Sometimes wrestlers get so invested into their characters that they actually start to act a lot like them, much like an actor would when taking on a role. There are times when wrestlers get so invested into their personas that it follows them around in their everyday life.
Several wrestlers have taken the next step in their investment by legally changing their name to their ring name. This is mostly done for trademark reasons, as wrestlers have wanted to ensure themselves that when they strike gold with a name, they can use it no matter where they pursue their wrestling career. CM Punk is an example of a guy who owns the rights to his name, but he hasn't actually taken the next step and had his name legally changed to that. He still goes by Phil Brooks in his daily life.
There are some wrestlers though, that did take that next step and went through the process of changing their names. Most of the time, it's to ensure that they're free to use their name in any venture, but sometimes, it could just be because the wrestler has embraced it so much.
Here are 12 wrestlers that have legally changed their name to their ring names.
Ryback's recent announcement that he is changing his legal name from Ryan Alan Reeves to Ryback Alan Reeves was the inspiration for this list, so we'll start with him.
Ryback was released from the WWE earlier this year and began taking bookings on the independent circuit as 'The Big Guy', an informal nickname that was given to him by the WWE.
Ryback explained on his podcast that he changed his name to protect his brand, as he looks to pursue his wrestling career outside of WWE. Here's what he had to say:
"There is a huge difference between promoting the “Big Guy” Ryback and Ryan Reeves, and it’s because that is the brand that they associate with me and it’s not fair to give talents everything they have and to be the ones to take that away and leave them with nothing, so I am only looking out for myself and with what I am trying to establish outside of the WWE."
11 Ravishing Rick Rude*
There's an asterisk next to Rick Rude because his inclusion on this list is due to rumors of him having legally changed his name to Ravishing Rick Rude later in his life. His birth name was in fact Richard Rood, which is very similar to his ring name, so legally changing it wouldn't be much of a stretch.
There's no confirmation that Rude had in fact changed his name, as it's mostly been hearsay that Rude's drivers license read "Ravishing Rick Rude." We certainly hope this rumor is in fact true, as it's a funny thought to picture Rude getting pulled over by a cop and saying, "how dare you pull over the Ravishing one?!'
By all accounts though, Rick Rude was in fact a gentleman outside of the squared circle.
Test once had a promising career in the WWE. The company really liked his look and through much of 1999, they desperately tried to get him over as a top face. Unfortunately, Test was never really able to put it all together, and his run in the WWE was mostly in the midcard.
Andrew Martin eventually continued his wrestling career elsewhere and he wanted to retain the name with which he had earned his fame, so he became known as Andrew "Test" Martin.
Unfortunately, Test battled his demons through much of his wrestling career, developing an addiction problem. He was found dead in his Tampa apartment at the age of 34 following an accidental overdose on oxycodone. It was also revealed after his death that he suffered from CTE, a prevalent form of brain damage suffered by many pro athletes.
9 Jesse Ventura*
Jesse Ventura's birth name is still James George Janos, but when he ran for governor of Minnesota, and won, he did it under his actual ring name of Jesse Ventura. Ventura ran as the nominee for the Reform Party of Minnesota and his campaign was surprisingly successful, beating out both the Republican and Democratic nominees. As we've seen in the presidential campaigns this year though, anything can happen in politics, right?
It's quite shocking that Ventura capitalized on his previous fame, using his ring name. He was even known as Governor Ventura, rather than Governor Janos. His spot on this list still warrants an asterisk, as his legal name has yet to be changed. Being known as Governor Ventura is enough to qualify for this list though, don't you think?
8 Nikita Koloff
Nikita Koloff was one man who took the wrestling business seriously. In fact he took it so seriously that while portraying "The Russian Nightmare" Nikita Koloff, he began speaking in a Russian accent every day, never breaking it, to ensure that he upheld kayfabe. Koloff learned to speak fluent Russian and lived his gimmick every day.
Born Nelson Scott Simpson, he legally changed his name to Nikita Koloff back in 1988, while still with Jim Crockett Promotions and World Championship Wrestling.
Koloff has since gone on to lead quite the interesting life under the name Koloff. He became a born-again Christian in 1993 and even runs his own ministry. He also owns a small wrestling promotion called the Universal Wrestling Alliance.
It must be weird for Koloff's kids to have the surname and not have any Russian background whatsoever.
Diamond Dallas Page had a late start to his in-ring wrestling career, as he was well into his 30s by the time he started getting in the ring as an active wrestler. Born Page Joseph Falkinburg, DDP established himself in WCW as one of the most beloved stars of his generation. Following WCW's demise, he made his way to the WWE, where his run was lackluster.
