The wrestling world requires a performer to play a character while also showing signs of their real side. Most talents have to play a gimmick for the sake of entertainment. However, most experts and wrestling success stories would agree that each person has to show part of their true personality to get the audience to believe what they are attempting to execute on screen. One thing that demonstrates the art of a wrestler is the choosing of one's name. Most performers have to use a fake name for entertainment purposes but they have to believe they are that person. Others get lucky enough to utilize their real life name.
Kevin Owens would be an example of a middle ground name. It is similar to his real name of Kevin Steen, with the last name Owens being a tribute to his son (and the late Owen Hart). There are obvious fake names like The Undertaker and Kane. However, the wrestlers to use their real names are some that you wouldn’t expect. The same could be said for surprising fake names that seem real. Most performers would want to use their real name for marketing purposes after leaving WWE. It doesn’t always work out that way sadly. We'll take a look at both sides of the WWE world with ten wrestlers that use their real name and ten that have fake names.
20 Real Name: Maria Kanellis
The WWE tenure of Maria Kanellis and Mike Kanellis has gone in a completely different direction. Many fans have high hopes for the former Impact Wrestling and Ring of Honor act. Unfortunately, Mike’s addiction to prescription medication led to him having to balance cleaning his life up and starting the new chapter of his career. The good news of him staying clean has coincided with Maria getting pregnant with the couple’s first child coming soon.
Despite being off television due to her pregnancy, Maria is still in WWE. The first stint in WWE many years ago saw Maria not have her last name. She achieved so much success outside of the company in her time away that the Kanellis name was not only used for her, but WWE made her husband use it as well.
19 Fake Name: Jinder Mahal
Jinder Mahal has seen a shocking rise to the top of the WWE. 2017 started with Mahal struggling to get television time. Any matches he would have featured him as an enhancement talent. The Superstar Shakeup moved him from Raw to SmackDown along with the push of a lifetime. Mahal defeated Randy Orton to win the WWE Championship and is still holding the title as we head towards the end of the year.
Many people believe that Jinder Mahal is his real name. Jinder even used it during his few independent wrestling and convention appearances on his time away from WWE. The real name of Mahal is actually Yuvraj Dhesi. WWE just didn’t care about him enough to view him making an impact elsewhere with his former WWE name. A release this time around would likely see him forced to lose the Jindal Mahal name in another promotion.
18 Real Name: Brock Lesnar
The name Brock Lesnar seems too perfect for the world of wrestling. Most would assume it is a stage name given by WWE to add the intimidation factor to his already terrifying persona. However, it is actually his real name that just happened to be quite fitting. WWE experimented with new names for many of their developmental stars of this era, but Lesnar was one they never messed with.
Brock managed to become a huge star in MMA during his time away from WWE. The UFC success just added more drawing power to the Brock Lesnar brand. WWE brought him back to huge fanfare and loved the fact that he was such a big name again. The benefit of using his real name means he’ll always have value no matter where he chooses to compete.
17 Fake Name: Seth Rollins
The real name of Seth Rollins has been a mystery on the internet for many years with various forms of speculation. Seth Rollins is not his real name as he thought of it when signing with WWE in FCW. This was the peak of WWE demanding all talents use a new stage name. Seth’s old name of Tyler Black was used in Ring of Honor and other top tier independent promotions.
Speculation regarding Tyler Black being his real name was also incorrect. The actual name of Rollins is and has always been Colby Lopez. It is rather shocking given how familiar both of his wrestling names have been throughout his career. The name Seth Rollins worked perfectly for him in WWE and he is now one of the biggest stars in the WWE today.
16 Real Name: Brian Kendrick
Brian Kendrick has had multiple stints with WWE ranging all the way back to 2003. WWE allowed him to wrestle under his real name. Most fans remember him for his tag team work with Paul London as the two dominated the SmackDown Tag Team Division during the original brand split. A singles run saw him use the name “The Brain Kendrick” once again keeping it real.
Kendrick was allowed to continue using the name we all knew him as when leaving WWE for many years in between his stints. WWE hired him back for the Cruiserweight Division, and he is still using his real name. Most wrestlers of Kendrick’s level would be forced to get a new name at some point, but Brian managed to keep it up to this point.
15 Fake Name: Zack Ryder
Zack Ryder being a stage name isn’t a huge surprise, but he is one of the few wrestlers that don’t have a well-known real name. Fans have figured out the real names of most of the current WWE stars. Many of them actually list on their social media pages in hopes of building a brand outside of WWE in case they ever get released or quit.
