Why Do Athletes Slap Each Others’ Butts?

Tom Pennington / Getty
Tom Pennington / Getty

On Monday, NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson was sentenced to 30 days in jail for violating his probation. The judge rejected his plea bargain, which would have kept Johnson out of jail, after she took offense to Johnson playfully tapping his lawyer on the butt. 

"I don't know that you're taking this whole thing seriously. I just saw you slap your attorney on the backside. Is there something funny about this?" the Associated Press reports the judge, Kathleen McHugh, saying. "The whole courtroom was laughing. I'm not going to accept these plea negotiations. This isn't a joke."

Light taps to the rear-end are pretty common on the football field, but maybe Johnson shouldn’t have tried it out in court. Why do athletes do that?

Unfortunately, the first athlete to playfully slap a teammate on the butt didn’t record his reasoning for history, but it’s become common practice among professionals and amateurs alike, and many have their own take on it. In 2007, Johns Hopkins News-Letter editor Mary Doman asked some of the school’s athletes about it and got a variety of responses about the “extra-low five.”

A freshman tennis player told her that the meaning of the butt slap is pretty open-ended depending on the context and relationship between slapper and slappee. “Well, a nice smack on the butt could mean anything,” he said. “It can just mean, ‘Nice job,’ or ‘You’ll get them next time,’ but it can also mean simply, ‘Hi, how you doin’?', or ‘How’s that essay coming along?’, or, ‘Wow, your butt is pretty muscly today. You been working out?’”

A freshman lacrosse player explained that the butt slap was just a variation of the congratulatory shoulder or back slap, moved lower as a reflection of the intimacy between two players. “Two teammates who aren’t best buddies tend to slap each other on the shoulder or upper back,” he said. “Teammates who are pretty tight go for the mid to lower back. Teammates who see each other as brothers go for the real deal and slap each other’s asses.”

A freshman football player also thought that the gesture was congratulatory, and theorized that it suited the needs of players on the field. “High fives are becoming outdated. Handshakes work, but eye contact is made and it takes too much time,” the player told Doman. “A smack on the ass can be used any time.” 

A freshman fencer mused that the butt slap was a little more complex, an expression of every man’s desire “to be a cowboy.”

Cowboys give their horses a slap on the behind to get them moving, so, the fencer thought, “likewise with sports, men need to commune and help motivate one another as a team. It’s standard practice and common courtesy to slap another man’s ass if you feel he is slacking.”

Whatever any one player’s reason for slapping someone else’s butt, the sporting world learned a valuable lesson this week about keeping it on the field and out of more formal settings. In some parts of the world, though, even a slap during a game is too risque. In 2011, two Iranian soccer players were suspended and received pay cuts for a butt slap during a match. The national football federation’s disciplinary committee called the gesture an “immoral offense.”

40 Years Later: 20 Facts About the 'Miracle on Ice'

The USA Team celebrates their 4-3 victory over Russia in the semi-final of the Ice Hockey event at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York.
The USA Team celebrates their 4-3 victory over Russia in the semi-final of the Ice Hockey event at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York.
Steve Powell/Getty Images

On February 22, 1980, the Soviet War in Afghanistan was almost two months old, making the Cold War as tense as ever. On that same Friday, a hockey team comprised of American college players defeated a dominant Soviet Union group made up of professional athletes—dubiously designated as students, engineers, or soldiers to maintain their then Olympic-required amateur status—in the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. Jim McKay, the venerable host of ABC’s Wide World of Sports and its respected Olympic telecast anchor, was tasked to put into words what the viewers had just seen; the 59-year-old settled on, “That may be the greatest upset in sports history.” He added that it was the equivalent of an all-star football team of Canadian college boys beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had just won their fourth Super Bowl in six years. Forty years later, that comparison holds up.

