What’s in a name? For many athletes it is something that they must actually wear and physically display while they perform their respective trades. Professional athletes enjoy significantly greater amounts of attention than the average member of the public and as a result have an opportunity to make themselves known throughout the world for their accomplishments. However, sometimes circumstances arise that lead an athlete to change his or her name.
In recent years, the athlete formerly known as Ron Artest has used his name changes in order to inspire others and possibly to draw attention to himself. He is just one of many examples of this happening throughout the history of sports. It is a practice that dates back to the early 20th century when athletes used it to improve their public perception, with some experiencing more success than others.
People change their names for many reasons. Often these name changes represent a transition to a new period of their life, a legal transformation to commemorate a personal landmark. In other cases, these name changes occur because of a religious conversion. Recently, it has become increasingly common for professional athletes to change their names to garner attention from the public. These athletes have followed through with their name changes and taken their respective fields of play donning their new “nom de sport.”
21 Metta World Peace
Ron Artest has had an interesting career and personal life to say the least. In 2011, he legally changed his name to Metta World Peace in an effort to inspire the youth of the world. Shortly after winning an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers and earning the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award, he made the announcement that he would be changing his name. However, it would not be the final name he used during his basketball.
20 The Pandas Friend
This summer Metta World Peace decided to change his name once again after signing a contract to play with the Sichuan Blue Whale in China. In order to reflect a new chapter in his life, World Peace is in the process of changing his name to The Pandas Friend. After his involvement in the Malice at the Palace, he has become an advocate for mental health and even auctioned off his NBA Championship ring to raise money for several mental health charities.
19 Bison Dele
In order to honor his Native American and African heritage, Brian Carson Williams changed his name to Bison Dele. Dele had a respectable NBA career and won an NBA title in the 1997 with the Chicago Bulls. Dele was memorable for his eccentricities and retired at the age of 30 despite being the highest paid player on the Detroit Pistons. In 2002, he disappeared while sailing on his catamaran with his brother in the South Pacific. The details of his disappearance are not fully known, but it is believed that Dele was murdered by his brother while at sea.
18 Giancarlo Stanton
After beginning his major league baseball career as Mike Stanton, he arrived at Spring Training in 2012 with the desire to be called by his birth name Giancarlo Stanton. He went by Giancarlo until fifth grade, when he discovered that his friends had difficulty pronouncing it and began going by his middle name Michael. The 2014 home run champion has made two All-Star Game appearances, both coming after his name change to Giancarlo.
17 Maurice Jones-Drew
Despite his legal name always being Maurice Jones-Drew, for the majority of his collegiate career, the athlete now known as MJD simply went by Maurice Drew. During his junior year at UCLA in their home opener, Maurice’s grandfather suffered a heart attack in the third quarter and passed away shortly after. Drew later made the decision to change his name to the hyphenated version to honor his grandfather, whom he lived with for much of his youth. He continues to honor his grandfather by playing with the moniker.
16 Chad Ochocinco
Chad Johnson has had two name changes in his lifetime. The first name change came when he wanted to have the last name of the number he wore for the entirety of his career with the Cincinnati Bengals. After legally changing his name in 2008, he finally took the field with Ochocinco on the back of his jersey in the 2009 season. His Ochocinco jersey was a best seller, but he changed his name back to Johnson in 2012, when he married reality television star Evelyn Lozada. Despite their short marriage ending in a spat of domestic violence, he continues to have the legal name of Johnson, while using Ochocinco as his Twitter handle.
15 Hakeem Olajuwon
Early in his NBA career, Hakeem Olajuwon wanted to make a minor change to his name to restore his name to its proper spelling. He played the entirety of his college career under the name Akeem Olajuwon and used Akeem as his name since arriving in the United States in 1981. Through all of this Hakeem maintained, “I am not changing my name, I am correcting it.” The Dream was hard to prove wrong throughout his professional basketball career and won two NBA Championships.
14 World B. Free
Lloyd Bernard Free’s basketball story begins in the notorious Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. While in junior high schools, Free claims to have had a 44-inch vertical leap and could perform 360 slam dunks with ease. This ability earned him the nickname All-World. In 1981 while playing with the Golden State Warriors, Lloyd made the decision to change his name to World B. Free. World wanted to make a statement with the name change and encourage the planet to be free and at peace.
13 Ervin Santana
The baseball player we now know as Ervin Santana began his life a Johan Ramon Santana and the name served him well until shortly before he made it to the Major Leagues. In 2003, in order to avoid confusion with fellow pitcher Johan Santana, he changed his name. When asked about the name change he said, “I just came up with Ervin…Ervin Santana that sounds good.” After his 2011 no-hitter, there was no more confusing him with Johan.
