At the beginning of Spectre James Bond first meets Max Denbigh, the head of the new Joint Security Service that's supposed to merge MI5 and MI6 into one. He choses to call him "C", though:

Bond: Congratulations on your new appointment...I suppose we should call you C now.
Denbigh: No, no. "Max," please.
Bond: No, I think I'll call you C, C.
Denbigh: As you wish.

This is also the name with which Andrew Scott's character is credited and in line with the tradtion of single-letter designations as known from M and Q (and the real British secret services). But why is he called by that letter and why does James put so much emphasis on it? Now it could as well just be a name without much significance and simply the nickname Denbigh bears in the Joint Security Service, but it seemed like Bond decided to call him that way out of the blue and as if he had a specific reason to choose the letter C. So did Bond actually choose that name personally for him or is that really Max Denbigh's official designation. In any case, why? Is there anything more to the letter C as Max Denbigh's designation other than sheer randomness? And why did James Bond put so much emphasis onto it in that scene?

It was hinted in previous installments that M actually seems to relate to Judi Dench's character's real name (as well as to Gareth Mallory's). Likewise was C actually the sign of the real MI6's first head (as also based on his last name), who seemed to have started that tradition. Yet there doesn't seem to be any relation between Max Denbigh and the letter C.

  • There is a historical context to that word in the UK, this sense is common in New Zealand, British and Australian English, where it is usually applied to men or as referring specifically to "a despicable, contemptible or foolish" man. That's how Bond sees him, so as such wants to make that feeling clear to him. My two cents. – GµårÐïåñ Aug 18 '17 at 19:57

C is an appropriate initial as Bond thinks of him as a C*nt (a slang word for a part of the female reproductive anatomy, and one of the few words you would have trouble saying on British TV).

It tends to be referred to as the "C word" so by calling him C he's using typical British understatement to be very rude to a man he intensely dislikes

So as you say, the heads have a random designated letter normally used instead of their name (In Flemings time the actual person's name would be a secret) Denbigh's is C (as was Flemings real boss when he was an agent, M was thought up for the books), but despite him being all modern and discarding it Bond keeps it to be insulting

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    c*unt is no where near as bad a word in the UK as it would be in US, people get away with saying it (see Penny Dreadful I think). But yeah that is the word which I immediately thought of too, when he puts the emphasis on it. – user001 Jul 13 '16 at 9:27
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    Pretty sure there are repercussions of calling your boss's new boss a c*nt to their face in the UK. Out of universe they wanted to keep a 12 rating. – OrangeDog Jul 13 '16 at 17:44
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    Well yes, they drag you off to a remote secret base and drill holes in your head after a wrestler tries to kill you first! – The Wandering Dev Manager Jul 13 '16 at 19:19
  • @user001 Yes, it's nowhere near the nuclear option of swearing that it seems to be in the US, it's used fairly freely and not really as an insult towards women in particular at all. – Alan B Jul 18 '19 at 14:24
  • Yet that "As you wish." statement... Do you really think the guy is going to accept that as a "nickname"? I'd lean towards the other answers of C for Chief, although perhaps underlying it is Bond's desire to refer to him as a c*nt as an inside joke to himself. – Johnny Bones Jul 16 '20 at 14:19

According to IMDB and Wikipedia it's a long tradition that the Chief of the MI6 uses "C" to sign documents, so Bond just used that as Max's new nickname:

The Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) traditionally signs documents in green ink with the letter "C"; originating with the first Chief, Mansfield Smith-Cumming (1859-1923).

  • This should be the accepted answer! – Luciano Jul 15 '20 at 9:08
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    That's...a nice piece of trivia we all know by now as the basis for M, but it doesn't seem quite relevant when M isn't called C to begin with. What would be the reason for Bond now starting that practice out of the blue? I mean, it is literally part of the question already. – Napoleon Wilson Jul 15 '20 at 9:15
  • This is true, but in the delivery it is clearly James being rude as per the accepted answer. In England we call each other C*nts all the time, often as good natured joshing so it's both a good passive aggressive test of his new bosses personality plus it gets some adult humour past the censors. – gingerbreadboy Nov 4 '20 at 21:02

In Somerset Maugham's book, "Ashenden," many of the characters are referred to by their initials (or perhaps the initials of their position.) I had assumed that this was just a clandestine service tradition.

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    C is not one of the character's initials, though. – F1Krazy Jul 16 '19 at 5:36

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