A popular fan theory on the internet posits the notion that "James Bond" is not a given name, but an honorary title bestowed to England's greatest secret agent, the person holding the designation of "007." This theory is based on the fact that James Bond has been played by six different actors over the course of twenty-four films since the character's cinematic debut in 1962's Dr. No.
From a superficial standpoint, the theory makes sense. After all, Pierce Brosnan didn't look like he had been a secret agent for forty years by the time Die Another Day came around in 2002. Daniel Craig is a rookie 00-Agent in Casino Royale, ignoring the previous twenty films! The general flow of continuity is seemingly easier to manage if James Bond was actually a series of different characters, with each actor playing a new agent with the same designation of "James Bond, 007."
Due to a variety of factors, however, anyone with keen knowledge of James Bond's character and cinematic history knows this theory quickly falls apart under scrutiny, and that the character, regardless of actor, is officially named James Bond, as originally written by novelist Ian Fleming.
The James Bond Codename Theory Explained
The James Bond film series began in 1962, and the (still untitled) twenty-fifth movie is currently slated for release on April 8, 2020. The James Bond films have always been contemporary affairs, with the character firmly planted in the present day, whether it be the Cold War subterfuge of the 1960s, the post-Soviet Russia in 1995's GoldenEye, or modern-day London and its struggle with over-zealous surveillance programs. Due to movie magic, James Bond remains a constant throughout history, being recast with a different actor, usually (but not always) when he begins to grow too old for the part.
When taken to its logical conclusion, that means Pierce Brosnan is supposed to be playing the same character as Sean Connery, which simply does not compute, since GoldenEye, Brosnan's first 007 movie, released twenty-four years after Diamonds Are Forever, Connery's final outing (not including the unofficial Never Say Never Again, which is a whole other story). It doesn't make chronological sense.
The Codename Theory suggests the characters played by Brosnan and Connery (and Lazenby, Dalton, and Moore) are, in fact, different people who were trusted with the honor of being called "James Bond, 007." There is some evidence to support this theory, or at least parts of it. The first scene in The Living Daylights features Timothy Dalton's Bond on a training exercise, subtly implying that this is a new iteration of the character. Similarly, the pre-credits sequence of On Her Majesty's Secret Service ends with new Bond actor George Lazenby breaking the fourth wall and uttering the phrase, "This never happened to the other guy," which fans have interpreted as an in-universe acknowledgment of the theoretical torch-passing.
Tracy Bond Connects Lazenby, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan
A variant of The Codename Theory allows for Connery, Lazenby, and Moore to be the same character, while "James Bond" becomes a code name starting with Timothy Dalton's tenure. The reason for this allowance on the part of the theorists is the arc involving Tracy Draco, played by Diana Rigg, who marries James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service before being murdered by arch-nemesis Blofeld on their wedding day.
The subsequent film, Diamonds Are Forever, opens with 007, now played by Sean Connery after vacating the role for OHMSS, vengefully pursuing Blofeld, though Tracy is conspicuously not mentioned within the entire film. However, in The Spy Who Loved Me, starring Roger Moore, Russian agent Anya Amasova recites 007's dossier from memory, and he bitterly cuts her off when she mentions the death of his wife. Furthermore, For Your Eyes Only begins with Roger Moore's 007 visiting the grave of his late wife before battling Blofeld for the last time and dispatching the SPECTRE mastermind in comical, yet righteous, fashion. The grave is clearly marked with Tracy's name and lists her year of death as 1969, the same year which saw the release of On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
However, viewers who note the clues in Dalton and Brosnan films can conclusively state that they are all playing the same man, James Bond. In Licence to Kill, Bond celebrates the wedding of Felix Leiter to Della, but becomes cold and distant when Della suggests he should get married next. When he leaves in silent sadness, Felix tells his young bride, "He was married once, but that was a long time ago."
Likewise, the whole plot of 1999's The World Is Not Enough can be seen as a spiritual sequel to On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The subtext of the romantic storyline suggests Bond is drawn to Elektra King because she reminds him of his late wife, Tracy, his one true weakness. At one point, Elektra asks 007 if he had ever lost someone, and he doesn't respond, though the look on his face says plenty. By the end of the film, Bond all but completely loses his heart to Elektra before he ultimately realizes her insidious plan
James Bond, as played by George Lazenby, was married to Tracy. Whether directly or indirectly, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan all mourned her death, even thirty years later.
Skyfall Confirmed James Bond's Real Name
Starting with 2006's Casino Royale, James Bond entered a new era: its first official continuity reboot. M is still played by Judi Dench, who began her tenure in 1995's GoldenEye, but the opening scene establishes new actor Daniel Craig making his first two kills – two kills which serve as a rite of passage to earn his Double-0 status.
In Skyfall, Moneypenny and Q are reintroduced, with Moneypenny's plot, in particular, serving as something of an origin story to 007 and Moneypenny's classic sexual tension and natural chemistry (something actor Lois Maxwell shared with Connery, Lazenby, and Moore). Finally, 2015's Spectre sees this rebooted 007 take on the titular villainous organization and its evil leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, for the first time. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, this cements the Craig era as a continuity reboot for the franchise; not a sequel with a new character, and not a prequel with a younger version of the preestablished icon.
One of the main hooks of Skyfall is that it takes the character back to his childhood home, showing viewers a side to the character which had never truly been seen before, though a line of dialogue delivered by Alec Trevelyan in GoldenEye states that Bond's parents died in a climbing accident. Even though Craig's films are a hard reboot of the 007 mythology, they do establish, once and for all, that James Bond's name is, in fact, James Bond. At his childhood home, his family's estate, Bond sees the headstones of his parents, which carry his legendary surname.
James Bond Isn't A Codename - The Continuity Is Just A Mess
The Codename Theory was created as a way to reconcile the inconsistent age of James Bond, who was younger after the Cold War ended in the 1990s (GoldenEye) than he was when he was fighting a renegade Soviet general in the 1980s (Octopussy). The legend goes that Die Another Day director Lee Tamahori wanted Sean Connery to cameo in his film as the "original" James Bond, but the idea never came to fruition. However, evidence within the films themselves, from subtle subtext to outright stated facts, disprove this notion. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond learns the motto of his family's Coat of Arms, "The World Is Not Enough." In the film of the same name, released thirty years later, 007 invokes the quote, referring to it as his "family motto."
Ultimately, there is no way to reconcile Bond's inconsistent age. He's always been the same guy, from Dr. No all the way through to Die Another Day. Casino Royale is a continuity reboot, but the Craig films are filled with numerous references to the original film series, from the Aston Martin DB5 making appearances in three of the four Craig movies, to the haunting image of Agent Fields, murdered and covered in oil in Quantum of Solace directly invoking the iconic image of the gold-covered Jill Masterson in the first act of Goldfinger.
The continuity in 007 is messy, and that's just something fans will have to accept. There's no way around it, since the evidence speaks for itself: from Connery to Brosnan, James Bond is James Bond. The continuity which ties these performances is loose at best, but it's nonetheless absolute.
EON Productions has always approached 007 one film at a time; the James Bond films were never designed with any type of long-term plan in mind, and certainly not one which could have accounted for over fifty years of storytelling, not to mention the real-life history and pop culture trends which often influence the filmmaking process. What's always been most important is that every James Bond actor captures the essence of what makes the character special, putting their own spin on his time-tested traits while staying true to what makes him one of the most endearing fictional characters in the history of cinema.