The world of professional wrestling is filled with a number of unique superstars who have fitting names for their characters. While there are a few cases where the company decides to go with someone’s real name, promotions like World Wrestling Entertainment like to create a new moniker. In recent years, these ring names have often been trademarked by companies like the WWE.
One would assume that many of the greatest wrestlers in professional wrestling history don’t actually own their names, but there are plenty of them who do own the trademark rights to their in-ring names. Some of them were born with the name and others were able to create the nickname before joining a promotion like WWE. That’s usually a case of a superstar having a large following before being signed to come on television.
There are even cases where wrestlers are able to earn the rights to their name by buying them from companies like WWE. There’s also the route that involves legally changing the name so that they can use their ring name for their financial purposes.
Whatever their reasons were, and however it came to be, here are the top 15 professional wrestlers who own their ring names.
The character Montel Vontavious Porter is actually trademarked and owned by WWE. Known more commonly as MVP, he was a former United States Champion who had some respectable success on the company’s mid-card. However, when he made the move from WWE, he was still able to utilize the abbreviated ring name, even though the full name was owned by WWE through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
MVP was able to keep that name when he first debuted with New Japan Pro Wrestling and TNA Wrestling for a few years. Currently, he’s working independently of any wrestling promotion. Still, he is making a good salary through those ventures and with his podcast – The VIP Lounge. While he’s not the biggest name out there, he’s doing well enough to where he doesn’t have to rely on a WWE contract.
14 Samoa Joe
While his real name is Nuufolau Joel Seanoa, many people know him better as Samoa Joe. It was a ring name he first used when competing in Ring of Honor – where he held the ROH World Championship for 21 months straight. He also went on an impressive run in TNA Wrestling. He’s competed all over the world and won gold everywhere he has been. Fans were excited when he finally signed with WWE in 2015.
Joe spoke about the move to WWE on Sam Roberts’ Wrestling Podcast and spoke about how he was able to keep his name. Similar to some of the other recent veteran signings, there’s already a name recognition for Samoa Joe. It was agreed that there was a mutual benefit for the sale of merchandise, which was a big hit that led to Joe being signed full-time.
13 Tommy Dreamer
There have been a lot of unique superstars to have come from Extreme Championship Wrestling. In a lot of ways, Tommy Dreamer – portrayed by Thomas Laughlin – might have been considered the heart and soul of the promotion that had such a big following in the 1990s. He was able to keep the name when he competed in WWE and also in TNA Wrestling.
While WWE has trademark rights for ECW, many of the former ECW wrestlers own the rights to their ring names. Dreamer is one of those legendary ECW originals, and he has used his name in occasional appearances with promotions like WWE and TNA. He also uses the name when competing around the independent circuit and also for his own promotion, House of Hardcore.
12 Chris Jericho
While he was a big star in the WWE – becoming the first WWE Undisputed Champion – Chris Jericho was wrestling on television for several years in WCW. He was born Christopher Irvine, the son of the professional hockey player, but his wrestling career started in 1990 with the ring name Chris Jericho. While it had various nicknames like “Lionheart” and “Cowboy,” Jericho has kept his ring name through his entire career.
He’s carried the name with him into the world of music and also as a host on television, having cited an album from Helloween called “Walls of Jericho.” Sure, the WWE made him a big star, but he owns the rights to the name. What WWE has trademarked for themselves are things like “Y2J” or the catchphrase “Raw is Jericho.”
Before he was a seemingly unstoppable force in World Championship Wrestling, Bill Goldberg was attempting a career in the National Football League. After graduating from the University of Georgia, he spent three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons – playing in only 14 total games with just one career start. After leaving football, Goldberg would make the transition to the world of professional wrestling.
He kept his real name when he debuted on WCW television, but it was kept to Goldberg as he went on an impressive undefeated streak to the World Heavyweight Championship. Seven years later, he finished his career with a total of three world championships between WCW and WWE. Goldberg’s name has since been found in movies, television and other projects away from the wrestling ring.
10 Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar has developed quite a name for himself. It actually started when he was an amateur wrestler at the University of Minnesota, winning an NCAA National Championship. He would go into professional wrestling under his real name, winning the WWE Championship multiple times before deciding to pursue a career and mixed marital arts.
Because he kept his real name, Lesnar has become a big draw. He’s been able to use that name everywhere he’s gone. It’s not one that has been able to be exclusive to the WWE ring. There’s no denying that he has name recognition after winning the UFC Heavyweight Championship. It’s because of that recognition that has earned him sponsorship deals that can be seen on his trunks he brought to the WWE from his time in MMA.
9 CM Punk
Phil Brooks has carried the name CM Punk with him everywhere he’s wrestled, whether it was during his time in Ring of Honor, that brief stint in TNA Wrestling and throughout the world for various independent promotions. While many of the recent WWE acquisitions have brought their ring name into the WWE, CM Punk was somewhat of a pioneer for the stars of the independent wrestling scene.
Brooks has still used the CM Punk moniker after he decided to leave the WWE in 2014. The WWE actually transferred the merchandise rights for both “CM Punk” and “Second City Saint” back to Brooks. Since leaving WWE, CM Punk's name has been recognized not only in the UFC, but also when he is a writer for Marvel Comics. He's sure doing well for himself with that name.
