11 Reasons Athletes Change Their Names

Lakers star Ron Artest made waves this summer when he announce he was changing his name to Metta World Peace. Although it's one of the more extreme moves, it's far from the first time an athlete has adopted a strange name. Here are 11 great (and not-so-great) reasons athletes make the switch.

1. To get more credit

Midway through his career, boxer Marvin Hagler felt that he wasn’t getting enough attention and praise from the media. In 1982 –- after he had already won a world championship –- he finally decided that he would force announcers to start giving him his due. He legally added the nickname “Marvelous” to his name so that nobody could mention him without using the full name “Marvelous Marvin Hagler.”

2. To join the Japanese national team

Although he was drafted to the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1998, Milton "J.R." Henderson never really caught on and eventually left to play overseas. In 2001, he found his way to Japan and became a key player for the Aisin Seahorses. Wanting to play for the Japanese national team and become more integrated in his new home, Henderson eventually applied to become a Japanese citizen in 2008. On top of the standard naturalization process, Henderson thought things might go faster if he took a Japanese name, so he legally adopted “J.R. Sakuragi.” The last name translates to “cherry blossom tree,” but also happens to be the name of the hero in the basketball-themed manga “Slam Dunk.”

3. To (try to) win a Heisman

In 1970, Notre Dame quarterback Joe Theismann (pronounced THEES-man) led the team to a 10-1 record and was named an All-American, gathering a great deal of national hype. To help his bid for the Heisman trophy, Notre Dame publicity guru Roger Valdiserri insisted that Theismann change the pronunciation of his name to rhyme with the award as a marketing trick. Although he lost to Stanford’s Jim Plunkett, the new pronunciation stuck and Theismann (now pronounced THIGHS-man) eventually led the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl victory. Theismann would later tell the Los Angeles Times that in order to make the switch, he had to run it by his grandmother, who gave her approval and revealed that the name was actually supposed to be pronounced TICE-man.

4. To follow a new religion

A number of pro athletes have changed their name after converting to Islam, headlined by Cassius Clay changing his name to Muhammad Ali when he joined the Nation of Islam. UCLA center Lew Alcindor famously became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he converted in 1971. Former NFL running back Bobby Moore changed his name to Ahmad Rashad upon conversion, and NBA player Chris Jackson changed his to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf when he converted in 1991.

5. To settle a lawsuit with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Born Sharmon Shah, the UCLA running back changed his name to Karim Abdul-Jabbar in 1995 after being given the name by his imam. Abdul-Jabbar closed out his senior season with the name and eventually entered the NFL, where he played for the Miami Dolphins. While setting the franchise rookie rushing record, he attracted the attention of the retired basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In 1998, the basketball player filed suit against the NFL star, pointing out a number of similarities between the two. Both had gone to UCLA, both wore uniform number 33 (although the NFL player Abdul-Jabbar insists it was a tribute to Tony Dorsett) and both, obviously, had the same name. In fact, many people mistakenly thought that the running back was the NBA Hall of Famer’s son. Eventually, the NFL player changed his name to Abdul to comply with the lawsuit and, in 2000, changed his name to Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar. In the meantime, all jerseys with his original name were taken off store shelves.

6. To make a nickname more official

If you had a great nickname, wouldn't you want to make it official? For example, there's former Dolphins wide receiver Mark Duper, who legally added the middle name “Super” to go by Mark Super Duper. Or the Minnesota Twins relief pitcher John Paul Bonser, who legally adopted his long-time nickname “Boof” as his first name. Or former NBA player Lloyd Bernard Free who decided to incorporate his nickname “All-World” and changed it to the message-laden World B. Free. And of course there's the mixed martial arts fighter and sometimes porn actor who used to go by Jon Koppenhaver, but changed his name to War Machine.

But the most famous nickname adoption has to be Chad Johnson, the then-Bengals wide receiver who changed his name to Chad Ochocinco in 2008 to reflect his uniform number (85, although the nickname literally translates to “eight five”). He stuck with the change despite some conflict with the NFL and a promise to change it back if he was held catchless in a 2010 game against the Jets (he was). In 2009, he announced that he’d be switching his name to Chad Hachi Go, which translates to “eight five” in Japanese, but did not go through with it.

7. To get rid of a common name

Jose Gonzalez Uribe played eight games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1984 before he was traded, along with three teammates, to the San Francisco Giants. During the trade, he changed his name to drop the Gonzalez, going by simply Jose Uribe. The reason? “There are too many Gonzálezes in baseball,” he told reporters. His name change during the trade led to him jokingly being called “the ultimate player to be named later” by his new coach Rocky Bridges.

