random name-generating system," according to Wired, but the politics are a bit more complicated. The military command in charge of the operation is the newly created U.S. Africa Command. "They sort of still have their training wheels on, William Arkin, a former Army intelligence analyst and author of "Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Programs, Plans, and Operations in the 9/11 World" Told PRI's The Takeaway. "So I'm sure they're getting a lot of help from other commands and from the Joint Chiefs."
Other countries have taken to calling the action different names. The Political Notebook points out that Britain calls it Operation Ellamy. Canada calls it Operation MOBILE, while France calls it Opération Harmattan.
"To some degree [Operation Odyssey Dawin] is a good name," according to Arkin, "which is to say, that often times these operations start with a bit of a hiccup." He points out that Operation Desert Storm started out as Peninsula Shield. Arkin says it was changed because "pooh-bahs in Washington thought about it and said, this operation is not about defending Saudi Arabia and oil, this operation is about liberating Kuwait."
"The funny thing is that there are so many operations that they often have to wander into some odd territory of names," Arkin points out. "It has to both evoke a public face but it also has to at the same time not insult anyone or be off color." The naming conventions have also gotten more political over time, as more people started paying attention.
Now, the names are chosen in part to be devoid of intended meaning, according to Wired. "We'll watch Odyssey Dawn," Arkin told The Takeaway, "and undoubtedly there will be other odysseys that will follow it."
"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.