A wrestler’s name is very important in becoming a star. The marketing of a name typically helps a talent become a bigger star. Everyone wants to have a cool name that will look good on t-shirts and will sound good when advertised for late night talk shows. Many more things factor into making a star but the name can either help or hurt depending on the choice. A bad name will hurt even the best wrestlers looking to develop a fan base and grow in popularity. The majority of wrestlers in the history of the industry have worked under multiple names having to undergo changes at different points.
We have witnessed many drastic changes that have led to differing results. Some of the name changes catapulted them to bigger and better things. Others have seen the exact opposite with horrible name changes causing them to look like fools, hurting their careers. Both sides of the story will be examined here as we look at the more interesting stories of each. Let’s look at the historical impact of memorable name changes. These are eight wrestlers that thrived after undergoing a name change and seven that failed horribly with the new name.
15 Thrived: Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns is currently the top star WWE is looking to build the company around. The star power of Reigns may have been limited if going under his original NXT name. WWE named him Leakee before making the change to Roman Reigns. Luckily for him, the Reigns name was here to stay in time for his call-up to the main roster as part of The Shield.
The name just sounds better and it looks better in marketing. Reigns is selling a lot of t-shirts and is using The Roman Empire brand. WWE believes in him enough to spend the past three years going well out of their way to make fans view him as the face of the company. It just would not have been the same with a name like Leakee. You just can’t picture someone named Leakee ending The Undertaker’s career in the main event of a WrestleMania.
14 Failed: Big T
The wrestling skills of Ahmed Johnson were never impressive but he did have a good stint as a top face in WWE. Vince McMahon loved the physique of Johnson and wanted to make him one of the future main event stars. Johnson received a huge push before his lack of skills and potential started to fail him. WWE eventually cut bait with him after a few injuries.
WCW signing Johnson could have given them another productive talent. Instead, they introduced him as a friend of Harlem Heat using the name Big T. The feud for Big T saw him oppose Booker T for the rights of using the letter T in their name. Big T won the match causing Booker to lose the rights to the letter. The horrible storyline and new name completely destroyed any chance of Big T helping the company.
13 Thrived: JBL
Bradshaw served as a stable presence in the WWE mid-card and tag team picture for many years. WWE loved his toughness and loyalty to the company but didn’t think he was worthy of a big push until many of the top stars started to retire. The brand split also played a huge factor in WWE attempting to give him a huge character revamp.
A change in appearance with short blonde hair and a fancy suit led to the name change, JBL. The “Bradshaw” remained in John Bradshaw Layfield but he was clearly a new man. JBL would win the WWE Championship on the SmackdDwn brand and hold it for almost a year leading into the top SmackDown match at WrestleMania 21. Fans all remember him for his JBL years with the Bradshaw chapter being a distant memory.
12 Failed: Braden Walker
The talent of Chris Harris was on display in TNA during the early years. Harris was up there with A.J. Styles, James Storm and Samoa Joe as young talents with the potential to become future top stars in the industry. Harris would never get into the upper echelon as those other names. The best chance for Harris came when WWE signed him shortly after the end of his TNA career.
Harris signed under the new name of Braden Walker to join the ECW brand. At the time, the ECW brand was made to introduce new talent in hopes of getting them to Raw or SmackDown. Walker was a massive bust and turned into a running joke online for his disastrous WWE career. A weight gain, regression in his work and the horrible name all impacted the downfall of a one-time talented prospect.
11 Thrived: The Rock
Between his legendary wrestling career and his massive box office success in Hollywood, The Rock is one of the biggest names to ever come from the professional wrestling industry. The only struggles for Rock came very early in his career under the Rocky Maivia name. WWE hoped to get him over with the selling point of his third generation roots following in the footsteps of his father Rocky Johnson and grandfather Peter Maivia.
No one wanted to cheer him with the standard basic booking not giving an insight into his persona. A heel turn and the adopting of The Rock name both changed his life forever. Rock finally was able to showcase his charisma and instantly turned into a top star. No one even remembers the Rocky Maivia name due to how memorable the run was once becoming The Rock.
10 Failed: Scotty Goldman
Many of the top Ring of Honor stars from the early days went to make huge waves in WWE. Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, AJ Styles and Kevin Owens are just a few ROH legends that created new legacies in WWE. One equally popular star from the early days of Ring of Honor was Colt Cabana and fans were ecstatic when WWE signed him in 2007.
The company just didn’t understand the comedic style of Cabana or how it could be used to get him over. Cabana was renamed Scotty Goldman and called up to the main roster with no fanfare. Goldman worked primarily as an enhancement talent right away putting over bigger names. WWE eventually gave up and released him. Cabana made a success of his career after WWE by going back to his roots but the Goldman name change remains one of the biggest flops in wrestling history given his talent.
9 Thrived: John Morrison
John Morrison is one of the most underrated mid-carders in recent WWE history. The talent, match quality and accomplishments of Morrison earned him a great spot in WWE before leaving the company. There was a ceiling for him early on with the name of Johnny Nitro. That name was created when he was working as Eric Bischoff’s apprentice as a nod to WCW Monday Nitro.
WWE decided to revamp his character with the name of John Morrison and a move to the ECW brand. Morrison became the top heel on the third brand before moving on to Raw and SmackDown. It was what he needed to find the magic to get over in WWE. Morrison could easily still be a star in WWE but chose to leave in favor of starting an acting career and working in Lucha Underground as a top star, something the WWE wasn't willing to do.