8 AJ Styles
It’s amazing to think about how AJ Styles was finally able to receive a contract in the WWE. For several years, he was the poster boy of TNA Wrestling. Styles made a comment in an interview after signing with the WWE that he was willing to make a change to his name. However, he was able to maintain the moniker that he used not only in TNA, but also for New Japan Pro Wrestling and many of the top independent promotions in the world.
Styles didn’t always own the rights to the ring name. The trademark to the name “AJ Styles” originally belonged to TNA Entertainment. However, in January of last year, the promotion switched the ownership to the man who portrayed the Styles persona – Allen Jones.
Long before the gaps between the WWE and The Ultimate Warrior were bridged just in time for him to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, the two sides were constantly battling each other in the court room. Most of the legal battles involved trademark rights, which eventually led Jim Hellwig – the man behind the face paint – to legally change his name.
Ever since then, the name Warrior has been appearing on all of his legal documents. In fact, his children and wife carry Warrior as a legal last name. His name change has actually been brought up in the news recently as Ryan Reeves changed his name to Ryback for similar reasons. Both wanted to have the trademark to their ring name after leaving the WWE.
6 Shinsuke Nakamura
This one is a little bit interesting. According to several reports, the WWE submitted trademarks for both “Shinsuke Nakamura” and “King of Strong Style” as part of them bringing the Japanese wrestling superstar to the company. So why is Shinsuke Nakamura on this list? Because that is his real name. If the time comes he ever leaves the WWE to work elsewhere – i.e. New Japan Pro Wrestling – he’ll be able to use the name.
Nakamura is just another recent veteran signing like AJ Styles and Samoa Joe. Their WWE contracts allow the company to submit for trademarks. However, it’s not like these wrestlers will never be allowed to use these names after their time in WWE is over. Veterans like Nakamura came into the WWE roster with already established names and legacies. Everyone still wins in the end.
5 “Macho Man” Randy Savage
Randy Poffo likely wouldn't have gotten over with the crowd. However, as “Macho Man” Randy Savage, he was one of the best superstars in the WWE during one of the peaks of wrestling’s popularity. While Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior were becoming household names, Macho Man was also receiving plenty of attention as a pop culture icon in his own right.
Long after his wrestling days were over after stints with WCW and TNA Wrestling, he was able to maintain the rights to the Macho Man name. After his unfortunate passing in 2011, the rights to the name went to his estate. That means the estate approves things like having Macho Man as a legend character in WWE video games. Needless to say, it's an incredibly valuable name for the Poffo estate to own.
4 Steve Austin
One of the more interesting facts about “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is that he was actually born under the name Steve Anderson, but he was able to take the surname of his stepfather, Williams. Because there was already someone in wrestling with his real name – “Dr. Death” Steve Williams – he was able to come up with the Steve Austin ring name. It stuck with him during the earliest days through WCW, ECW and finally the WWE.
While Austin came up with the “Stone Cold” nickname over a cup of tea with his ex-wife, the rights to that name belong to WWE. He does however, maintain the rights to the Steve Austin name, due to legally changing his name. He’s able to appear on podcasts and television as Steve Austin, but the “Stone Cold” moniker must remain within use of the WWE because of their trademark rights.
Steve Borden has certainly had one of the lengthiest runs in the world of professional wrestling. It’s impressive considering how good of shape he kept himself in during his 40s and 50s. His career spans world heavyweight championship wins under the National Wrestling Alliance, WCW and TNA. However, one thing that might shock fans is that he owns the copyright to the use of the name.
What about the singer who goes by the same name? It sounds like the wrestler Sting and the musician Sting have come to an agreement. The voice that sent out an “S.O.S.” with The Police actually doesn’t have to make any payments to Borden for performing as Sting. Some fans can joke that the agreement was written down in a “Message in a Bottle.” (Note: Sorry for the bad pun.)
2 John Cena
The biggest superstar in today’s WWE landscape is still undoubtedly John Cena. The WWE does own some trademark rights that allows them to produce all of the different kinds of merchandise. That includes all of those colorful T-shirts, wristbands and hats that The Rock once compared to a bowl of Fruity Pebbles cereal. It’s certainly made the leader of Cenation one of the wealthiest WWE Superstars today.
However, he’s able to financially benefit from his name being associated with several movies and television shows outside of the WWE. He’s slowly rising to the level of popularity of The Rock. The name John Cena is his birth name, so he only allows the WWE to have the trademark for merchandise purposes. Once again, the WWE cannot completely own someone’s birth name.
1 Hulk Hogan
Terry Bollea actually started wresting with “The Hulk” nickname after he was on a talk show sitting next to Lou Ferrigno, who portrayed the Marvel superhero on television. So when he came to the WWE in 1979, Vince McMahon, Sr., wanted to keep Hulk in his ring name and added Hogan as the last name. He continued using the name with other promotions before the WWE expanded into a nationwide promotion.
Because the Hulk Hogan name was already established and given to Bollea, when the WWE became a national promotion under Vince McMahon, Jr., the Hulk Hogan name did not belong to him. Bollea was able to trademark the name before going back to begin Hulkamania. That move turned out to be a very smart move since it made Hulk Hogan millions of dollars over the course of four decades.