1. The U.S. beat the Russians in a surprise upset in a hockey game 20 years earlier.

Team USA celebrates their 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union in the semi-final Men's Ice Hockey event at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York on February 22, 1980. The game was dubbed the Miracle on Ice. The USA went on to win the gold medal
Team USA celebrates their 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union in the semi-final Men's Ice Hockey event at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York on February 22, 1980.
Steve Powell /Getty Images

The Americans won the men’s hockey gold in 1960 thanks to a surprising semifinal win over the defending champion Soviet Union. After that, the Soviets dominated and took home the next four gold medals, going 27-1-1 and outscoring their opponents 175-44, making the 1980 victory a much bigger shock.

2. The U.S. head coach was the last player cut from the 1960 team.

Bill Cleary agreed to join team USA only if his brother Bob could play. The Clearys got their wish, and as a result, there was not enough room for Herb Brooks. Brooks would go on to play at the '64 and '68 Olympics, and he later earned a spot on the Olympic team as head coach after leading the University of Minnesota to three national championships in the 1970s.

3. Herb Brooks kept telling his players that one of the Russians looked like Stan Laurel.

Boris Mikhailov #13 of the Soviet Union sits on the boards during Game 1 of the 1972 Summit Series against Canada on September 2, 1972 at the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Boris Mikhailov
Melchior DiGiacomo/Getty Images

Insisting that Boris Mikhailov resembled the thin Englishman in the comedy duo Laurel & Hardy was an attempt to get the U.S. players to not take the Soviet Union squad so seriously.

4. The USSR beat the U.S. 10-3 less than two weeks earlier.

In a February 9th exhibition at Madison Square Garden, the Russians expectedly dominated. Combined with the Soviets’ 6-0 victory over a team of NHL All-Stars one year earlier, it looked like a fifth consecutive gold medal was inevitable.

5. The Russian head coach was hospitalized the day before the game.

Viktor Tikhonov had dealt with the flu throughout the Olympics, and was taken to the hospital on February 21st without any of his players knowing. Tikhonov did not believe in antibiotics.

6. The night before, the starting U.S. goalie and one of the Russian players enjoyed an arcade game together.

Jim Craig and Sergei Makarov played Centipede at Lake Placid's Olympic Village video arcade against one another. The two communicated with “nods and laughs.”

7. It was one of Al Michaels’s first times announcing a hockey game.

Al Michaels speaks at media day for Super Bowl XL at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan on January 31, 2006
Al Michaels
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Even though he had never called a hockey game before, Michaels got the play-by-play assignment for the 1972 gold medal hockey game on NBC because nobody else wanted to do it. In 1980, doing that one broadcast made him the undisputed hockey veteran at ABC, as well as the only one who knew what offside and icing were.

8. Al Michaels memorized the Russian names by playing table hockey.

He played against his broadcast partner and former NHL goalie Ken Dryden in their hotel room, announcing their contests and naming his little men after the players on whichever team the U.S. was about to face.

9. Ken Dryden had the busiest February 21st of all.

Dryden, who served as color commentator for the game, would later be teased by his children for not coming up with one of the most memorable sports calls of all time like Michaels, but it’s possible that he was a little bit tired. On Thursday afternoon, while Viktor Tikhonov was in a hospital bed, Dryden went up to Toronto to take the Canadian Bar Exam (which he would pass). That night, as the most famous game of Centipede of all time was taking place, he was back in Lake Placid, having dinner with Herb Brooks, answering a slew of questions Brooks had about the Russians. Dryden was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, and to Canadian Parliament in 2004.

10. The game was shown on tape delay in the United States.

ABC tried desperately to have the opening face-off moved from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. eastern time, and agreed to pay the International Ice Hockey Federation $125,000 to make it happen (even though they considered it extortion). The IIHF, however, couldn’t get the Soviet Union to agree to the time change despite offering them $12,500, because they did not want the game moved from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. Moscow time. Since all of this happened in 1980, the outcome was not known by most Americans when they watched the recorded broadcast that started in primetime. McKay on air was upfront about the game not being live, and said the network received mail from viewers writing that they did not want the ending to be spoiled.

