Shakespeare once famously wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” It’s a nice sentiment in the play—a young Romeo decrying the family feud that separates him from his lover, Juliet—but not so much in the world of wrestling. Wrestlers are often called upon to change the name by which they’re known, for any number of reasons.
But wrestlers are also unique from other entertainers in that the line is often blurry between their real-life personality and the characters they portray on T.V. and at live events. While, for example, there’s a clear distinction between Tom Hanks and Forrest Gump, the separation of Hulk Hogan and Terry Bollea is not usually so stringent. Wrestlers often, if not exclusively, appear in public while still in character.
This blurring together of real-life and kayfabe, combined with the frequency with which the performers are called upon to adopt different names, can sometimes become confusing or even agitating. Some wrestlers have had so many different pseudonyms that it becomes serious work to keep track of them all.
From the re-genesis of their characters, to adopting an outright completely different one, to less savory issues like copyright law, the following performers have been at one point known by a multitude of different names.
20. Kevin Owens
Kevin Steen made a huge splash throughout his independent wrestling career, including his storied rivalry with El Generico (Sami Zayn) and his potent mixture of technical wrestling and hardcore high spots. Although he made his name as Steen, his birth name, upon signing with WWE it was announced he would adopt the ring name “Kevin Owens.”
Although the name change and the sanitation of his mantra “KILL STEEN KILL” to “FIGHT OWENS FIGHT” worried some fans at first, he has ascended to the top of WWE’s card since his debut in 2015. Additionally, it was hard to not approve of the changes once it was revealed that the new name was a tribute to his son, Owen, and to Owen Hart, one of Steen’s wrestling heroes.
19. Finn Bálor
Born Fergal Devitt in Dublin, Ireland, he would wrestle under his birth name throughout the early years of his career in Ireland and the United Kingdom. However, once Devitt signed to New Japan in 2006, he adopted the ring name “Prince Devitt.” He explained the name change in an interview with Chris Jericho as owing to the absence of r sounds in the Japanese language—thereby making his name difficult to pronounce for the fans he was now performing for.
After his eight-year run in New Japan, he signed with WWE & NXT in 2014, debuting the ring name “Finn Bálor” as a tribute to mythical figures in Irish lore. The word “Bálor” translates to “Demon King” from Gaelic, an obvious nod to the demonic persona he would adopt.
18. John Cena
Conversely to Bálor and Owens, John Cena originally debuted under a gimmick name and would later on transition to performing under his birth name.
From 1999 through the early 2000s, Cena performed in the California-based Ultimate Pro Wrestling. There, and in Ohio Valley Wrestling, he portrayed a half-man, half-machine type called “The Prototype.” As hard as it may be to imagine the über charismatic John Cena as a steely and robotic character, he donned the name for close to three years, which included a three-month reign as OVW Heavyweight Champion.
A 25-year-old Cena would then go on to make his debut on an episode of SmackDown, answering an open challenge from Kurt Angle. Though dressed in tights and sporting a ridiculous haircut, when Angle indignantly asked the young challenger for his name, he stared the Olympic champion straight in the eyes and growled, “I’m John Cena.”
17. Triple H
Triple H has been known as such for so long that it’s not completely ridiculous for a newer fan to be unaware of what the moniker even means. To coincide with his original “Connecticut Blueblood” character, he performed under the appropriately pompous Hunter Hearst Helmsley, the alliterative name which just sounds like it belongs to someone you’d like to crack on the jaw.
But before joining WWE, ‘Trips had a brief tenure in WCW, where he performed as Terra Ryzing. A play on the phrase “terror rising,” the persona consisted of fairly generic bad guy behavior. A short while into his WCW stay, he was repackaged as Jean-Paul Lévesque, referring to his surname’s French origins and creating a precedent for the obnoxious upper crust heel he would later play in WWE.
16. Dean Ambrose
Over nearly a decade of slogging through independent promotions, the man who would later achieve great popularity as Dean Ambrose was once known as Jon Moxley. On paper, the characters were not terribly different: a roughnecked brawler from the wrong part of Cincinnati, whose willingness to wager his body against his opponents made for legendary (and sometimes notorious) runs in CZW and Dragon Gate USA.
