To what extent do names truly define it all? There are two schools of thought on the matter, a couple of sources to quote. According to William Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Homer Simpson had a counterpoint: “There’s nothing wrong with crabgrass. It just has a bad name. Everyone would love it if it had a name like ‘elf grass.’” For the purpose of this countdown, we’ll be siding with Homer, who’s more of a mark for wrestling than Shakespeare could ever hope to be.
Some of the ensuing names may seem ridiculous. Others are gender-bending—but it’s probably unwise to say that to a man who goes by “Hulk.” Michelle McCool did not make the list because, wow, that's actually her name. None of the names are expected and all of them were changed with good reason. Because in wrestling, what you’re called on your birth certificate is really just a suggestion.
15 Billy Gunn, aka Monty Kip Sopp
It is so fitting that a guy who sounds like he was born to be a game show host would find his way onto this list, because I feel like screaming, "JACKPOT!" Ladies and gentlemen, Monty Kip Sopp! Now when I recall all the promos he did with the Road Dogg and DX in the ring, I'm going to picture him holding that long, skinny mic that could pass for a magic wand. And if you're not down with that reference, I've got two words for you: Bob Barker.
Monty Kip Sopp ditched "Monty" long before his pro wrestling debut, but get this: Starting out, he tried using variations of "Kip" a mind-boggling eight times. Can you name them all? If you answered: Cute Kip, KIP, Kip Gunn, Kip James, Kip Montana, Kip Sopp, Kip Winchester, and The Kipper, you deserve to win a toaster oven. He was every kind of Kip conceivable except for Kip Dynamite.
14 Paige, aka Saraya-Jade Bevis
Some might say it's a burden to share a name with a teenage cretin who shares a couch with a Gwar fan who calls himself Butt-Head. So, when it came time to adjust her title, she debuted as Britani Knight at the age of 13 in the World Association of Wrestling, which was founded by her quirky yet driven family. It's hard for a girl to deal with comparisons to a misfit who keeps demanding TP for his bunghole. She had to say, "So long, Bevis. Huh huh huh."
Paige was just a baby when Beavis and Butt-Head premiered on MTV in 1993, but a revival in 2011 coincided with her move to Florida, USA, to start her journey with the WWE. There is no record of her pointing to a pyrotechnics display by chanting "Fire, Fire, Fire!" yet. There is, however, a YouTube clip of the ex-Divas Champ playing a Beavis and Butt-Head video game. Paige explains her skills by noting: "I know how to burp and fart on people." She's as cheeky as she is lovely.
13 Test, aka Andrew James Robert Patrick Martin
His middle names must have had a Triple Threat match that ended in a draw. How does one man compile three middle names as well as five that could be used as first names? Crazy. Now, it's very sad that so many WWE superstars pass away at an early age like Test did, but still we have to admit, this man's abundance of proper Christian names is rare indeed.
Before finding his Attitude Era identity as Test, he did experiment with monikers like Andrew Martin and Martin Kane, and with all the designations he had to choose from, he could have kept drawing names from a hat to get combos like Robert James and Martin Patrick. But it was savvy to break through those limits and become Test when he was ready for the spotlight. And who knows, maybe he was dubbed Test because it was a mental challenge for Vince to remember the correct order of all those names.
12 Arn Anderson, aka Martin Anthony Lunde
The prototype of the loyal heel sidekick, Arn Anderson was not born with a name that screamed "Enforcer." The eternal number-two of the Four Horsemen had to change his birth name, which made him sound like a dance choreographer or, at best, a Social Studies teacher.
He needed to be dubbed something strong, concise, and all-American on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. He needed to be dubbed something that would never force him to explain that the "e" at the end of his last name was not silent, because silent letters are weak. And once the '90s arrived, getting linked to the wimpy teacher's pet Martin Prince on The Simpsons could have ruined his career. Hence, the barrel-chested cohort got recharged as Double-A.
11 The Boogeyman, aka Martin "Marty" Wright
The Boogeyman's real name is Marty. Turns out, he's of the same ilk as McFly and Jannetty. Sigh. Believe it or not, there's a lesson to be learned here: Fear of the unknown is usually just over-hype that feeds off itself and multiplies and spreads if we're not courageous or smart enough to fight it. Behind the curtain, there was no all-powerful menace in The Wizard of Oz and, along the same lines, beneath the creepy face paint, The Boogeyman was merely a guy named Marty trying to make an honest living eating worms in the WWE.
