I agree with the codename theory. Here's how to explain it. Let's start with the assumption that Bond 1 (played by Connery) was an agent whose real name was indeed James Bond. B1 set the standard for which all future 00 agents needed to follow, to the extent that the secret service decided to not only retain the number 007 for the best of the 00 agents, but also the name. In other words, just like a civilian was transformed into Jason Bourne and thereby lost his true identity, this was also the case for all future 007 agents (i.e. Bond 2 - the current Bond 6). The question is why take on a code name at all?
B1 was a product of the cold war at its most cold and paranoid. By creating in each subsequent 007 agent a code name, it allowed, as in the Bourne universe, a chance to better create in the agent the identity of a cold-blooded killer, as a means to leave behind one's civilian identity in order to make way for a new one - all crucial when the stakes were so high and people feared nuclear war. This leaving behind of one's old identity to make way for a new one is a common part of induction/initial training within institutions (e.g. the military, some religious orders, fraternities). In other words, for all we know B6 (played by Craig) has the real name of John Thomas. But by creating in him the name of James Bond, he is more effectively able to leave behind his personal identity and get on with his new identity and role - a trained assassin. For those in the secret service and CIA, taking on new identities is quite common. However, unlike the Bourne system, no agents were brainwashed. Instead, their 'programming' is largely based on method-acting. This allows them to carry out their job as James Bond, but also allows for their own 'true' personality to come through (hence B3 was more light-hearted, whereas B4 was not).
Consider the evidence. In QOS, we find out that ‘Rene Mathis’ is not the agent’s real name – this too was a code name (as are M, Q and as I shall argue, Moneypenny, Felix Leiter and Blofeld). Moreover, by 1967, B1 had become something of an irony – a ‘secret’ agent who everybody else seemed to know about, namely his enemies (specifically, SPECTRE). Therefore, his death was faked (YOLT, 1967) in order to buy him a bit of time to fight his enemies. This could also be a rationale to keep James Bond alive forever by giving this code name to the best of the best, in honour of the original Bond and also, to confuse future enemies.
What if the mention of ‘James Bond’, however, tells his enemies that, while the agent looks different, he’s still a secret agent? Well, this is explained in that each Bond has, when necessary, taken on yet another identity (e.g. B1 becoming Peter Franks; B2 becoming Sir Hilary Bray; B3 becoming Robert Stirling). Also, in DAF, Tiffany Case exclaims to B1 that the man she thinks is James Bond is dead (that is, B1 placed his ID in the dead man’s suit, so that Case thinks Bond is dead). My point: Case is with James Bond himself (the first Bond no less, whose real name is indeed ‘James Bond’) and yet does not recognise him. This strongly suggests that while the name ‘James Bond’ may be famous and hardly secret, the face is secret, for a time at least, due to the regular changing of the guard, so to speak. Therefore, James Bond could, conceivably, be anybody. Finally, in DAF, Moneypenny also asks B1 to bring her back from Amsterdam a ‘diamond in a ring’ – a reference to marriage. We know that B2 lost his wife earlier, but this is not B2. Therefore, what might be seen as a tasteless comment for a man whose wife has been killed is, in reality, just the usual playful banter between Moneypenny and whichever version of Bond she is working with.
So....if this is all true, then what about the questions it raises:
Why does B2 look back over the gadgets that only B1 would have used and known about?
(I'm referring to the scene in 1969's OHMSS, in which B2 – Lazenby – has just resigned from the service). He even answers the phone with '007' and then corrects himself to 'James Bond here' (suggesting that James Bond is his real name after all). Simple. Each 'James Bond' passed on information, mementoes, gadgets, etc. etc. to all subsequent Bonds, to feed into the 'James Bond mythology', and to allow for continuity within individuals who are all, essentially, playing a role (but again, a role that is very much a part of role-playing professions, such as spies). He answered the phone with 'James Bond' purely because, though lasting for just one mission, his training had created in him already a near blind acceptance to the idea that James Bond really is his name (and not, for example, Edwin Rawlings perhaps). Plus, B2 did not really want to resign, so perhaps by answering the phone with his moniker, he was reflecting this. B2 left the service after his wife was killed, as he had planned to 'find something else to do' after proposing to her anyway.