Ryder however has never referred to his real name in any interviews or with any of his social media posts. The real name of Zack Ryder is actually Matthew Cardona. Ryder seems to be a lifer when it comes to his passion for the wrestling business. Any chance of a WWE release would force him to come up with a new name since Ryder is definitely going to be owned by WWE.
14 Real Name: Shinsuke Nakamura
The recent changes in WWE have seen the company become more lenient with names. Instead of demanding the established stars to change their name for the company to own it, they are more prone to keep the name for value. Shinsuke Nakamura is the perfect example of this. The extremely talented and charismatic wrestler worked under his real name in Japan for many years.
WWE signed him for NXT and allowed him to continue using his real name. Nakamura already had a fan base in love with his work before joining WWE. Triple H wanted to use that to benefit Nakamura and the NXT brand. Nakamura is now a regular on the main roster as a top face on the SmackDown brand. If his WWE careers ends sooner than later, he will be able to continue working under his real name.
13 Fake Name: Xavier Woods
The results of Xavier Woods in the New Day have seen him become one of the biggest original NXT success stories. Woods spent many years in both NXT and FCW trying to find the right character to get called up. It wasn’t until New Day formed that he had a relevant role on WWE television teaming with real life best friends Kofi Kingston and Big E.
One of the biggest passions of Woods is playing video games. His UpUpDownDown YouTube channels features him playing games with fellow WWE stars backstage in the locker room leading to great entertainment. Woods uses his real name of Austin Creed on the YouTube channel since this is his own project outside of WWE and he will want to continue it if ever leaving the company.
12 Real Name: Shelton Benjamin
The return of Shelton Benjamin has him forming a new tag team with Chad Gable. Jason Jordan being moved from SmackDown to Raw for a storyline as the son of Kurt Angle left Gable with nothing to do. WWE used the loophole of Angle repaying SmackDown for the change by giving them a connection to Benjamin for the return.
Shelton was one of the most physically gifted talents in WWE history. Many viewed him as the most underrated performer of the 2000s as he always had great matches in the mid-card but never moved into the main event picture. Benajmin however did have the benefit of always using his real name. It helped him on the independent circuit and Japan before returning to his home promotion of WWE this year.
11 Fake Name: Nikki Bella
The Bella Twins still work for WWE despite not being on either Raw or SmackDown in quite some time. Most would safely guess that the Bella name isn’t real. However, the popular opinion is that both ladies use their real first names. This is true for Brie as her real name is the extended Brianna which Brie is short for.
Nikki however doesn’t use her real name. The actual name given to Nikki is Stephanie. If you listen closely to John Cena’s proposal to her at WrestleMania 33, he refers to her as Stephanie to prove they are having a real moment outside of the WWE world. The fact that Stephanie McMahon exists means Nikki and no other Stephanie will likely ever be able to use that name in WWE.
10 Real Name: Matt and Jeff Hardy
Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy each lucked out in the mid-90s. WWE signed them at very young ages in their very early 20s during the Attitude Era. Not only did both brothers get signed at a young age during the hottest time period in wrestling history, but WWE allowed them to use their names. Two brothers having the name Hardy seemed fitting for wrestling names and didn’t need to change it.
Both guys have used their real names throughout their entire careers in WWE and beyond. The branding they did outside of the ring around the Hardy name helped keep them relevant no matter where they worked. Edge and Christian were their rivals in their early careers and both men obviously had to lose their names. It shows how rare the Hardys’ situation was and how well it worked.
9 Fake Name: Finn Balor
Finn Balor signed with WWE towards the end of their rule that wrestlers needed to find a new name. It may have worked out in his benefit as the Balor name has worked perfectly for him. The name Prince Devitt was used during his New Japan career and his real name is Fergal Devitt. Both names would have been great, but the choice of Finn Balor came from a great story.
Finn and Balor each are referencing the names of demon and hero in an Irish mythology story. The name Finn is also a shout out to his father Finnton. Fans fell in love with him right away and the Balor Club has become a part of his branding. The reference to the Bullet Club sells him a lot of merchandise. Balor being his fake last name is making him a lot of money.
8 Real Name: Mickie James
The recent push of Mickie James as the veteran challenger to Alexa Bliss has reminded fans of how talented she is. James was viewed as one of the top women’s wrestlers in WWE during her prior run in the 2000s. A long career of great matches and moments has made her a legend for the women’s wrestling world.