11. Parts of the game were cut out of the original broadcast.

The United States Hockey team competes against the Soviet Union hockey team during a metal round game of the Winter Olympics February 22, 1980 at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York
The United States Hockey team competes against the Soviet Union hockey team during a metal round game of the Winter Olympics February 22, 1980 at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

ABC had scheduled footage for both the hockey game and men’s slalom from 8:30 to 11, with 8 to 8:30 devoted to the animated special The Pink Panther in: Olym-Pinks. To make room, minutes of the game were dropped.

12. Jamie Farr was the only celebrity in attendance.

Farr played Klinger on M*A*S*H, which was in its eighth season. The 7700 seat Lake Placid Olympic Center was sold out, and tickets with a face value of $67.20 were allegedly scalped for as much as $600.

13. It wasn’t the gold medal game.

The Americans and Soviets advanced to the “medal round” with Finland and Sweden. A win earned a country 2 points, a tie 1 point. Going into the big match, the U.S. had tied Sweden, and the USSR beat Finland. After the U.S. shocked the world, the Russians took out their frustrations on Sweden two days later and beat them 9-2, so if the U.S. lost to Finland in their next and final game, the Soviet Union would have won the Gold again, with 4 points to the Americans’ 3.

14. The starting Soviet goaltender was taken out of the game after the first period—and it shook up the team.

It looked like the USSR was going to finish the first period up 2-1, but a last second score by Mark Johnson gave the U.S. a lot of momentum. This upset Viktor Tikhonov so much that he benched Vladislav Tretiak and replaced him with Vladimir Myshkin, who, after shutting out the Americans in the second period, would allow two goals in the third. The move shocked the Russians at the time—defenseman Sergei Starikov said, “It felt like a big hole had been put in our team.” Tikhonov himself looked back on it and admitted, “It was my worst mistake, my biggest regret."

15. Al Michaels did not rehearse his famous question.

The word “miraculous” was swimming in his mind as the final seconds ticked away, which led to him asking if we believed in miracles. Hours later, after working the Finland/Sweden game that transpired while most of the country watched the game whose nickname he was mostly responsible for on delay, he had forgotten what he said.

16. Some of the Soviet players took the loss in stride.

The first Russian Mark Johnson shook hands with after the game had a smile on his face. When Johnson and Eric Strobel ran into Valeri Kharlamov and Boris “Stan Laurel” Milkhailov in a waiting room before taking a urine test, Milkhailov said, “Nice game.”

17. The U.S. team sang "God Bless America" after winning, but didn’t know all the words.

The United States Hockey team celebrates after they defeated the Soviet Union during a metal round game of the Winter Olympics February 22, 1980 at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York
The United States Hockey team celebrates after they defeated the Soviet Union during a metal round game of the Winter Olympics February 22, 1980 at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The team got tripped up after “land that I love,” hummed through the lines they didn’t know, and picked it up again for the big finish.

18. Players from both countries later played in the NHL.

Thirteen of the 20 members of the U.S. squad went pro, Including defenseman Ken Morrow, who, after winning the gold medal, joined the New York Islanders and won the Stanley Cup in each of his first four seasons. Jim Craig’s arcade buddy Sergei Makarov was one of five players from the 1980 USSR team to join the National Hockey League in the 1988-90 season. Makarov won the Rookie of the Year award at the age of 31, which led to the league enforcing a rule starting the following season that you had to be 26 or younger to win.

19. There was a made-for-TV movie about the game starring Steve Guttenberg.

The 1981 ABC film Miracle on Ice mixed actual game footage with written scenes. Guttenberg portrayed goalie Jim Craig, Karl Malden played Herb Brooks, and Jessica Walter—known by some today as Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development—played Herb Brooks’ wife, Patti.

In 2004, Disney released the film Miracle, which starred Kurt Russell as Brooks.