Such a reputation doesn’t seem to befit the name “Dean Ambrose.” Ambrose himself has told the story of the first day he was pitched the name in developmental, saying that he was just about repulsed, thinking the name better suited a sweater-vested frat boy than a wrestler.
Nevertheless, the name does not seem to have held him back. Dean continues to be one of the most consistently popular wrestlers on the WWE roster, and has held the United States, Intercontinental, and WWE Championships. He may not always be at the top of the card, but nary a day has gone by in his four years on the main roster when he wasn’t a featured performer.
15. The Undertaker
Try imagining him as anything else but The Undertaker. It’s impossible. Even during his stint as the motorcycle-riding, American badass character in the 2000s, he kept the ring name that has become synonymous with wrestling legend.
But before he came to WWE in the 90s, ‘Taker wrestled for many years throughout the territories as Texas Red and The Master of Pain. And even though he has become one of the wrestlers whose careers are inseparable from WWE, he had a short run in WCW before joining up. In WCW, he performed as “Mean” Mark Callous, concurrent with a few appearances in New Japan Pro Wrestling as “Punisher” Dice Morgan.
But ‘Taker’s alternate names are not exclusive to his time outside WWE. In a weird bit of fudged continuity, his original character in WWE was known as Kane the Undertaker, a name that would be inherited by his storyline brother years later.
14. Seth Rollins
It is fairly well-known that many wrestlers who make names for themselves on the independents are then assigned different monikers once they reach WWE, in order for the company to own the copyright on the name. Seth Rollins doesn’t appear to have distanced himself too much from his independent name, Tyler Black, though; he is a co-owner of a wrestling school in Illinois, Black & Brave Wrestling Academy.
Rollins is also one of the few WWE performers who performs under a fictional name who publicly acknowledges his birth name. On the Black & Brave website’s about page, he is listed as Colby Lopez. He is also seen in WWE 24 in his hometown, hanging out with friends and family openly referring to him as Colby.
13. Rich Swann
The former Cruiserweight Champion began wrestling when he was only 14 years old, but he has maintained the name Rich Swann throughout most his time in CZW, Dragon Gate USA, and ultimately WWE. Swann made a good impression on the WWE during the Cruiserweight Classic and he done well so far on the main roster.
But early in his career, he experimented with other names, including “El Negro Mysterio,” an homage to Rey Mysterio Jr., who Swann has cited as a personal hero and wrestling influence. Swann has gotten off to a good start in his WWE career, as he recently enjoyed a a reign as the Cruiserweight Champion and you have to think he’ll eventually get another title reign. Ultimately, his fate in WWE depends on how they commit to their Cruiserweight division.
His birth name is Sid Eudy. He’s been known as Sid Vicious, Sid Justice, and Sycho Sid. He’s had reasonably successful tenures in both WWE and WCW, but has never seemed to pin down a consistent nom de plume, as it were.
Eudy may have never been an in-ring virtuoso, but he has held the top championships in nearly every promotion in which he has ever appeared. He holds the interesting distinction of being the only person in WWE’s history to headline WrestleMania under two different ring names: WM VIII as Sid Justice (against Hulk Hogan) and WM13 as Sycho Sid (against The Undertaker).
Sid has a bit of an “also ran” legacy in professional wrestling. He was around during a very significant time in WWE’s history, but feels more like a background player than a star, despite his multiple championships and WrestleMania main events. He is, however, one of the only mononyms in the business; often, it’s simplest in conversation about wrestling to refer to him as “Sid.”
11. The Rock
Before he was Dwayne Johnson, the highest paid actor in Hollywood, he was The Rock, the perennial face of WWE’s Attitude Era, a multi-time world champion, and inarguably one of the most popular wrestlers in the history of the sport. But even earlier than that, he was Rocky Maiva, a character which amounted to little more than cheese-eating grins, a Flintstones-like wardrobe, and moppish Jheri curls.
It’s poignant to remember the Maiva character–a babyface who consistently irritated swaths of fans—when considering the push WWE has attempted to give his cousin, Roman Reigns, for the last three years. Once those backstage realized the fans weren’t getting behind Rocky Maiva, they allowed him to explore the character as a heel; what followed was the evolution into The Rock, one of the most iconic characters (and biggest box office draws) in the history of WWE.