8 Failed: Rellik
TNA created some of the dumbest names in wrestling history due to their consistently terrible creative team. One of the worst names came when former WWE and WCW star Johnny the Bull signed with them. The new character of Rellik was introduced as a horror monster type character wearing a mask with a unique look.
A selling point for Rellik was the fan base being alerted that his name was “killer” spelled backwards. The name Gnirob may have been the better call given how horrible the character went. Rellik teamed with Black Reign to form the creepy tag team that often led to the worst segments on Impact every week. Once the Rellik tenure ended, his career would never see any opportunities in the major companies again. It just goes to show how badly things can end if you undergo a terrible name change.
7 Thrived: Umaga
WWE loved the talent of Jamal during his time in the 3 Minute Warning tag team with his late cousin Rosey. They appreciated him enough to revamp his career with a golden opportunity a few years later. The Umaga character was created and led to one of the more underappreciated top heel runs. Umaga had arguably the greatest feud of John Cena’s career when the two had a couple of incredible matches to help establish Cena as “the guy.”
Fans forgot Umaga ever worked in WWE in the past which is the best a wrestler can ask for when going for a complete change. The young death of Umaga ended his wrestling career earlier than anyone could have expected. WWE Network allows us to witness his greatest hits in WWE to understand just how great he was at his best.
6 Failed: Flash Funk
ECW developed numerous success stories with wrestlers that WWE and WCW failed to get over in the 90s. One of the more talented performers for ECW was 2 Cold Scorpio. The legitimate toughness and aerial display both coincided for Scorpio to deliver outstanding matches consistently. WWE signed him to join the roster under the new name of Flash Funk.
The character revamp saw Flash dress colorfully and dance to the ring with ladies. It was a horrible gimmick with no chance at getting over in WWE. The entirety of his time in the company consisted of mostly lower-card work putting over others. Scorpio sadly never was able to fulfill his potential in the bigger wrestling companies and the name change to something as silly as Flash Funk likely impacted that.
5 Thrived: Ethan Carter III
A recent story of a name change giving a wrestler a new life is Ethan Carter III. WWE dropped the ball with this talented young man under the name of Derrick Bateman. The majority of Bateman’s WWE career was spent in developmental and the NXT competition show before he was released. TNA signed him with a very risky new name of Ethan Carter III playing the nephew of Dixie Carter.
The talent of EC3 allowed him to finally breakthrough in a top role. Many wrestlers would have failed with such a role but Carter worked hard to get over as a great heel. EC3 is still one of the few top names still in TNA at the top of his game. WWE may very well look to bring him back, but you have to wonder if he will achieve the same success back in old grounds with the previous name.
4 Failed: Stardust
The career of Cody Rhodes shows just how badly a negative name change and character change could lead to failure in WWE. Rhodes always had great potential but WWE made him take a huge leap of faith by adopting the new name and character of Stardust. It was meant to be a new version of Goldust playing the face painted heel but that just didn’t work the same way.
Stardust eventually lost all television time as a lower mid-carder. Rhodes grew frustrated and wanted to ditch the name to return back to his own identity. WWE refused and Cody requested his release from the company that he grew up with. Things are great for Cody today outside of WWE working under his own name and achieving massive success for New Japan and ROH. WWE missed out on a potential star by giving him the new identity that flopped horrendously.
3 Thrived: Raven
No one would have believed someone that worked under the names of Johnny Polo and Scotty Flamingo would change his persona into a grunge wrestler that would work to perfection. It somehow happened when the Raven character was invented in ECW. Raven instantly became the top heel in ECW thanks to the tremendous character work that came with the new waters.
The Raven name continued in both WWE and WCW allowing him to have a great career following the name change. Considering how horrible the prior names were for Raven, this specific name change goes down in the history among the greatest new names in wrestling history. It changed Raven’s career forever and gave him a legacy that is still relevant today as he hosts a podcast.
2 Failed: Kerwin White
The talented Chavo Guerrero would witness the worst time of his career when WWE developed a horrible new name. Chavo dyed his hair blonde and started pretending to be a white person quitting on his Mexican roots with the new name of Kerwin White. It was meant to be a humorous name and character but just came off as absolutely horrible content.
The heartbreaking death of Eddie Guerrero caused WWE to quit on the Kerwin White experiment considering the poor taste it would have been in. Many experts still refer to the Kerwin White character among the worst in WWE history. Chavo has not been shy about his displeasure towards that run of his career being the least prideful. It's even worse to see such a horrible name change when the performer was actually one of the better talents in the company.
1 Thrived: Bray Wyatt
The best example of a name change improving a career for the best would feature the recent tale of Bray Wyatt. WWE loved his potential but a failed run on the main roster as Husky Harris could have doomed his career. However, it inspired him for the best to take a huge risk with the name and character change to Bray Wyatt in NXT.
Wyatt stood out as someone special with the unique gimmick and cool name. WWE called him relatively quickly and fans attempted to heckle him with “Husky Harris” chants early on. Wyatt’s new person and name impressed them enough to quit on that by accepting his new identity. WWE allowed him to shine and Bray actually was WWE Champion heading into the recent WrestleMania 33 event. Wyatt going from a joke to a World Champion shows the value of an effective name change.