11 Reasons Athletes Change Their Names

Claus Andersen, BIG3/Getty Images
Claus Andersen, BIG3/Getty Images

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.

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40) 

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Sauteuse 3.5 Quarts; $180 (save $120)

- KitchenAid KSMSFTA Sifter with Scale Attachment; $95 (save $75) 

- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $88 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

- Aicook Juicer Machine; $35 (save $15)

- JoyJolt Double Wall Insulated Espresso Mugs - Set of Two; $14 (save $10) 

- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $13 (save $14)

HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

- Fairywill Electric Toothbrush with Four Brush Heads; $19 (save $9)

- ASAKUKI 500ml Premium Essential Oil Diffuser; $22 (save $4)

- Facebook Portal Smart Video Calling 10 inch Touch Screen Display with Alexa; $129 (save $50)

- Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters; $280 (save $50)

Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31) 

TaoTronics PTC 1500W Fast Quiet Heating Ceramic Tower; $55 (save $10)

Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Home Office Shredder; $33 (save $7)

Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30) 

Video games

Nintendo

- Legend of Zelda Link's Awakening for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

- Marvel's Spider-Man: Game of The Year Edition for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $20)

- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Minecraft Dungeons Hero Edition for Nintendo Switch; $20 (save $10)

- The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 4; $30 (save $30)

- LEGO Harry Potter: Collection; $15 (save $15)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

The Sims 4; $20 (save $20)

God of War for PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

Days Gone for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

- Apple MacBook Air 13 inches with 256 GB; $899 (save $100)

- New Apple MacBook Pro 16 inches with 512 GB; $2149 (save $250) 

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- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with 13.5 inch Touch-Screen; $1200 (save $400)

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- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet (64GB); $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet (32 GB); $130 (save $70)

- Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8 inches with 32 GB; $100 (save $50)

Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $379 (save $20)

- Apple iMac 27 inches with 256 GB; $1649 (save $150)

- Vankyo MatrixPad S2 Tablet; $120 (save $10)

Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

- Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS; $179 (save $20) 

- SAMSUNG 75-inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $998 (save $200)

- Apple AirPods Pro; $199 (save $50)

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Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera with EF-M 15-45mm Lens; $549 (save $100)

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

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From Ear to Eternity: When Mike Tyson Bit Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

As the 16,000 spectators began filing out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a night of fights on June 28, 1997, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as being roughly the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.

It was no concession stand remnant. It was a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Wrapping the morsel of flesh in a latex glove, Libonati hurried backstage, where Holyfield was conferring with officials and doctors after his opponent, Mike Tyson, had been disqualified for biting him on the left ear. In all the commotion, Libonati wasn't allowed inside the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield’s training partners, accepted the ear fragment on Holyfield’s behalf.

Libonati’s discovery was the climax to one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, one in which "Iron" Mike Tyson—the most famous fighter of his era—meted out a savage reprimand for what he perceived was dirty fighting on the part of Holyfield. The ear-biting far exceeded the brutal underpinnings of boxing and added to Tyson's reputation as a frenzied combatant both in and out of the ring.

 

Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were just teenagers. On the amateur circuit, they had sparred together—not quite knowing the heights each would achieve, but understanding the other would be a formidable obstacle if they were to ever meet as professionals.

Evander Holyfield (L) had success against Mike Tyson (R) early on.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Tyson was a prodigy, having won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1986 at the age of 19 and dominating the division up until an upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter fighter at cruiserweight (190 pounds), moving up to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson's personal life had started to overshadow his accomplishments inside the ring: An allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his image in the media and ended in a very public divorce after just one year. In 1992, a rape conviction sidelined the fighter for more than three years while he served out his prison sentence.

When Tyson returned to the ring, he rattled off a string of wins against fighters not quite at his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had stepped away from competition in 1994, but as Tyson knocked off inferior opponents, talk of a bout with Holyfield intensified. Finally, the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.

Holyfield would prove his doubters wrong. Through 11 rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outclassed Tyson by negating his opponent's power with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed headbutts that were declared unintentional, but to Tyson seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked Tyson down and earned a technical knockout victory.

 

While it was an undoubtedly disappointing moment for Tyson, an upset in boxing virtually guarantees a lucrative rematch deal. Both men agreed to meet a second time, with Holyfield earning $35 million and Tyson getting $30 million. Tyson’s camp, however, insisted that the referee from the first bout, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second, because Tyson felt he failed to call the illegal headbutts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t want to be seen capitulating to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern stepped aside voluntarily. So referee Mills Lane took his place.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) first met as amateurs.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Before a huge crowd full of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a then-record 1.99 million households that had purchased the event on pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 28, 1997. While Holyfield took the first round, Tyson appeared fit and adaptive, and came out blazing in round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt struck him again.

The clash of heads opened a cut over Tyson’s right eye, which threatened to obscure his vision as the fight went on. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest in a spectacularly violent way.

Coming out for the third round, Tyson had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and retrieve it—a foreshadowing of things to come. His aggression was working against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds left in the round, the two clinched up. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clamped down on the ear, ripped the top off, and spat it along with his mouthguard onto the canvas.

Holyfield jumped up in the air in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfield’s trainers, Don Turner and Tommy Brooks, yelled out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor then told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the athletic commission, that he was going to end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield was bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into competition.

Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear, before the round ended. This time, Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before the start of the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.

 

That was far from the end of it. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson grew incensed, shoving Holyfield from behind and pawing at the security guards who had stormed the ring in an attempt to restore order.

After the bout, Tyson didn’t appear to be overly contrite. He explained that he was frustrated at Holyfield headbutting him without being penalized, and said he had lost control.

An emotional Mike Tyson reacts to his disqualification loss to Evander Holyfield.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

“Listen,” Tyson said. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit.”

Tyson believed his retaliation was justified. “This is my career," he said. "I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Two days later, Tyson issued a tempered apology in an effort to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his purse, or $3 million, which was thought to be the largest fine in sports at the time.

 

Tyson could never entirely shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative bout with Lennox Lewis was being planned in 2002, the fight ultimately ended up taking place in Memphis, Tennessee; Nevada refused to restore Tyson's license following a press conference brawl between the two men.

Tyson ultimately continued competing through 2005, when he lost his last bout to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter once known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" is scheduled to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. Yet Holyfield, now 57 years old, remains a possible future opponent.

The two have occasionally interacted in public in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting he briefly thought about biting Tyson on his face right back. The pair even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” Holyfield the missing piece of his ear.

In reality, Holyfield never did get his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it over to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove while being transported to the hospital.

Many fighters talk about leaving a little piece of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was simply the truth.