12 Sugar Ray Robinson
When he attempted to enter an AAU boxing tournament as a fifteen year old, Walker Smith Jr. used the birth certificate of a friend, Ray Robinson. Robinson won that first bout and 84 more during his amateur career, and the first win was described as “sweet as sugar” by sportswriter Jack Case. Sugar Ray Robinson went on to great success as a professional middleweight and welterweight boxer and was the reason for the invention of pound-for-pound rankings. Robinson went on to play a major role in the Harlem Renaissance and is credited with inventing the modern athlete’s entourage.
11 Jose Uribe
Jose Uribe holds the honor of being declared the “ultimate player to be named later” by coach Rocky Bridges. After playing his minor league career and one season with the St. Louis Cardinals as Jose Gonzalez, he was traded as a player to be named later to the San Francisco Giants in 1985. Before arriving to the Giants, Gonzalez changed his last name to his mother’s last name of Uribe because, he said, “There are too many Gonzalezes in baseball.”
10 Marvelous Marvin Hagler
During a period of his career when he felt he was being largely ignored by boxing journalists, Marvin Hagler made the bold decision to legally change his first name to Marvelous. He was annoyed by network announcers ignoring his nickname and the change proved to be for the better. Hagler is considered to have one of the best chins in boxing history, and he amassed 52 knockouts during his professional career. Marvelous Marvin Hagler is now considered one of the best middleweight boxers of all time.
9 Bobby Ryan
Born Robert Shane Stevenson, Bobby Ryan’s life was changed when he was a young child. His father assaulted his mother so severely it left her with a fractured skull. When he was released on bail, the family fled to California, where they adopted the last name Ryan to elude police. Bobby’s prowess as a hockey protégé led some to draw connections to Bobby Stevenson, but he was undeterred. Bobby continued his life as Bobby Ryan when his mother asked him which name he wanted to continue using. The name has stuck and Ryan has gone on to win an Olympic Silver medal in hockey.
8 Stylez G. White
Only one name on this list was inspired by a character in Teen Wolf, and that honor belongs to the football player formerly known as Greg White. Stylez made the decision to change his name in 2008 to honor the sidekick in the 80’s movie classic. White played for nearly ten years as a practice squad player, arena league star, and later in the NFL after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2002 NFL draft. He now owns a cross-fit gym in Tampa Bay, Florida called Elite Vandals.
7 Ahmad Rashad
After making a name for himself as a wide receiver and running back at Oregon State as Bobby Moore, Ahmad Rashad converted to Islam in 1972 and changed his name. He went on to earn four Pro Bowl appearances in his NFL career, but found even greater success in front of the camera as a television personality. He has hosted shows like NBA Inside Stuff, NBA Access, and Morning Drive in addition to duties as an in game reporter and studio anchor.
6 Jack Dempsey
William Harrison Dempsey was born in 1895 in Manassa, Colorado. His family came from a modest background, and Dempsey often went into saloons and challenged patrons to fights in order to earn money for his family. At the age of 19, he changed his legal name to Jack as an homage to two fighters and invented the technique that bears his name, the “Dempsey roll.” He is still considered one of the greatest pound for pound fighters of all time, despite fighting nearly 100 years ago.
Maybyner Rodney Hilario does not exactly roll off the tongue, and that is why Nene Hilario decided to adopt a single name in the tradition of many Brazilian sports figures. After taking a trip to Brazil in 2003, he returned to the United States with a single name Nene, dropping his legal last name, in favor of the Portuguese word for baby. The Brazilian basketball star successfully beat cancer in 2008 and continues his NBA career with the Washington Wizards.
4 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
During his high school career, Lew Alcindor was the tallest student in the New York Public School System. He featured prominently as a member of John Wooden’s UCLA championship teams and was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks. In 1971, he converted to Islam and adopted the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbaar, which means “the noble one, servant of the Almighty.” His trademarked Skyhook helped him become one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history, win six NBA titles, and earn six NBA MVP awards.
3 Abdul Karim al-Jabbar
Only one name change on this list came as a result of a lawsuit, and that honor belongs to the athlete now known as Abdul Karim al-Jabbar. After being given the name Karim Abdul-Jabbar by his imam in 1995, he attracted national attention when he became a running back for the Miami Dolphins. Basketball’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sued the running back for attempting to profit off of his past success and using his #33. He changed his name to Abdul Karim al-Jabbar in order to comply with the lawsuit, despite maintaining the #33 was to honor Tony Dorsett.
2 Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali is a national icon, but he was born in Louisville, Kentucky under the name Cassius Marcellus Clay. Upon his conversion to Islam he was given the name Muhammad Ali by the Elijah Muhammad and maintained that Cassius Clay was “his slave name.” Many reporters refused to acknowledge his name change and the same mistake was made by Sonny Liston. Ali is now considered one of the most iconic figures in sports history, and there is no longer any question regarding what name to call him.
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