Spy Girl Names: Real life femmes fatales

July 12, 2010 Linda Rosenkrantz

Appellation Mountain‘s Abby Sandel, one of nameberry’s favorite guest bloggers, now looks for–and finds– some intriguing names in the world of international espionage.

Fictional spies have glamorous names to go with their stiletto heels and hidden daggers. But for every femme fatale we find in books or movies, there’s a real life Spy Girl who risked all for her cause.

Ian Fleming created legendary super-spy James Bond, but also invented a bevy of Bond girls, some capable, some less so, most with outrageous names. Fleming based at least one character on a real-life spy:  Vesper Lynd, she of Casino Royale fame, was modeled on Polish-born British agent and saboteur Krystyna Skarbek, also known as Christine Granville.

Female spies can be found throughout history. During World War I, the Dutch-born Mata Hari assumed the identity of an Indian dancer and was executed by France as a German spy.  There’s no proof that Mata Hari ever engaged in espionage. On the opposite side, hospital matron Edith Cavell conspired to help wounded English and French soldiers escape their captors. She, too, was caught and sentenced to death.

Women spies flourished during the World War II era.  Some volunteered; others were recruited.  Many of them had fascinating biographies before they entered the spy game.  It was dangerous work, and many lost their lives.  Just a few of the heroines from the era include:




BETTY (Pack, sometimes called Cynthia or Amy.  In her obituary, Time magazine called her a “Blonde Bond” for her code-stealing feats.)



CLAIRE (Phillips, also known as Clara Fuentes.  Like Mata Hari she passed as a dancer from a foreign land; unlike Mata Hari, she successfully passed on significant information about the war in the Pacific.)



ELENI (Karayanni, a member of the Greek resistance, also known as Lela)



HANNAH (Sensech; along with Haviva Reik, she parachuted behind enemy lines)

HAVIVA (Reik; born Marta, sometimes called Ada – along with Hannah Sensech, a female parachutist)

JOSEPHINE (the legendary entertainer Josephine Baker was part of the French Resistance)





NANCY (Wake, a journalist turned courier)

NOOR (Inayat Khan, an Indian princess and author of children’s books, also known as Nora Baker)




VERA (Atkins, as well as Vera Leigh, also known as Simone)


VIRGINIA (Hall.  Considered one of the most dangerous spies, the Germans nicknamed her Artemis)


If you’re looking for a strong feminine name, many of these would wear well.  They’re pleasingly retro, but there’s no denying the chutzpah each Spy Girl needed to even consider taking on such daunting tasks.

ABBY SANDEL, creator of the terrific website Appellation Mountain, lives in Washigton DC and is the mother of two small children.


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