8. To be more like Kristi Yamaguchi

When figure skater Rudy Galindo first met fellow skating star Kristi Yamaguchi, he felt there was an instant connection. Although they didn’t immediately start skating as a pair, they did often skate in the same events and started to be seen as a team. When they started competing in pairs competitions together, Galindo and Yamaguchi grew closer. Finally, he took the ultimate step and changed the spelling of his name to “Rudi” to make their names more similar.

9. To be more like a favorite Teen Wolf character

In 2008, Tampa Bay defensive end Greg White announced that he had legally changed his name to Stylez G. White, after his favorite character in the 1985 classic Teen Wolf. The character in question was Rupert 'Stiles' Stilinski, the best friend to Michael J. Fox’s Scott Howard (which admittedly would not have been a very interesting name to adopt). About "Stiles," White told the Tampa Bay Tribune, “I always liked that name. It’s not that I don’t like Greg White.”

10. To not get confused with an All-Star

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher Ervin Santana didn’t always go by “Ervin.” In fact, his birth name is Johan Ramon Santana. Early in his career, Santana realized that his birth name might conflict slightly with that of another superstar pitcher, then-Minnesota Twins ace Johan Santana. So the minor league star decided to make a switch to Ervin. Why Ervin? According to news reports, he simply said “that sounds good” and decided to stick with it.

11. To honor a new-found heritage

During the offseason before his final NBA season, then-Pistons player Brian Williams started doing some genealogical research. When he learned of his Native American and African heritage as part of his "spiritual journey," Williams decided to honor his roots with a name change. He eventually settled on Bison Dele, the first name to honor his Native American roots and the last name because it was a traditional African name. He only played one season as Bison Dele -- he retired in 1999 and disappeared, presumed dead, in 2002.

For 11-11-11, we'll be posting twenty-four '11 lists' throughout the day. Check back 11 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Shout! Factory
Original GLOW Wrestling Series Hits Twitch
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

When it premiered in June 2017, GLOW was a bit of a sleeper offering for Netflix. With the amount of original programming ordered by the streaming service, a show based on an obscure women’s pro wrestling league from the 1980s seemed destined to get lost in the shuffle.

Instead, the series was a critical and commercial success. Ahead of its second season, which drops on June 29, you'll have a chance to see the mat work of the original women who inspired it.

Shout! Factory has announced they will be live-streaming clips from the first four seasons of GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), which first premiered in 1986, beginning at 9 p.m. ET on June 28. The stream, which will be available on shoutfactorytv.com and Twitch, will feature original footage framed by new interviews with personalities including Godiva, host Johnny C, and Hollywood. The show will air live from the Santino Brothers Wrestling Academy in Los Angeles.

Godiva, who was portrayed by Dawn Maestas, inspired the character Rhonda (a.k.a. Brittanica) on the Netflix series; Hollywood was the alter ego of Jeanne Basone, who inspired the character Cherry in the fictionalized version of the league. Basone later posed for Playboy and takes bookings for one-on-one wrestling matches with fans.

Shout! Factory's site also features a full-length compilation of footage, Brawlin’ Beauties: GLOW, hosted by onetime WWE interviewer “Mean” Gene Okerlund.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Alamy
On Top of the World: Remembering the Lost Trend of Flagpole Sitting
Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly sitting on a flagpole atop the Hotel St. Francis in Newark, New Jersey
Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly sitting on a flagpole atop the Hotel St. Francis in Newark, New Jersey
Alamy

Flappers and bootleggers might be the most memorable aspects of the 1920s, but there's a lesser-known, yet no less colorful, trend from that decade: flagpole sitting. From the glamorous hills of Hollywood to the blue-collar dwellings of Union City, New Jersey, this unusual pastime turned eccentric showmen and ordinary people into overnight celebrities, before the crushing reality of the Great Depression grounded their climb to stardom.

Flagpole sitting is exactly what it sounds like: a person climbing on top of a towering pole, usually in the middle of a city, and testing their endurance by sitting atop it for as long as their body holds up. It began in Hollywood in January 1924, when a former sailor, boxer, steelworker, and stuntman named Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly was hired by a local theater to sit on a pole outside of the building for as long as possible to drum up publicity for a new movie. Kelly, a New York City native—whose nickname was supposedly inspired by his dubious claims as a Titanic survivor—wowed crowds by perching himself on the pole for an astonishing 13 hours and 13 minutes. The stunt worked, and once it got picked up by the papers, offers started pouring in from more businesses to perform pole-sittings. Kelly was eager to oblige.