10. Chris Benoit
Chris Benoit’s legacy on professional wrestling is like a bright red scar. Although he’s widely considered one of the industry’s greatest athletes, having performed at a high level across continents for over 20 years, the circumstances of his death—murdering his wife and son and then killing himself—have rendered his name pretty much unmentionable, especially by WWE.
However, before he made an international splash under his birth name, Benoit trained at the New Japan Dojo and performed as a masked character known as The Pegasus Kid. (This character would be reprised two decades later by none other than Finn Bálor.) During his formative professional years, Benoit occasionally appended his name as “Dynamite” Chris Benoit, in tribute to his wrestling idol Dynamite Kid.
Were it not for his violent actions in the last weekend of his life, the name Chris Benoit would continuously be associated with greatness. One can still appreciate the finesse of his body of work, but it will forever be with an asterisk.
9. Roman Reigns
Before he was “The Guy” and “The Big Dog” and even the Shield’s “Enforcer,” Roman Reigns had the unfortunate distinction of wrestling in FCW as “Leakee.” The name itself is perfectly fine when pronounced properly (“lay-uh-kee”) and it hints toward his Samoan heritage, being close to his real first name Leati. But just glancing at “Leakee” in writing reminds the reader of the word “leaky”—not necessarily the best adjective you want to describe a professional wrestler.
It originated as a fictional surname, Roman Leakee, but was gradually shortened to be its own name. He would adopt the name Roman Reigns once FCW became NXT, shortly before his main roster debut with The Shield. Whatever your opinion of Reigns as a performer, it’s hard to argue that his new ring name isn’t an improvement over the old.
8. Steve Austin
Looking over the Texas Rattlesnake’s whole career, it’s actually very surprising how late in his professional life his explosion to the top of the industry occurred—about seven years into his varied career with WWE, WCW, and the last remains of the southern territory system. Throughout his time, he took on several variations of the name Steve Austin, including with the prefixes “Stunning” and “Stone Cold.” Born Steven James Anderson and later adopting his stepfather’s surname Williams, even later than that he changed his legal name to the one that had made him famous.
There is one moniker, however, that Austin adopted that didn’t incorporate his real-life first name: The Ringmaster. Portraying the character at the start of his WWF run, the Ringmaster was a stoic, calculating grappler, i.e. a master of the ring. (Get it?)
Despite being awarded Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Championship, Austin failed to really rile the fans until after he adopted the rebellious anti-hero persona of “Stone Cold.”
7. Adam Rose
Before his run in NXT and WWE as Adam Rose, the hard-partying superstar constantly flanked by the pack of rascals known as the Rosebuds, this wrestler appeared in FCW as Leo Kruger, a conniving and sadistic heel who relished in destroying his opponents. It’s difficult to believe two such polar opposites of character were portrayed by the same wrestler.
The Kruger character received some renewed interest after Rose, birth name Raymond Leppan, appeared in E:60‘s feature of the WWE developmental system. In it, the audience became acquainted with Leppan’s eldest son, who suffers from a rare chronic condition. This real life struggle further endeared Leppan to WWE fans and rallied opinions that he should be given a push as Leo Kruger.
But Leppan was accused of domestic violence and immediately suspended under WWE’s zero tolerance policy for such violations. Although he was never prosecuted for the alleged crime—his wife dropped the charges—he requested and was granted his release from WWE shortly thereafter. Since then, he has made rounds on the independents under the name “Krugar.”
R-Truth appeared in WWE throughout the early 2000s under the name K-Kwik, during which time he teamed with Road Dogg to some success. He even teamed with D-Generation X in a Survivor Series match in 2000, although his team eventually lost. After Road Dogg was released, he moved onto singles competition, winning the Hardcore Championship twice, but ultimately never achieving much hype or notoriety. His WWE run fizzled out and he went on to wrestle with TNA and other promotions under the name K-Krush.
None of that was acknowledged when he returned to WWE in 2008 as R-Truth. His near-decade away, combined with his relative obscurity during his run as K-Kwik, led most fans to not even remember him. Even now, the references to his time there in the early 2000s have been brief and inconsequential.
Ultimately, it does not matter, as he is much more memorable as R-Truth than he ever was as K-Kwik. From his short but memorable Main Event run as one half of Awesome Truth and a brief feud with John Cena, to the low-card comedy segments, R-Truth is consistently entertaining in his role.
Goldust has been one of the the wrestling industry’s most consistent journeymen, having appeared under almost a dozen different names throughout his nearly thirty years in the business. Among them are a handful of variations of Goldust (the Artist Formerly Known as Goldust; Lord Goldie; Gold Dustin) and his real name, Dustin Runnels. He has also occasionally appeared as Dustin Rhodes, a nod toward his father, Dusty Rhodes.
Perhaps the most notorious gimmick variation for Goldust was his time in TNA as Black Reign. The character was not too far removed from that which he portrayed in WWE, favoring a purple-and-black color scheme for his paint rather than gold. But this was during a time when the man behind the character was suffering from severe alcoholism and weight problems.
Thankfully, he was able to go sober and get back into shape, returning to WWE in 2013 to maintain his legacy as one of the company’s most solid and reliable performers.
4. Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio, Jr. comes from a long line of luchadors, including his uncle, who trained him and originated the Rey Mysterio ring name, which translates to “King Mystery.” When he was first cutting his teeth in Tijuana, the younger Mysterio adopted the name as an homage to his uncle, adding “Jr.” to the end. He carried the suffix with him into American promotions, including WCW and ECW.
However, when Rey began his 13-year stay in WWE, he dropped “Jr.” from his name and became internationally known simply as “Rey Mysterio.” In an interview with Chris Jericho not long after he left the company, it was alleged that WWE dropped the suffix because Vince McMahon, being a junior himself to his father Vincent J. McMahon, hates the word and never wants to hear it.
Once he began working in Mexico again, Mysterio returned the “Jr.” to his name, which shows a remarkable lack of ego; despite being an internationally acclaimed wrestler, he still pays homage to the man who trained him.
Kane has been referred to in recent years as variations of the name, including “Corporate Kane” and “The Demon Kane,” to differentiate between the unmasked, corporate character and his masked Big Red Monster gimmick—in recent years, he has sometimes portrayed both characters in one show.
However, decades ago, before he became prominently known as the burn-victim brother of The Undertaker, he portrayed several different characters in WWE, including Isaac Yankem, DDS—an evil dentist during the questionable era when every wrestler in WWE needed some kind of occupation—and controversially as “Fake Diesel,” a stand-in for when the real Diesel, Kevin Nash, defected to WCW. Thankfully, he finally got a name, and a gimmick, that stuck and he’s had a hell of a run with it, entering his 20th year known as Kane.
2. Hulk Hogan
Even someone as iconic as Hulk Hogan had to go through the early grind of testing different names and gimmicks. Long before he was the Hulkster, he went by the name Sterling Golden, which might be the most generic wrestling name ever conceived.
According to Hogan’s autobiography, after appearing on a local talk show next to Lou Ferrigno, the actor who portrayed the Incredible Hulk in the 1970s T.V. series, he adopted the ring name Terry “The Hulk” Boulder, as his physique was supposedly superior to Ferrigno’s. This new name included nods both to his birth name, Terry Bollea, and his future iconic persona.
He has drawn the ire of many, but it’s just about impossible to imagine the wrestling world without the name Hulk Hogan—even if it did derive from a fairly petty source.
1. Cody Rhodes
There aren’t many wrestlers who have had a rougher few years than Cody Rhodes. After his father’s death in 2015, he continued his decline through uninspired feuds and segments as the lukewarm Stardust character, culminating with his request for a release in 2016 to try his luck on the independents.
None of that is terrible in and of itself. There are many wrestlers who have gone onto have successful runs outside of WWE, and many fans speculated that it was only a matter of time before Cody came back, having refined and renewed his stock as a draw after making a name for himself separately from the company. All seemed to be going very well for him, landing several high-profile matches in Pro Wrestling Guerilla, Ring of Honor, and even as a new member of New Japan’s Bullet Club.
But then WWE started sending cease and desists; they claimed to own the name “Cody Rhodes.” The Rhodes surname is not Cody’s legal name, nor his half-brother Dustin, nor even was it his father’s, but the name is an indelible part of his family’s legacy. WWE’s strong-arming him out of using it—he wrestles simply as “Cody” in NJPW—has cast strong doubt on whether or not the relationship between him and his former employer could ever be amicable again.
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