From here, B1 was brought back in for one last mission (DAF, 1971). I can't explain at all of course how B1 would return again in 1983 for a mission that duplicated that of a previous one (Thunderball, 1965)...but as NSNA was not an official Bond film, perhaps we need not consider this at all (though this does not suggest any criticism of the film per se). After DAF, B2 retires and brings in B3. He retires and paves for the way for B4, B5, B6 and so on. In fact, CR (2006) shows part of the indoctrination process of each new Bond, partly at least.
Why do several Bonds show sadness for a dead wife if they are all different people?
B3 visits Tracy’s grave and he, along with B4 in LTK, shows emotion when an agent makes reference to James Bond’s deceased wife. Why? Simple. It’s all part of the aforementioned method acting. Each Bond is playing his own version of Bond to a large extent (though all are government-based killers, regardless of differences in their overall portrayal), but each Bond acquires the baggage of the previous Bond incarnations. Therefore, B1 really is an orphan, but the others are not (or perhaps they are, in as much as M16 were looking to recruit orphans as one of their requirements for the man to ‘play’ 007). Either way, such a tragedy was deemed too important to miss, so whether an act or whether each Bond has indeed been orphaned, it was determined to retain this aspect for all future Bonds to shape the character of a cold-blooded assassin (M herself remarks that orphans make the best 00 agents, exactly a reason to demand being an orphan as a key feature of the 007/James Bond role or to expect B2 – B6 to method act as an orphan). M16 want, to an extent, ‘damaged (emotional) goods’ for the role of James Bond. Someone who can take on the mantle of being an orphan and a widower might fit the bill, to help create the emotional distance needed for a 007 agent. As B5 says, ‘(his coldness) it what keeps (him) alive’. Therefore, any reference to being an orphan and/or a widower in any incarnation of Bond is a reference to those aspects of the Bond title that are being retained, for the reasons explained (though I concede again that perhaps each new Bond really is an orphan and a widower, so no method acting needed for these two crucial aspects of James Bonds’ ‘make-up).
How about the differing faces of Blofeld, Leiter and Moneypenny – are they code names too?
Yes. Let’s assume Blofeld was indeed killed by B1 at a later date in YOLT (1967) or perhaps he was killed by the KGB (this would assume that SPECTRE was indeed run by the Soviets and that Blofeld, though ‘Number One’, was otherwise a puppet, a very powerful one, however). Then B2 comes across a new Blofeld in OHMSS. The Soviets replaced Blofeld with a new character. This would explain why neither man recognises each other – both James Bond and Blofeld are new faces after all. Blofeld 2 finds out later, however, that ‘Hilary Bray’ is James Bond (again, both not the real name of whoever B2 really is). And after the death of his wife, B2 kills Blofeld 2 and subsequently retires in grief (or is let go for ‘making it personal’ – this would also perhaps be the fate of B4, who disobeyed orders to go after Felix Leiter’s opponent, Sanchez, in LTK, 1989).
As for Leiter, perhaps ‘Felix Leiter’ is a code name bestowed upon the best CIA agents, a US counterpart for the British James Bond. When each new ‘Leiter’ meets each new ‘Bond’, they both have to go through the motions of assuming old acquaintances when in fact, they perhaps have only just met.
As for Moneypenny, MP 1 served from 1962 (perhaps earlier, as we hear in Dr. No that Bond has already been on the job for about ten years) until the mid-80s. Then we had MP2, MP3 and currently, MP4. Each MP was asked to also take on a role – that of the professional, reliable and utterly love stuck woman (though again, there are some different personality traits amongst them, notably MP3 and MP4 who are more independent than their predecessors). However, when MP1 asks B1 for a diamond in a ring, she momentarily lets down her guard, and her act – she is supposed to view B1 as a widower, but she forgets this and therefore asks for a ring (note the puzzled look on B1’s face at her request, as if to acknowledge her mistake).
