World Wrestling Entertainment has a long history of changing the names of performers for trademark and copyright reasons. The idea behind this practice is that a wrestler would not be able to profit off his WWE persona if he were to leave the company for a different promotion. Some wrestlers have been fortunate enough to either work under their real names or keep the characters they created on the independent scene. John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy are some examples that immediately come to mind. It’s actually difficult to imagine Cena using “The Prototype” gimmick on the main roster, or Brock Lesnar, who went on to become the Ultimate Fighting Championship Heavyweight Champion, having some generic WWE name attached to him during the early days of his wrestling career.
Unsurprisingly to both passionate WWE fans and also casual followers of the industry, many individuals currently signed to the company’s main roster and its developmental system have better real-life names than the labels given to them by the promotion’s creative arm. This includes veterans who have been with the company for years and also some wrestlers who are relatively new faces to WWE audiences and who went through NXT before debuting on either Raw or SmackDown. For the most part, wrestlers eventually do well enough to make their WWE names their own, but we can’t help but wonder if things would’ve gone differently for some had they been able to keep their real-life names and play turned-up versions of themselves. Then again, Ric Flair did just fine working under a created designation.
15 Dustin Rhodes (Goldust)
There was once a time, during the 1990s, when the Goldust character was revolutionary and unlike anything else on the WWE roster. It’s now 2017 (almost 2018, in fact), and there isn’t a place for the act even though the wrestler can still go inside of the ring, and also has plenty to offer to younger performers.
The WWE has provided glimpses that the company could allow Dustin Rhodes, the son of “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, to work under his real name as he did in World Championship Wrestling decades ago, and we hope he will be given one final run as “The Natural” before he hangs his boots up, for good. It’d also be nice to see him team up with his brother, Cody, in the WWE again, but that’s a different discussion for a different day.
14 Sesugh Uhaa (Apollo Crews)
The WWE had a proven future star already wrapped-up for the company when it signed Sesugh Uhaa. Uhaa looks like a million dollars, he’s shockingly agile and athletic for his size and he’s proven he can cut real and believable promos when he isn’t asked to read from a terrible WWE script.
WWE creative stripped something from his “Uhaa Nation” gimmick when the organization renamed him Apollo Crews, obvious references to the Rocky movie franchise that first became popular long before younger viewers were even born. We can’t say, for sure, Crews would be a World Champion or even a mid-card star had he been able to use his real-life name, but the Crews character clearly did him zero favors in either NXT or the main roster.
13 Pamela Rose Martinez (Bayley)
It doesn’t feel like it was all that long ago when it seemed as if Pamela Rose Martinez would never be able to turn the Bayley character into anything other than a comedic act who drew some sympathy as a babyface. Bayley ultimately become one of the most beloved figures in the history of the current version of NXT, and many thought there was no way the WWE could waste such a star once she debuted on the main roster.
Admittedly, we all probably should’ve known better, as Bayley has drawn boos from crowds because of how she has been presented in Raw storylines. At this point, turning Bayley heel and having her announce that she’s going by her real-life name and no longer trying to impress young girls and other fans may be what’s needed to refresh her character.
12 The Fatus (The Usos)
Jimmy and Jey Uso have done well to become the best overall tag team in the WWE today and one of the best duos to perform in the company during the current decade. Nevertheless, we’d still like to see the two work under their real-life last names — Fatu. This would allow them to pay further tribute to their father and trainer, Rikishi, and, quite frankly, it’s just a better last name.
Granted, what’s done is done, and the WWE won’t be changing their names since they’ve been with the company for so long. There was an opportunity to do so after they turned heel and stopped asking crowds to chant “U-SO!” during their entrances, but that day is nothing more than a memory heading into 2018.
11 Kevin Steen (Kevin Owens)
Kevin Owens is a fine name, even though he is no longer using anything resembling a “K-O” gimmick since his days in NXT. Those of us who saw Kevin Steen rise in Ring of Honor and in independent promotions would’ve preferred for him to keep his real-life name, if only because it sounds perfect for his gimmick.
There has always been a realness to the Owens/Steen character in that the performer cared more about making money for himself and for his family, and being a “prize fighter.” Nothing about the Owens name prevented Steen from becoming an instant sensation in NXT and the WWE Universal Champion. Steen is merely a better name, and it would’ve made for some sweet WWE merchandise had the company run with the idea.
10 Dori Prange (Ruby Riott)
Dori Elizabeth Prange may not be the perfect name for a WWE performer or for any wrestler, but this real-life name is far better than Ruby Riot or, as she’s going by on SmackDown for reasons we’re not even going to attempt to understand, Ruby Riott. Everything about the Ruby Riott name feels like something a 14-year-old fan would use for a create-a-wrestler, which is a shame because she has a unique look and wrestling style that helps her stand out among others on the women’s roster.
It’s too late to go back, as the company obviously won’t have Riott work as Dori Prange. Some may argue her real name sounds overly generic, but at least it isn’t something plucked straight out of the 1980s.
9 Kofi Mensah (Kofi Kingston)
Sure, we will admit that Kofi Nahaje Sarkodie-Mensah is a mouthful for fans, commentators and anybody else working within a wrestling promotion. Once the WWE stopped pretending the act known as Kofi Kingston wasn’t from Jamaica (Kingston. Jamaica. Get it?) and had him drop his horrible accent, the promotion could’ve gone all-in on the storyline and allowed him to use some variation of his real-life name.
Kingston went on to become a member of The New Day, one of the most over acts in the WWE in recent memory, but nobody should even suggest he wouldn’t have done so had he wrestled and performed under his real-life name. Besides, how many other WWE wrestlers, past or present, have four names? There’s something special in being different.