20. The Lake Placid Olympic Center Rink was renamed Herb Brooks Arena in 2005.

Brooks returned to lead the 2002 U.S. men's hockey team to a silver medal. One year later, he passed away after a car accident.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2015.

The Full Names of 37 One-Name Celebrities

Rihanna and Madonna attend the Tidal launch event in New York City.
Rihanna and Madonna attend the Tidal launch event in New York City.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images For Roc Nation

A rose by any other name probably wouldn't smell as sweet, at least not in the cases of some of these one-named celebrities. From A-Z, here are the full names of some of your favorite mononymous stars, and the reasons they dropped the rest of their names.

1. Adele

Singer Adele performs
Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

Real Name: Adele Laurie Blue Adkins

As far as we can tell, Adele’s first name is simply distinctive enough to stand on its own. Plus, “Adele Adkins” sounds a bit like she should be playing at the Grand Ole Opry (which would be lovely, but not quite the sound she’s going for).

2. Awkwafina

Awkwafina attends the 2020 Critics' Choice Awards in Santa Monica, California.
Awkwafina attends the 2020 Critics' Choice Awards in Santa Monica, California.
MATT WINKELMEYER/GETTY IMAGES FOR CRITICS CHOICE ASSOCIATION

Real Name: Nora Lum

“There’s really no great, symbolic story,” Awkwafina told Cosmopolitan of her chosen moniker. "I just really thought it was funny when people try to subtilize products like Neutrogena," she said. "Because I just imagine someone sitting there thinking about all these weird names, especially the water names. But anyway, I just came up with it when I was 16 and thought it was really funny. And then I eventually adopted it."

3. Beck

Musician Beck attends the KROQ Absolut Almost Acoustic Christmas 2019 at Honda Center on December 07, 2019 in Anaheim, California
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Real Name: Bek David Campbell

He added the “c” to his real name, hoping that it would prevent people from pronouncing his name as Brock, Breck, Beak, or Bic. Fun Fact: Beck's mother is Bibbe Hansen, an original Warhol superstar.

4. Bono

Bono of music group U2 performs onstage at the 2016 iHeartRadio Music Festival at T-Mobile Arena on September 23, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Real Name: Paul David Hewson

Without a doubt, Bono is the only rock star in the world named after a hearing aid. His school friends in Dublin all gave each other nicknames, and his was "Bono Vox," Latin for "good voice," based on the Bonavox hearing aid store. Eventually he dropped the "Vox" and became the Bono we all know today.

5. Charo

Pop music icon Charo attends "Dancing with the Stars" Season 24 at CBS Televison City on March 27, 2017 in Los Angeles, California
David Livingston/Getty Images

Real Name: Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza

I mean, Charo is 31 characters (not including spaces) shorter than her real name, so you can see why she decided to shorten things up. But why “Charo” instead of “Maria” or even something more distinctive like “Rosario”? As it turns out, “Charo” is actually not an uncommon nickname for “Rosario.”

6. Common

Rapper Common performs on stage at The Moore Theatre on July 14, 2019 in Seattle, Washington
Mat Hayward/Getty Images

Real Name: Lonnie Corant Jaman Shuka Rashid Lynn

Lynn adopted the stage name "Common Sense" at a young age, then shortened it to Common after he was sued by a band using the name handle.

7. Drake

Drake accepts the Top Billboard 200 Album award for "Views" during the 2017 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 21, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Real Name: Aubrey Drake Graham

Drake is a better rapper name than Aubrey. Back when he was an actor on Degrassi, though, Aubrey served him well.

8. Eminem

Eminem
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for MTV

Real Name: Marshall Bruce Mathers III

The rapper’s stage name was originally M&M, a reference to his initials. He eventually began spelling it phonetically instead.

9. Enya

Singer Enya attends the Clive Davis annual Pre-Grammy Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 11, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Real Name: Eithne Ní Bhraonáin

Because she knew that most of the world would scratch their heads when presented with the Irish “Eithne,” Enya changed her name to the phonetic spelling of her real name. Yep, “Eithne” = “Enya.”