So how do Bond and Blofeld recognise each other in DAF (1971) with, once again, new faces?
We can assume that B1’s brief return was leaked information (highly plausible), the Soviets got hold of it and therefore decided to plant ‘Blofeld’ (number three) in this new mission to smuggle diamonds. The fact that DAF focused on plastic surgery also lends support to the idea of ‘creating’ new versions of a character; in this case, creating Blofeld to look like a previous (deceased) ally of Bond’s – Henderson – who we saw in 1967 in YOLT. Perhaps the Soviets chose Henderson’s face to spite Bond, as Henderson was one of Bond’s only true friends, whose murder in YOLT perhaps upset him more than we know. Moving on, Blofeld 4 (who we see in 1981 in FYEO) is again referring to ‘Mr. Bond’ as if an old adversary, but in reality the two have never met. Nonetheless, this shows again the level of the role playing, to the extent that people might start to see themselves as the role (again, method acting to the extreme) and also, it shows that B4, though never having previously met any version of Blofeld, nonetheless ‘recognises’ him based on knowledge passed on to him by previous Bonds and/or M16/M.
But why the need to ‘pretend’ so much, even in secret rooms (e.g. Bond’s office)?
Because of the cold war paranoia, each new ‘Bond’ was instructed that he had to eat, sleep and breathe the life of an orphaned, widowed, womanising assassin, to assume that everywhere he ate, slept and went, he was being watched, followed and even bugged. This attention to complete detail would ensure that he remained consistent in his actions and the character portrayal of James Bond 24/7. Same for the other characters with code names.
How about overlap between the different Bonds?
For example, we see a reference to the date ‘1985’ in AVTAK (with B3), and B4 starts his first mission in 1987, yet B5 was on a mission in 1986. Likewise, Silva makes a reference to M3 (played by Dench of course) as being on the job in 1986, when in fact this would have been the time when M2 (played by Robert Brown) was on the job.
Well, it may not be the case that Bond is on a mission every two years. Rather, it could well be three missions per year. Let us consider:
B1 – served from early 50s until 1967; 1971
B2 – 1969 only
B3 – 1973 – 1985
B4 – 1985 (not necessarily 1987, with the film TLD); likewise, LTK could have been in 1985 also
B5 – Therefore, B5 could have started in late 1985, to have therefore been around for his mission with 006 in the beginning of the film Goldeneye. He retired in 2002, or thereabouts, after his final mission. The point here is not to necessarily set the year in which the films were released as the year in which Bond was completing a various mission – there can be some leeway.
B6 – He began anywhere from 2004/06 and continues in his role…..
As for M, the first (Miles Messervy) served until around 1979. He was replaced by Admiral Hargreaves (first seen in TSWLM, 1977) until around 1985 (serving with B4). Then M3 could have begun her duties in 1985/86, to accompany both B5 and serving with B6 (until her demise).
But in Skyfall (2012), we see a clear reference to James Bond’s parents’ graves, his childhood home and the gamekeeper who knew Bond as a child.
Yes we do. But these are indeed references to the real Bond – B1. A man who really was orphaned as a child (though only B2 perhaps was truly widowed). So B6 is again playing the role to the extent that B1’s childhood home had become, with his permission, a safe house of sorts for each new Bond, a place to retreat to for solace, comfort or to unwind following each mission. The gamekeeper is indeed a bit too young to have been old enough to be a father figure to B1 (both Connery and Finney are roughly the same age), but again, we have an ‘actor’ (based on his prowess with a gun, perhaps another agent, who remains on the grounds as a look-out for M16 and, when needed, plays the role). The gamekeeper’s recollection to M of what happened to Bond as a boy following the death of his parents was merely information on file that was passed on to him – information that M (in this case, M3) would have known already. But again, for the sake of consistent role playing, in this case treating each new Bond as one in the same essentially, they go through the motions of discussing already known information.
There are coincidences that are hard to explain – why does Andrea Anders (from TMWTGG, 1974) look like Octopussy; why does villain Brad Whitaker look like Bond ally Jack Wade? Don’t know, but merely coincidental.
Anyway, that’s my take on things…..