The Boogeyman could have exchanged work notes with Papa Shango and Kamala--Charles Wright and James Harris, respectively. He was last spotted in competition at the 2015 Royal Rumble, where he was eliminated by Bray Wyatt in 47 seconds. Sometimes even Boogeymen have to put over younger talent, but rest assured, Marty got a warmer pop than Rumble winner Roman Reigns.
10 King Kong Bundy, aka Christopher Alan Pallies
Long before he became a behemoth in a black leotard who threatened to destroy Hulkamania, King Kong Bundy had a name tailor-made for a mom scolding her misbehaving boy. "Christopher Alan Pallies, you stop elbow-dropping your little brother right this instant!"
Sure, his weight ballooned up to 456 pounds and he put over Hogan and The Undertaker at different WrestleManias, but prior to that, he had to tinker with his persona, even if that meant adopting the surname of a serial killer. Heck, Pallies might as well be the plural form of pals and the audience should never think of a heel in those terms. "Christopher" and "Alan" likewise had to be squashed. Credit the creatives at World Class Championship Wrestling for birthing King Kong Bundy--although I must admit, Man Mountain Cannon Jr. was not without its charms.
9 Rhyno, aka Terrance Guido Gerin
He's the contrarian's choice for the wrestler who best-delivers the spear and while no sportswriter ever wants to get Gored, Terrance is not the toughest-sounding name in the world. Furthermore, his middle name can be used as an insult for Italian-Americans. Gerin was born in Detroit, far from the extremes of that ethnic stereotype on the Jersey Shore. There are no current plans of Terrance Guido Gerin feuding with The Situation, but that main event could probably sell out the Boardwalk Hall.
Rhyno is an upgrade over a prior alias: Terry Richards. Changing his name to that of a Spider-Man enemy was a wise career move (only in wrestling does a sentence like that make the least bit of sense, by the way). There's a lot of overlap between the Universes of Marvel and the WWE. Plus there's another Terry we might include later on. It's called foreshadowing, brother!
8 Bray Wyatt, aka Windham Lawrence Rotunda
This bearded stalwart is a third-generation superstar whose father was Mike Rotunda, who portrayed IRS. His formal designation came from his uncles Barry and Kendall Windham, proving his DNA abounds with heelish helixes. Who else but a wrestler could take a last name like Windham and declare, “I’m gonna make a first name outta you”? Who would have guessed that a name so very proper and refined could be traced back to a man whose persona is a backwoods deviant?
The answer to that second question says a lot about the nature of alter egos. They give people the chance to be someone else and, in the case of Bray Wyatt, he probably chose something on the opposite end of the spectrum to flex his creative muscles. In much the same way, he inspires fans to hold lit-up cellphones to simulate the effect of an old-fashioned lantern. What a creative dude! Maybe they should let him win a few more big matches before he runs off to join the circus.
7 Kofi Kingston, aka Kofi Nahaje Sarkodie-Mensah
The silent "h" aside, his surname matches that of a group of people with exceptionally high IQs, Mensa International, and that's fitting because most of us would feel brilliant if we pronounced his birth name correctly on the first try. Kofi is a supreme athlete who has claimed 12 straps in his time with the WWE and although he is now accurately billed as being from Ghana, West Africa, a little artful bending of the truth was done to his name.
No one in WWE history has held on to tag team gold for more total days than Kofi and The New Day has helped to prolong a great career. Kofi is rad. Imagine if Michael Cole had to announce one of his lightning-fast matches by always pronouncing his real, full name. "There's a hurricanrana try by Kofi Nahaje Sarkodie-Mensah... No! It's reversed into a powerbomb, and it might be all over for Kofi Nahaje Sarkodie-Mensah!" Hey, if it could cause Michael Cole's dome to blow up, it's worth a shot.
6 Samoa Joe, aka Nuufolau Joel "Joe" Seanoa
A premier talent from Ring of Honor and TNA, Samoa Joe brought his talents to the NXT in 2015. He might be the best performer to have never competed in a WrestleMania and let's hope that changes. He grew up in Orange County, he is of Polynesian decent, and at souvenir shops, you'd better believe he had a tough time finding a license plate to match his name.