10. Flea

Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers performs in concert during The Getaway World Tour at the AT&T Center on January 5, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas
Rick Kern/Getty Images

Real Name: Michael Peter Balzary

The itchy moniker goes back to Balzary's high school days, when friends called him “Mike B the Flea.”

11. Gotye

Musician Gotye, winner Best Alternative Music Album for "Making Mirrors" and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "Somebody That I Used To Know", poses in the press room at the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 10, 2013 in Los Angeles,
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Real Name: Wouter “Wally” De Backer

It’s the French version of his real name, Wouter. "Wouter translates into French as 'Gaultier,'" Gotye told Interview Magazine. "When I was in my early 20s, I wanted a name for my project that was kind of personal and similar to the way that I felt about my music: using the past to broaden into the present. I called her up, and she reminded me of that name. I decided how to spell it as a kind of jumbled surname, Gotye. I wanted a name that had passion. I came up with my own spelling for it, and that’s where it comes from."

12. Hammer

MC Hammer attends the premiere of Lionsgate's "All Eyez On Me" on June 14, 2017 in Los Angeles, California
David Livingston/Getty Images

Real Name: Stanley Kirk Burrell

Yeah, if you’re of a certain age, you probably know him as MC Hammer, but he dropped the Master of Ceremonies a while back. The “U Can’t Touch This” rapper and former batboy for the Oakland A's received his nickname from an unlikely source: Pedro Garcia, then of the Milwaukee Brewers, who thought a young Burrell was a dead ringer for Hammerin’ Hank Aaron. (Reggie Jackson has also taken credit for the nickname.)

13. Ice-T

Ice-T performs onstage at the Premiere Ceremony during the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Real Name: Tracy Lauren Marrow

The name is a tribute to Iceberg Slim, a reformed pimp who later wrote novels. “I’d taken my name as a tribute to Iceberg, and then it hit me one day—dude is a writer. I thought he was fly because he was a pimp, but I realized that I really admired him because he was a writer,” Ice-T wrote in his autobiography.

14. Jay-Z

Shawn "Jay Z" Carter makes an announcement on the Steps of City Hall Downtown Los Angeles for a Labor Day Music Festival at Los Angeles City Hall on April 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Real Name: Shawn Corey Carter

There are a few theories as to where Jay-Z came from, including that he was paying homage to his mentor, Jaz-O, or that it was a nod to the spot in Brooklyn where the J and Z trains meet up. But Carter maintains that it’s just a variation on his childhood nickname, “Jazzy.”

15. Ke$ha

Kesha attends the 2018 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 20, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada
John Shearer/Getty Images

Real Name: Kesha Rose Sebert

Kesha is her real name, but the dollar sign was part of her party girl image. She’s actually just Kesha now; she dropped the symbol several years ago. In a discussion at SXSW, Kesha told Refinery 29, “I let go of my facade about being a girl who didn't care. My facade was to be strong, and I realized it was total bullshit. I took out the $ because I realized that was part of the facade.”

16. Liberace

Liberace in the back seat of a limo
Terry Disney/Getty Images

Real Name: Władziu Valentino Liberace

It's just his last name. After using the stage name “Walter Busterkeys” for a time, Liberace decided to go by his surname only as a nod to his idol, pianist Igancy Paderewski, who did the same.

17. Lizzo

Recording artist Lizzo performs at The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on October 25, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada
David Becker/Getty Images

Real Name: Melissa Jefferson

Contrary to popular belief, Jefferson swears that her moniker was not inspired by the Jay-Z song “Izzo.” It came about in middle school, when she and her friends created nicknames by adding “O” to the end of their names. “You would be Gayle-O,” she told Gayle King. Because the musician went by Lissa at the time, she became Lisso, which eventually evolved into Lizzo.