News of Kelly's exploits spread, and before long, men, women, and children were climbing poles of their own. There was the three-week feat of Bobbie Mack, a young woman from Los Angeles; Joe “Hold ‘em” Powers, who sat for 16 days in Chicago in 1927 and climbed back down with six fewer teeth than he started with after a storm smacked him face-first into his pole; and Bill Penfield, who braved a pole for 51 days in Strawberry Point, Iowa before a storm forced him down. In 1928, a 15-year-old named Avon Foreman of Baltimore even established a juvenile sitting record of 10 days, 10 hours, 10 minutes, and 10 seconds (he practiced on an 18-foot hickory tree in his backyard). Foreman’s accomplishment was so inspiring to Baltimore mayor William F. Broening that he publicly declared that the youngster exhibited “the pioneer spirit of early America.”

Still, Kelly was the one making a big business out of pole sitting. Even when he wasn’t holding the record, he was the ambassador of the bizarre sport. He toured 28 cities, attracting massive crowds that jammed streets and lined rooftops just to get a glimpse of the daredevil poking out among the apartment buildings and businesses of Downtown, USA.

Kelly's notable feats included an 80-hour sit in New Orleans and the 146 hours he spent high above Kansas City's Old Westgate Hotel. But even those were overshadowed by his largest-scale stunts: 312 hours on top of Newark’s St. Francis Hotel in 1927, 22 days on a pole above a dance marathon (another endurance fad of the time) in Madison Square Garden, and 23 days in 1929 in Baltimore’s Carlin’s Park on a pole that was 60 feet high. By Kelly’s own calculation, he’d spend around 20,613 hours pole-sitting during a career that lasted over a decade.

His peak came in 1930 when he lasted 49 days and one hour on a 225-foot pole on Atlantic City’s steel pier. The feat was witnessed by as many as 20,000 onlookers during the weeks he spent up top, becoming one of the first of many spectacles that would grace the pier in the 1930s. (He’d eventually be followed by acts like Rex, the water-skiing “wonder dog”; JoJo, the boxing kangaroo; and the city’s infamous diving horse routine.)

Estimates of Kelly’s fees range from $100-$500 a day throughout his career, paid by whatever outlet needed the publicity and sometimes by crowds who spent a quarter to get a view of his act from nearby hotel rooftops. And what did those onlookers see, exactly? A man on a circular padded seat high above the rabble, sometimes reading the paper, other times enjoying a shave. For food, he’d stick mainly to a liquid diet of broth and water, along with cigarettes, all of which were lifted up to him in a bucket. When he needed to sleep, he’d stay seated by wrapping his ankles around the pole and securing his thumbs into holes in his seat before nodding off. That's if he rested at all—he was also known to deprive himself of sleep on the pole for as long as four days.

The big money would dry up soon after his Atlantic City stunt, and the realities of the Great Depression put an end to flagpole sitting as a career. With up to a quarter of the population unemployed, people were apparently less interested in opening their papers to stories of men and women testing endurance at the top of a pole for more money than the readers would likely see all year.

"As Shipwreck Kelly analyzed it, it was the Stock Market crash that killed pole-sitting as the golden egg that paid the goose," a writer for The Evening Sun in Baltimore put it in 1944. "People couldn't stand to see anything higher than their busted securities."

Kelly’s personal story ends on a similarly somber note. Penniless and stripped of his daredevil veneer, he died of a heart attack in 1952 at the age of 59, his body found not far from the room he rented on West 51st Street in New York City. Underneath his arm at the time of his death was a scrapbook of newspaper clippings detailing his accomplishments as a once-champion flagpole sitter.

Though flagpole sitting has fallen out of the public eye since the Depression, it has occasionally shown faint signs of life. In 1963, 17-year-old Alabama native Peggy Townsend cruised past all of Kelly's highest marks by spending 217 days on a pole for a radio contest. That time was later beaten by Kenneth Gidge, who topped her at 248 days in 1971 before becoming an artist, inventor, and New Hampshire state representative later in life.

Today, the occasional pole-sitter still pops up in the news, though they're now most likely perched for protests or as living art installations. Regardless of the purpose behind it, it's unlikely that a person atop a flagpole will ever attract a sea of thousands of onlookers again—and the days when a man like Kelly could become a household name and dub himself the "Luckiest Fool on Earth" seem long gone.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios