An old joke in wrestling is that you can count on one hand the number of guys who actually use their real name. While that’s a bit of an exaggeration, it is obvious how many wrestlers use an alias to cover for a name that doesn’t sound that impressive in the ring. A common practice is to go through multiple names, especially when jumping around companies. Often, it’s because of legal reasons as WWE copyrights several names while others just sound better. A good name change can work wonders as Ric Flair or Dusty Rhodes showed.
A bad name change, however, can cripple a worker majorly. That’s especially true back when WWE would have guys whose entire gimmick was an occupation (Thurman “Sparky” Plugg, Duke “The Dumpster” Droese, etc). But even today, it’s amazing how some guys who sign to WWE see their perfectly good names changed into something stupid. At the same time, some name changes work out great and help craft some of the biggest stars the company has known. Here are 5 of the best and 5 of the worst times a wrestler changed their name when signing to WWE and how a good moniker really makes all the difference.
10 WORSE: Joe Hennig To Michael McGillicutty to Curtis Axel
Curt Hennig had been a legend in WWE as Mr. Perfect and still regarded well today. When his son Joe joined WWE, one would think they would play up the family connection just as they did with Ted DiBiase Jr and Cody Rhodes. Instead, he was given the stupid name of Michael McGillicutty which sounded like an old Western comedy character. That did little to help him out in the Nexus and he was sent back to NXT for more training. Curtis Axel was an improvement as a tribute to his father and grandfather but Hennig might have been better under his real name.
9 BETTER: Scott Hall To Razor Ramon
Scott Hall was always a guy who had the looks and charisma to be a star but held back by a bad name. He’d shown promise as the Diamond Studd in WCW but knew he would not get too far. When he signed to WWE, Hall changed his name over to fit an act inspired by “Scarface.”
As it happened, Vince McMahon had never seen the film and so thought Hall had invented an original character. Razor Ramon was soon a smash hit as multiple Intercontinental champion to help Hall finally achieve stardom.
8 WORSE: 2 Cold Scorpio To Flash Funk
2 Cold Scorpio was ahead of his time with his amazing high-flying moves and would have done terrific if WCW had a Cruiserweight division in the early 1990s. As it was, he had a run as tag team champion with Marcus Bagwell and then a good turn in ECW as TV champ. When he signed to WWE in 1997, his name would be cool enough to fit in. For some reason, he was given the moniker of Flash Funk and dressing like a 1970s street character. The bad dancing was the topper as Scorpio’s entire drive faded. Thanks to the name, his WWE tenure was over in a flash.
7 BETTER: Jean-Paul Levesque To Hunter Hearst Helmsley
When you begin as “Terra Ryzing,” you can only go up. In WCW, Paul Levesque had "Jean” added to his name to play up being a French aristocrat. He had promise but figured he’d get nowhere under WCW’s politics so went to WWE. The original name was “Reginald Dupont Helmsley” and he openly complained about how silly that was. They agreed to make it something more alliterative. That sparked his epic career as it’s hard to imagine WWE today without HHH.
6 WORSE: Colt Cabana To Scotty Goldman
Today, Colt Cabana would get a better shot in WWE. NXT has proven itself as a second home for former ROH stars. Sadly, in 2007, WWE wasn’t doing as well as Cabana joined OVW first with “Boom Boom” as a nickname. He then jumped to SmackDown as Scotty Goldman with a stupid singlet and headband. It lacked the cool vibe of his old name and his acting like a dork in the ring didn’t help. They cut him in a few months and Cabana doesn’t speak well of how this name was the start of a bad turn in the company.
5 BETTER: Tyler Black To Seth Rollins
Tyler Black was already an impressive name as proven during his time in ROH. Yet it seemed a bit cliche and would have been harder to break out. Seth Rollins just rolled off the tongue and seemed more unique.
After becoming the inaugural NXT champion, Rollins would join Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose in The Shield. That launched an excellent career that’s earned him just about every title in the company, main eventing WrestleMania and a top star. It’s harder to see that happening as just Tyler Black.
4 WORSE: Chris Harris To Braden Walker
In TNA, Chris Harris had a good career going for him. He was okay in the singles ranks but truly took off when he and James Storm teamed up. America’s Most Wanted had several tag title reigns and the best team in the company.
Joining the ECW brand in 2008, Harris was given the name of Braden Walker which wasn’t too bad. Then came his infamous “knock-knock joke” promo of “I’m gonna knock your brains out!” Any chance Harris had was ruined right there and he was out of WWE in just a couple of months. Harris never recovered from that joke of a name.
3 BETTER: Mark Callous To the Undertaker
“Mean” Mark Callous had a very impressive look in WCW as part of the Skyscrapers tag team. Despite his height and imposing appearance, he couldn’t break out from the mid-card and was soon cut in 1990. Traveling to WWE, Callous was chosen for a gimmick that on paper sounded amazingly stupid: a zombie in funeral clothes led to the ring by a guy carrying an urn. Callous made it work as the Undertaker became one of WWE’s biggest icons and amazing how changing to this nickname led to one of the most amazing careers in wrestling history.
2 WORSE: Terry Taylor To The Red Rooster
According to wrestling urban legend, it was literally a coin flip that decided whether Curt Hennig or Terry Taylor would get the Mr. Perfect gimmick. Taylor lost that in every way imaginable. While Hennig became Intercontinental champion and a huge star, Taylor was forced to become the Red Rooster. Dyeing a red streak in his hair and doing promos that involved literal crowing, Taylor was a disaster from day one. He never had a chance with fans and his entire career suffered afterward. If ever a name change hurt a guy in WWE, Taylor was it.
1 BETTER: Terry Boulder To Hulk Hogan
Terry Boulder always had the great looks of a wrestler with his impressive physique and good voice. He’d had a few bouts in the indies and Japan when Vince McMahon Sr. signed him to WWE and changed his last name to Hogan. He even wanted Boella to dye his hair and play up being Irish but an already-balding Terry refused. The “Hulk” name was added both for the alliteration and because of the comic book character. While it took a few years, that new moniker helped create the greatest star wrestling has ever known to count among the best name changes ever.