18. Ludacris

Rapper Ludacris performs in concert during So So Def 25th Cultural Curren$y Tour at State Farm Arena on October 21, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Real Name: Chris Bridges

"Ludacris' is something that I made up," Bridges told MTV News in 2000. "It just kind of describes me. Sometimes I have like a split personality. Sometimes I'm cool, calm, and collected, and other times I'm beyond crazy. I'm ridiculous, I'm ludicrous. Plus my birth name is Chris, so it kind of incorporates that.”

19. Madonna

Madonna performs a tribute to Prince onstage during the 2016 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Real Name: Madonna Louise Ciccone

While we're in the M section: Madonna's given name is, in fact, Madonna.

20. Moby

Moby performs onstage during The Last Weekend Kickoff LA Presented by Swing Left at The Palace Theatre on November 1, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Real Name: Richard Melville Hall

“The basis for Richard Melville Hall—and for Moby—is that supposedly Herman Melville was my great-great-great granduncle,” Hall once explained.

21. Nenê

Nene Hilario #42 of the Houston Rockets reacts on the bench during the second half against the Washington Wizards at Toyota Center on April 3, 2018 in Houston, Texas
Tim Warner/Getty Images

Real Name: Maybyner Rodney Hilário

Nenê is one of the few mononymous people in the U.S. to have legally switched to a single name. The Brazilian basketball player, who most recently played for the Houston Rockets, was called “Nenê” as a child because he’s the youngest kid in his family and nenê is Portuguese for “baby.”

22. Pink

Recording artist Pink performs on stage during Pink at Nomadic Live! at The Armory on February 2, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Real Name: Alecia Beth Moore

According to the magenta musician herself, it was a cruel childhood nickname: "It was a mean thing at first; some kids at camp pulled my pants down and I blushed so much, and they were like, 'Ha ha! Look at her! She's pink!' And then the movie Reservoir Dogs came out and Mr. Pink was the one with the smart mouth, so it just happened all over again."

23. Prince


BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

Real Name: Prince Rogers Nelson

The artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince was, indeed, born Prince Rogers Nelson.

24. ?uestlove

Questlove of music group The Roots performs onstage during the 2016 BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on June 26, 2016 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter/BET/Getty Images for BET

Real Name: Ahmir Khalib Thompson

Before he was ?uestlove, the former Ahmir Khalib Thompson wanted to be plain old ?, which he meant to mean “anonymous.” When people started calling him “Question Mark,” he changed his name again to “B.R.O. the R. ?” That didn’t work either: fans thought his name was Brother Question Mark. He finally arrived at ?uestlove because “in the old days, your name ended in rock, ski or love. ?uestrock was not happening and neither was ?uestski. So ?uestlove became my new old school name, ’cause I’m so old school!”

25. Raffi

Real Name: Raffi Cavoukian

Because when your name is actually Raffi, you don’t need a surname.

26. Rihanna

Rihanna attends the Queen & Slim at AFI FEST 2019.
Rihanna attends the Queen & Slim premiere at AFI FEST 2019.
FRAZER HARRISON/GETTY IMAGES

Real Name: Robyn Rihanna Fenty

The singer/actor from Barbados goes by her middle name professionally. "I get kind of numb to Rihanna, Rihanna, Rihanna," she told Rolling Stone, noting that her close friends and family still call her by her first name. "When I hear Robyn, I pay attention."

27. Sade

Singer/songwriter Sade performs at the MGM Grand Garden Arena September 3, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Real Name: Helen Folasade Adu

Though her given name may be Helen, no one has ever referred to the velvet-voiced singer as such. Her parents called her Sade, a shortened version of her middle name, from a young age.

28. Sinbad

Sinbad attends Pilot Pen & GBK Celebration Lounge - Day 2 at LÕErmitage on September 15, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California
Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for GBK Productions

Real Name: David Adkins

Adkins thought using one distinctive name would help him stand out in the saturated world of stand-up comedy. He chose Sinbad after the mythological seafarer, telling Ebony magazine: “Sinbad was a leader. When monsters would show up, the men would scream out Sinbad’s name. He wasn’t the biggest guy, but he was clever and resourceful. He was a loner and lived life as a journey.”

