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What the NATO Phonetic Alphabet Words Really Mean

nato alphabet at airport with radio tower

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Have you ever heard of the NATO phonetic alphabet? Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably heard it in a movie or TV show. The NATO alphabet is a strategically designed system that uses specific words in place of letters when delivering information over phone calls or the radio. These words prevent people from misunderstanding a command or request, which can save lives in certain situations.

List of NATO Phonetic Alphabet Words

So, your biggest question right now is probably, “What are the NATO alphabet words?” Well, here they are:

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NATO numbers tableNATO numbers table(CC BY-ND 4.0)

These 40 words allow people in the military, aeronautics, commercial airline and other such industries to effectively communicate with each other, reducing the potential risk for disastrous mistakes.

Playing NATO Words in Word Games

Knowing about the NATO phonetic alphabet is all well and good. But, with this being WordFinder, what we’d really like to know is what the words mean and if they can help us in any word games. That’s why we compiled this list to teach you more about each word. 

The majority of NATO words are legal for games like Scrabble or Words With Friends. The NATO alphabet words that are not allowed, however, are marked with an asterisk (*) below.

  • Alfa: This is a different spelling of the word “alpha,” which represents the first or highest member in a group or list. This spelling was actually created specifically for the NATO phonetic alphabet to ensure that non-English speakers would correctly pronounce the word.

  • Bravo: “Bravo” is a word you use to express approval or to celebrate someone’s accomplishment. In Scrabble and Words With Friends, it’s a great word to play the rarer V tile.

  • Charlie: This is a word that’s mostly likely playable in Scrabble and Words With Friends because of the NATO alphabet. Typically, names or any type of proper nouns are banned in these games. But, because “Charlie” serves as a normal word in the NATO alphabet, the games added them to their dictionaries.

  • Delta: Delta is most commonly known as the fourth letter in the Greek alphabet. It’s also a landmass that builds up where a river empties into a different body of water. For word games, it’s a convenient word to use some common letter tiles.

  • Echo: An echo is the repeating of a sound that has already been made by something. It’s also the imitating or repeating of someone’s words or ideas, either to support or mock them. 

  • Foxtrot: This is another word that people might not initially assume is playable in Words With Friends and Scrabble. The foxtrot is a type of dance, but in word games, it’s a handy word for adding an extension to another word on the board, using the valuable X tile or even scoring a bingo.

  • Golf: Golf is a sport that originated in Scotland and is now popular worldwide. Played on a large outdoor course, the goal is to use golf clubs to knock the small, aerodynamic golf balls into holes on the field.

  • Hotel: As anyone who’s done a lot of traveling would know, a hotel is a large building filled with bedrooms meant for temporary lodging. 

  • India: India is a large country in South Asia. It borders other prominent Asian countries, such as China, Pakistan and Nepal, as well as the Indian Ocean, which is named after the country.

  • Juliett*: Juliet is an English name that means “youthful.” For the NATO alphabet, a second T was added to the name to prevent any non-English speakers from pronouncing the name with a silent T.

  • Lima: Though it’s valid in Scrabble, Lima has no real definition other than Peru’s capital city. The word is similar to “Charlie” in that it’s a proper noun that serves as a regular word in the NATO alphabet.

  • Mike: Mike is the shortened form of Michael. Michael originates from Hebrew and means “Who is like God?” It’s also an informal abbreviation for the word “microphone.”

  • November*: November is the 11th month in the Julian calendar. What’s interesting about it is that it means “nine,” as it was originally the ninth month of the Roman calendar.

  • Oscar: This word is the same case as “Lima.” The name is most commonly associated with the Academy Awards, as the trophies awarded for that ceremony are called Oscars. Regardless of what it’s known for, it was the perfect O word to include in the phonetic alphabet.

  • Papa: This word, meaning “father,” originated in France. Originally, it referred to “father” in the sense of the pope and the papacy.

  • Quebec*: Quebec is the largest Canadian province by area and the second largest by population. It is also home to a large population of native French speakers.

  • Romeo: Romeo’s literal meaning is someone is from Rome or Italy. While not a common name today, it is still well-known thanks to William Shakespeare’s classic play, Romeo and Juliet.

  • Sierra: Sierra is a female name that’s popular in America, but it is also a specific type of mountain range. A sierra range is one that, from a distance, has a jagged, almost sawtooth-like appearance.

  • Tango: A tango is a type of dance that originated in Argentina. The dance is designed for and performed by pairs of dancers, which is how the idiom “it takes two to tango” came to be.

  • Uniform: This word of Latin origin denotes that multiple things or people are the same and consistent with each other. That is why we call a set of clothing used to identify members of a group the same word.

  • Victor: “Victor” is a person’s name, but “victor” is whoever bests an opponent in a competition. So, even if you aren’t named Victor, you can become a victor by using the words in this list to win your next game.

  • Whiskey: Similar to “foxtrot,” playing “whiskey” is a great way to make extensions or possibly get a bingo. It’s a longer word, and it makes great use of some of the more uncommon letters, such as K, W and Y. 

  • Yankee*: Yankee is an old term used to describe someone from the northeastern United States. Before that, it was used by Dutch settlers as an insult to the English.

  • Zulu*: The Zulu is a Nguni ethnic group. In fact, they are the largest nation of people in South Africa. The name also refers to the native language that the people speak.

How the NATO Alphabet Came to Be

During the early 20th century, when the radio and telephone became essential tools for communication, it became clear that people needed a system to make sure messages were understood correctly. Many letters sound similar over calls, such as “s” and “f” or “b” and “v.” It was also easy to confuse words that sound similar but mean different things, such as the number “nine” and the German word “nein.”

Starting With the ICAO Phonetic Alphabet

To remedy this, many organizations created their own phonetic alphabets. One of these was the International Commission for Air Navigation (ICAO), which adopted one of the first systems. Their system became a popular standard. It was adopted and modified by many other organizations across the world. It even served crucial roles in both World Wars.

Introducing the NATO Phonetic Alphabet

In 1956, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) adopted the ICAO’s system, albeit with a few modifications, to create the NATO phonetic alphabet. Since NATO is an intergovernmental organization, the system was easy to distribute to every country that wanted to use it. The alphabet’s words are also easy to remember, say and hear for people who don’t primarily use English, making it the ideal international system. 

There are still other phonetic alphabets in use. And, the ICAO’s system still works in tandem with the NATO alphabet. That said, the current standard is to follow NATO’s guidelines and the NATO phonetic alphabet in most cases.

More Word Lists to Study

The NATO phonetic alphabet is an invaluable tool for millions of people around the world. Even in the digital age, communicating over the phone and radio are essential. This list of alphabet words helps everyone speak the same language. Knowing what other people mean is important, which is why slang terms often become points of confusion. If you often find yourself puzzled by modern slang, we have a few word lists that can help you. Take a look at our New York slang and our Gen Z slang lists to get started.


Zac Pricener has been a content creator for the past eight years. He’s a bit of an all-around nerd, and he has a bad habit of working movie and TV show references into conversations whenever possible.

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