There is a method behind generating names for military operations, although the actual methodology has changed since World War II. During that war, top military and civilian commanders often chose random one- or two-word names that had little connection to the actual nature of the operation's goals. The major military operation to invade German-held France, for example, was known as Operation Overlord for reasons known only to Great Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Other World War II operations had names such as Apache, Manhattan, and Crossbow.
The British military still gives its military operations simple one word names, such as TELIC, as a form of shorthand, but the United State's military often uses two-word adjective/noun combinations to give the military operation a more inspiring or patriotic title. Operation names such as Desert Shield, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom are often created by mid-level military or civilian personnel with backgrounds in public relations and advertising.
Ostensibly, names for military operations during the Vietnam war era were generated at random according to the initials assigned to each military branch. If the Army's next military codename initials were ND, for example, the name of the actual military operation could have been Operation Neutral Duck, for example. The names used during the 1970s and 1980s were generally chosen at random by a computer program known as the "Code Word, Nickname, and Exercise Term System," somewhat oddly abbreviated to the acronym NICKA.
The NICKA system randomly assigned an adjective and noun to the initials of the next approved military operation, which often led to some less-than-inspirational code names for military ops. The plan to invade Panama in 1989, for example, was assigned the mundane codename Operation Blue Spoon by the NICKA computer. Human military officials decided to give the military operation a more inspirational name, Operation Just Cause. This is generally considered the first example of generating an operation name with an eye towards public relations and a stronger sense of purpose for the mission.
This new concept of assigning names based on public perception or sense of purpose has led to operation codenames such as Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. The original choice for the military invasion of Iraq in 2003 had been "Operation Desert Freedom," but it was eventually replaced with the more focused "Operation Iraqi Freedom" in order to avoid comparisons to the earlier military operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Although the NICKA system for generating names for military operations has not be completely abandoned, many military and civilian commanders now prefer to assign more focused and inspirational names which help to define, and some might argue justify, the mission for the American public.