His nominal change seems pretty easy to guess. Imagine every first day of school that poor kid had as his teacher puzzled over the roll call sheet. "And you are...New...Follow?" "No, Nuufolau." "OK. Nuff...Full...Ow?" "Nuu-fo-lau." "Ha! This time I'll get it. Nerf--" "You know what? Just call me Joe." "Joe it is!" Add his last name's resemblance to "Samoa," coupled with his family lineage and, presto change-o, a superstar is born.
5 Roman Reigns, aka Leati Joseph Anoa'i
Another Polynesian that saw his name Americanized for marketing purposes, the former leader of The Shield is a heel because the fans said so, not Vince or Hunter, and that's the bottom line. When a "babyface" gets booed more than a middle-aged "heel" during the main event at WrestleMania, which everyone saw coming, plans have to be changed.
Speaking of changes, there is nothing wrong with the appellation Leati Anoa'i, but there is likely going to be something wrong with the way the average American pronounces it. We're so unilingual it's almost hilarious (USA, USA!). But let's face it: Roman Reigns is more concise and it sounds cooler than those icy blue eyes of The Guy himself. They're like the peepers of one of the evil White Walkers on Game of Thrones... Hey, no wonder he works better as a villain!
4 Dean Ambrose, aka Jonathan Good
He can't be confused with "Johnny B. Goode" since his parents didn't bother with a middle name. Imagine if the Lunatic Fringe had made his landmark debut under his real name. Jonathan Good is a lousy name for a wrestler and Jon Good is no better. He'd be typecast as a babyface and a bland one at that. "Good Guy" Jon Good is as corny as it gets. The only thing that could save his career would be a time machine so that he could go back to 1991 WCW and feud with Johnny B. Badd.
Worse, consider his prospects for a heel turn. Jon Good becoming bad is an oxymoron so potent it could make JBL's head explode at ringside and nobody wants to see Mauro Ranallo's suit ruined by a splatter of brain matter. There are many reasons to forget Jon Good since it's clear the man is better suited as Dean Ambrose, having been voted Most Popular Wrestler by PWI in 2014 and 2015.
3 Jake “The Snake” Roberts, aka Aurelian Smith Jr.
Perhaps this is a stretch: The man’s promo work was brilliant, so it kind of makes sense that the star of The Resurrection of Jake the Snake Roberts would come into this world with a name that has a scholarly sound to it. Aurelian served as Roman Emperor in the third century and earned the title “Restorer of the Roman World."
As for any further ties between the Roman Empire and pythons, DDTs, and mastering in-ring psychology: You might tear a hamstring making a stretch like that. His father Aurelian Sr. was a shady wrestler who performed as Grizzly Smith. In addition to a lot of verbal abuse and pathological trauma, Aurelian Sr. also passed on his name to his first-born son. Junior's battles with drugs and alcohol have been well-documented and his hard-fought sobriety is a source of hope to anyone with addiction problems. This man is awesome. Let's never call him Aurelian or Junior ever again.
2 Hulk Hogan, aka Terry Gene Bollea
Perhaps the most widely recognized name on this list, Terry Bollea is so unique that he actually testified in court about the differences between himself and his persona. During the infamous Gawker trial, we learned that both embrace do-rags because neither has been able to get over baldness for 35 years, but that's where the similarities start to thin out.
Hulk conjures images of a mighty hero who can suddenly change from beaten-down to indestructible. Terry is a fine name that spans both genders, so it makes sense there's also a She-Hulk in the Marvel Universe. In the WWE Universe, Hulk Hogan defined an era of wrestling with a moniker that inspired mania and became synonymous with good guy toughness. As for Terry Bollea, his name isn't very badass, but he was awarded a whopping $140 million from his sex tape lawsuit, thus giving a metaphorical leg drop to Gawker that would make Hulk Hogan proud.
1 Shawn Michaels, aka Michael Shawn Hickenbottom
It may shock you to learn that The Heartbreak Kid was christened Michael Shawn Hickenbottom. It's a predictable birth name until that epic swerve at end: Hickenbottom. His surname is not just a nod to some hick, but a hick that ranks somewhere at the bottom. Ouch.
But this is the best way to spin it: Wrestling is all about transforming something absurd into something awesome, so maybe it's fitting that a legend of this strange blend of theater and sports would come into this world as Michael Shawn Hickenbottom. That probably inspired him to develop Sweet Chin Music at a young age so he could fend off bullies at recess. From the absurd origin of Hickenbottom, he went on to become awesome as The Showstopper, Shawn Michaels. So, his name might not be "real," but as for the excitement he created as a performer? Hey, it's still real to me, dammit.