29. Skrillex

Skrillex performs during the SnowGlobe Music Festival 2019 at Bijou Park on December 31, 2019 in South Lake Tahoe, California
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Real Name: Sonny John Moore

Here’s another case of a high school nickname that got carried over into adulthood. “Throughout my teen years my friends would call me Skrillex or Skril or Skrilly. Just became a stupid nickname that came out of the social online networking handles," Moore explained. "Really means nothing.”

30. Slash

Slash performs onstage at the GIBSON NAMM JAM Opening Party 2020 at City National Grove of Anaheim on January 16, 2020 in Anaheim, California
Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Gibson

Real Name: Saul Hudson

The Guns N’ Roses guitarist credits a rather surprising source for his badass nickname: character actor Seymour Cassel. Slash was friends with Cassel’s son, and after observing him always running around “in a hurry, hustling whatever it is I was hustling at the time,” Cassel dubbed him Slash.

31. Twiggy

Twiggy Lawson attends a private screening of 'The Boy Friend' hosted by Twiggy at Kings Cross Everyman Cinema on October 23, 2019 in London, England
David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Everyman

Real Name: Lesley Lawson (née Hornby)

When the fashion model was just a girl, kids at school referred to her as “Sticks” because she was so thin. Her boyfriend later gave her a slightly nicer (?) version of the nickname, which became her name when she hit it big. “Twiggy is a stupid name for a woman in her 40s,” she once remarked, “But it would be hard to drop.”

32. Usher

Usher performs at the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California
John Shearer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Real Name: Usher Terry Raymond IV

Let’s just say it’s a good thing Usher didn’t go the route of Drake and other celebs who eschewed their first names for their “cooler” middle names.

33. Voltaire

Portrait of French writer, essayist and philosopher Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778), author of "Candide
The Print Collector/Getty Images

Real Name: François-Marie Arouet

Is it any surprise that Voltaire liked wordplay? The Latinized spelling of his surname is “AROVET LI,” and “Voltaire” is an anagram of that.

34. will.i.am

Will.i.am attends The Voice UK 2019 photocall at The Soho Hotel on December 16, 2019 in London, England
Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images

Real Name: William James Adams, Jr.

“I liked playing with words. I noticed that my name was a sentence, meaning one with will, who is strong-willed. And so I called my mom and said, ‘Hey, Mom, do you mind if I call myself Will.i.am?’ She was like: ‘Whaaa? You’re crazy.’ She was cool with it.”

35. Yanni

Yanni performs at The Greek Theatre on June 9, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
Oliver Walker/Getty Images

Real Name: He was born Yiannis Chryssomallis, though that's sometimes Americanized to John Yanni Christopher.

See “Raffi,” above. Actually, Yiannis is a very common name in Chryssomallis's native Greece. He was known as “John” to his classmates at the University of Minnesota. Yanni is a just a slight variation of his given name.

36. Zendaya

Zendaya attends the Bvlgari B.zero1 Rock collection event at Duggal Greenhouse on February 06, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York
Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Real Name: Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman

Zendaya is her real name. She’s never used her last name professionally, though, because her first name is so distinctive. “I [dropped my last name because I] just thought it was cool, like Cher or Prince,” she told Allure.

37. Zucchero

Zucchero Sugar Fornaciari attends the 70° Festival di Sanremo (Sanremo Music Festival) at Teatro Ariston on February 05, 2020 in Sanremo, Italy
Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images

Real Name: Adelmo Fornacirari

Zucchero is the Italian word for sugar, a name given to him by one of his elementary school teachers. It’s also an apt description for his sweet, sweet music: The Italian musician has worked with everyone from Ray Charles to Pavarotti and has a couple of World Music Awards and a Grammy nom under his belt.

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