8 Kenta Kobayashi (Hideo Itami)
The WWE does plenty silly these days, but one of the more absurd ideas the company has presented to fans is having wrestlers debut under either their real names or names they used in other promotions before admitting the company made them work under different monikers. Kenta Kobayashi debuted in NXT under his real name before he, in storyline, explained that he changed his name to Hideo Itami.
It’s likely, if not a guarantee, Itami would’ve still flopped while in NXT as Kenta because multiple injuries sidelined him before he was ever able to work as the top babyface or top heel on that brand, and it’s been announced he is joining the 205 Live roster in either late 2017 or early 2018. The WWE should allow him to start fresh and anew, in part by having him use his real-life name.
7 Leah Van Dale (Carmella)
WWE writers and/or Vince McMahon possess an off-and-on obsession with having male and female performers work under one name (more examples later in this piece), and thus we got Carmella in NXT and, later, on SmackDown.
Leah Van Dale, her real-life name, is better than Carmella in just about every way, especially because iconic television show The Sopranos ended over a decade ago. It’s better for the character she plays. Of course the “Staten Island Princess,” accent and all, would go by Leah Van Dale. It’s perfect for a heel, and those of us who watched her perform in NXT knew, from the very beginning, Carmella was not going to be a babyface working with the likes of Becky Lynch and Charlotte on the main roster.
6 Miroslav Barnyashev (Rusev)
You love Rusev. We love Rusev. We celebrate Rusev Day together each and every week, as requested. Alexander Rusev, later shortened to Rusev because the WWE can’t help itself sometimes, is fine for an anti-American wrestler feuding with Hulk Hogan in 1987.
Miroslav Barnyashev, his real-life name, sounds harder and tougher, and it would’ve gone so well with his original gimmick as the brute who terrorized NXT and undersized wrestlers on the main roster. Yes, the man who plays the role oozes talent and charisma, and he’s made Rusev his own in a short amount of time. We know he could’ve done something special wrestling and dominating opponents as Miroslav Barnyashev, but the company went in a different direction and, unfortunately, turned him into a middle-of-the-road act.
5 Nick Nemeth (Dolph Ziggler)
It’s been roughly nine years since the character Dolph Ziggler, who may or may not have been using some goofy accent at the time, debuted on Raw. The name was awful in the late 2000s, and it’s particularly dumb in 2017 considering the character is playing a role the involves him hating the fact that the WWE pushes acts who are flamboyant and, in many ways, created gimmicks.
Nick Nemeth may not jump off the screen or off a WWE script, but his real-life name would do so much more for him heading into 2018 than Dolph Ziggler, which sounds like what you’d call a jobber. Ziggler, admittedly, hasn’t always been the best wrestler or best performer in the WWE, but his name failed him before he was ever given a chance to really shine.
4 Ettore Ewen (Big E)
We get why the WWE renamed Ettore Ewen Big E Langston and, later, just Big E. Take one look at the guy, and you’ll quickly understand why the company would put “Big” in his name. As has been pointed out earlier in this piece, a unique name can allow a performer to stand out in a crowd.
While Big E does that because of his massive size, going by Ettore Ewen could’ve been that much better for the performer. After all, it is somewhat hard to imagine hearing the following the phrase: “The winner and new WWE Champion: Big E!” Some names serve as self-fulfilling prophecies, and Big E sounds like somebody destined to remain in the mid-card and, occasionally, feud for tag team titles or maybe the United States belt.
3 Kanako Urai aka Kana (Asuka)
Asuka is not a bad name for a wrestler, and it is different than anything else in NXT, Raw or SmackDown. Those of us who watched Kanako Urai perform outside of the WWE before she became the promotion’s female version of Goldberg knew her as Kana, a shortened version of her real-life name and one that would’ve been just fine for developmental and the main roster.
The biggest complaint one could make here is that Asuka is just another example of a wrestler who only has one name at a time when the company largely presents action as real competition. Asuka. Carmella. Charlotte, every now and again depending on the moods of writers and executives. It’s too much, and that’s why Kanako Urai is the better option of the two.
2 Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan)
When WWE gave “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson the generic name Daniel Bryan during the first season of the original NXT show, it felt as if the company was poking fun at “Internet fans” and those of us who saw Danielson as the best wrestler in the world.
Because he’s so talented and worked to get over among even those who may have first brushed him aside because of his lack of size compared to other acts, Danielson became the hottest babyface the WWE featured since the company’s version of the “Summer of Punk.” Many fans around the world are hoping to see Danielson wrestle again, either in the WWE or elsewhere, at some point in 2018 so long as doctors will clear him. Here’s hoping he doesn’t endanger himself by returning to wrestling if he decides to do so.
1 Claudio Castagnoli (Cesaro)
The Antonio Cesaro moniker worked just fine for a European wrestler performing in WWE, but Claudio Castagnoli was familiar to fans around the world, and it just sounds better. The “Very European” WWE shirts attached to the Castagnoli name would’ve flown off shelves. Heck, it even looks like a name somebody within WWE would give to a guy from Italy, Switzerland or some other country writers may or may not be able to locate on a map.
Cesaro is OK for a babyface or a heel, but the WWE lost something by not having him work under his real-life name. Worst of all is that it felt, for a brief period, the company was on the verge of pushing him as a top act, but he’s now merely a tag team performer and mid-card wrestler. That’s too bad, because Castagnoli has the goods to carry either Raw or SmackDown on his back.