After leaving the WWE, Page legally changed his name to Dallas Page. He would wrestle in TNA but eventually turned his attention to ventures outside of wrestling. Using his yoga background, DDP launched his DDP Yoga program, and thanks to legally changing his name, he was able to use the name that made him famous, which must have helped in promoting the program.
6 Ivan Koloff
Ivan Koloff was infamously known as the man who defeated Bruno Sammartino for the WWE Championship in Madison Square Garden. Koloff's win ended Bruno's eight-year reign as champion and the reaction in MSG was much like the reaction at WrestleMania XXX when Brock Lesnar broke The Undertaker's streak.
In reality, Koloff is a Montreal native and was raised on a dairy farm in rural Ontario. His birth name is Oreal Perras, which is a far cry from the Russian Bear. Like Nikita Koloff, Ivan has also become a born-again Christian. Today, he lives in North Carolina and travels around as an ordained minister. Who would have known the villainous Koloffs would one day both be men of God?
It should be said though that Ivan didn't take kayfabe nearly as seriously as Nikita.
5 Pat Patterson
Pat Patterson is a legendary figure in the wrestling business. His most noted wrestling accomplishment is being the first Intercontinental Champion of all time. Many fans know him more from the Attitude Era as one of Vince McMahon's stooges, but his contributions to wrestling go far beyond what we saw on screen. Patterson was a key man behind the scenes in piecing matches together and training wrestlers. He even created the Royal Rumble match.
Patterson was born Pierre Clermont in Montreal and was in the wrestling business for nearly 50 years. Patterson would change his name legally in 2008, after retiring from the business. While it was a well known fact for years, Patterson also made history by coming out as a gay man back on the series of Legends House in 2014.
4 Rocky Johnson
Can you imagine a movie star going by the name of Dwayne Bowles? Well, that's what we would have been calling The Rock today had his father Rocky Johnson not changed his name to his ring name.
Rocky Johnson was born Wayde Douglas Bowles in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He eventually moved to Toronto where he initially began training to become a boxer, but wound up becoming a wrestler. Johnson made his mark in the business by becoming the first black champion in the WWE, winning the tag titles alongside Tony Atlas.
Rocky Johnson legally changed his name shortly after debuting in 1964 in southern Ontario. Eight years later, he and his wife Ata would have a son that we now know as Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson.
Chyna had a messy divorce from the WWE, as in 2001, she was terminated from her contract after confronting Triple H about his ongoing affair with Stephanie McMahon. Following her departure from WWE, Joanie Laurer wanted to keep using her ring name, as she had become quite the star by that point.
At first she was unable to use the name, so she took the name Chynna Doll for public appearances. She made some appearances in New Japan Pro Wrestling and she did some acting work as well. In 2007, she finally got the rights to her name, as she legally changed her name to Chyna. From there as we know, Chyna eventually ran into some demons, as she suffered addiction problems and went into the adult film industry.
She passed away earlier this year.
2 The Ultimate Warrior
The Ultimate Warrior was born James Hellwig and as we know, he had a Hall of Fame career as The Ultimate Warrior. Behind the scenes though, Warrior had an attitude problem as his popularity rose in the early 90s. In 1991, Warrior demanded to be paid in advance for SummerSlam otherwise he wasn't showing up to the event. Vince McMahon granted his demand, but fired him following the event.
Warrior was eventually brought back to the WWE in 1992, but after the steroid scandal of 1992 came full circle that year, Warrior was again released. In 1993, he legally changed his name, and went by the name 'Warrior' for the rest of his life. The WWE and Warrior battled in court over the rights to the name, but due to legally changing his name, Warrior won his case against the company.
His wife and children carry that surname to this day.
1 Steve Austin
Perhaps the most famous wrestler in all of WWE history is now legally going by the name that made him famous, Steve Austin.
Williams 3:16 says I just kicked your ass! That doesn't sound too good does it? Well, that's probably why Steve Austin decided to legally change his name back in 2007. Austin owns the rights to the name Steve Austin, but not Stone Cold. That would explain why his podcast is called The Steve Austin Show, but when he hosts his podcast on the WWE Network, it's called The Stone Cold Podcast.
Austin is now free to use the Steve Austin name anywhere outside of the WWE, which is beneficial for him, given how he's done a lot of film work since hanging up his wrestling boots back in 2003.
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