Despite it sounding like a wrestling created name, Mickie James is actually her real name. Her story is the exact opposite of most other wrestlers. She used the name Alexis Laree on the independent circuit moving away from her real name. However, the real name of Mickie James was used during her WWE career. It worked out perfectly as she remained relevant outside of WWE in between stints using the name.
7 Fake Name: Braun Strowman
The name of Braun Strowman is truly too perfect to be true. It is hard to view this monster among men under any other name. Braun Strowman has one of the better jobs of a wrestler being given a completely fake name that works well. The signing of Strowman came with no experience outside of WWE. His athletic and strength background made him a prospect that has become a huge star this year.
Strowman’s real name is actually Adam Scherr. Someone found his Tinder profile and it matched his real name before it became well known. This proves even monsters look for love in the strangest of places. Braun may have fared better using his stage name. Strowman is bound for many more big matches and possible World Title reigns going forward.
6 Real Name: Randy Orton
Randy Orton being a second generation wrestler made it easier for him to use his real name in WWE. As the son of “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Randy has surpassed his father’s legacy as one of the most decorated stars in WWE history. Orton has the wrestling gifts from early on. Many wrestlers claim Orton never even tried to fulfill his potential and achieved all of this success on complacency.
The middle name of Keith makes his initials RKO, the name of his finisher. It made sense that he once had a RKO parody shirt of the nWo. Orton is still going strong in WWE and doesn’t plan to retire any time soon. The legend does seem to want to try more acting roles at some point. Luckily, his wrestling name being his real name means he’ll always be able to market it.
5 Fake Name: Dean Ambrose
The Shield helped make Dean Ambrose one of the fastest rising stars in WWE. Despite being lower than Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins in the pecking order, there was once the belief that Ambrose was the most talented man in the trio. Ambrose ended up following suit of his peers by winning the WWE World Champion in 2016.
Fans have become accustomed to the name of Dean Ambrose, but it isn’t his real name. There’s a belief among some fans that his real name is Jon Moxley. While that was his independent wrestling name, the real name of Dean is actually Jonathan Good. No one would ever view Ambrose as a character with the last name “Good,” especially not him. The irony is that he has played a good guy since The Shield ended but is viewed as an anti-hero.
4 Real Name: Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle has been lucky to have used his real name throughout his entire wrestling career lasting almost two decades now. The success of Angle in the 1996 Olympics as an amateur wrestler saw him win a gold medal. Vince McMahon wanted to market the fact that Angle was the first and only gold medal winner in professional wrestling.
Angle was allowed to keep his name as the positive results were worth more than the positives for WWE in creating a new name. The fact that Angle did end up leaving WWE and working for TNA allowed him to keep using his name to help the competition. However, WWE still won at the end of the day. Angle is back in the company today and is being treated as a legend with his name still intact.
3 Fake Name: Charlotte Flair
The name Charlotte Flair seems real since it is all we know her as. Charlotte has always been her stage name since joining the WWE roster. The name Flair is also associated with how fans remember her due to being the daughter of the iconic Ric Flair. That is not technically either of their last names as the real name is actually Fliehr.
However, the biggest surprise regarding Charlotte is her first name being Ashley. Ric still refers to her as Ashley in interviews considering that’s how he knows his daughter. Other wrestlers also reference her as Ashley when talking casually and forgetting her in-ring name of Charlotte. Ashley Flair could have been a good wrestling name, but the name Charlotte is a nod to her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.
2 Real Name: John Cena
The biggest current wrestling star and possibly biggest star of all time to use his real name is John Cena. WWE used him under the name of The Prototype in Ohio Valley Wrestling developmental before moving up to the main roster. Vince McMahon apparently didn’t like that name for someone he viewed as a future top star.
There was nothing they could come up with better than his real name of John Cena allowing him to keep it. Cena went on to become a massive star leading WWE to success as the face of the company for a decade. The success outside of WWE allowing him to have a thriving acting career along with hosting duties on popular television shows makes this even more important. Cena never has to worry about controversy regarding using a fake name or having to ask WWE permission as he continues to see his fame grow.
1 Fake Name: A.J. Styles
There is a false belief out there regarding the real name of AJ Styles. Many fans believe his name is Allen Jones Styles with the A.J. acronym for his first name. However, Allen Jones is actually his full name with Neal being his middle name. Styles is a fake name used specifically for wrestling purposes that stuck early and became his identity.
WWE likely would have made him change it if he signed with them at any other point before 2016. Despite us missing out on many years of Styles in WWE, the wait was worth it. A.J. gets to wrestle with the fake name he chose and wrestle under a style he is comfortable with. Styles has a few more years of his prime left to add to the legacy of this name he has created.