What’s in a name, anyway?
For star athletes, their names can be of vital importance. Superstars like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Tom Brady, and Derek Jeter have successfully turned their legal names into full fledged brands, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But there are a bunch of athletes who don’t even use their real names. No, this isn’t a list full of Tiger Woods and Magic Johnson. Everyone knows their real names are Eldrick and Earvin (which, let’s be real here, clearly explains why they preferred to use flashier nicknames instead of they given monikers).
But do you know the real name of former UFC champion Tito Ortiz? What about two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson? While you may know some of these real names, we’re betting you’ll learn at least one new name as you go through our list of athletes who used fake ones.
20. Mookie Betts
Current Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts started his career with a bang. He made his Big League debut at just 21-years in 2014 and has already made two All-Star teams and won a Gold Glove in 2016. He even finished second in MVP voting in just his second full season in The Show. Baseball fans in Boston can look forward to cheering on Mookie for years to come, but his real name is Markus Lynn Betts.
Apparently, his parents wanted his initials to match MLB (a fitting choice, really). But for some reason, infant Markus was given the nickname Mookie by his parents because they were big fans of former NBA player Mookie Blaylock. Despite the mixing of sports, the name stuck with Mookie throughout his childhood and into his pro ball career.
19. Colt McCoy
Colt McCoy had the misfortune of being on the many quarterbacks to get stuck with the Cleveland Browns starting job. He couldn’t save them (neither can anyone else, it seems), and the highly decorated college player eventually settled in as the backup for the Washington Redskins. Not the worst gig in the world, all things considered.
You would think that having a stereotypical cowboy name like Colt would be perfect for playing NCAA football for the Texas Longhorns in Austin, Texas. However, McCoy’s real name is actually Daniel McCoy, which is nowhere near as cool. We’re not sure where the nickname came from, but it’s too late to go back now.
18. Roy Halladay
Did you think we were going to mention Roy’s excellent nickname of Doc Halladay, named after the infamous gunslinger Doc Holliday who participated in the shootout at the O.K. Corral? Well, you’re wrong. The former ace pitcher for the Blue Jays and the Phillies did indeed have a great nickname, but it turns out that his real first name wasn’t even Roy.
Halladay’s birth name was Harry Leroy Halladay III, which is admittedly a mouthful. He started going by his middle name in order to avoid confusion with his father, and “Leroy” was eventually shortened to just “Roy.” The name stuck.
17. Kimbo Slice
Kimbo Slice was one of the first real internet celebrities, as he somehow managed to parlay grainy online videos of him participating in violent underground fight clubs into a legit career in boxing and MMA. While he didn’t have a ton of technical fighting skill, the man sure could brawl. His aggressive style attracted a ton of fans, and his popularity eventually got him a contract with EliteXC and (later) The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC’s tryout reality show. He lost his first fight on the show and was eliminated from the tournament, but the UFC let him stick around a little longer before eventually shipping him off to Bellator.
Already known by his childhood nickname of Kimbo, one of his early fight videos featured him leaving a large cut over his opponent’s eye. Internet fans dubbed him “Slice,” and the new moniker was born. Sadly, Kevin Ferguson passed away at the young age of 42 in 2016.
16. CC Sabathia
With an almost 20-year MLB career under his belt, playing over half of it in the famous Yankee pinstripes, CC Sabathia is a living baseball legend at this point. He won the Cy Young award in 2007, a World Series in 2009, and has been named to six different All-Star teams. Interesting enough, we never even questioned what “CC” stood for before starting this article.
It turns out that Sabathia’s real name is Carsten Charles Sabathia, Jr. Since the lefty pitcher shared a name with his father, everyone just started calling him CC. He liked the nickname and carried it all the way into the Majors when he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 1998.
15. Doc Rivers
Doc Rivers had an average playing career in the NBA, but has turned the knowledge he gained in those 13 seasons into a wonderful coaching career. Rivers was named Coach of the Year in 2000 while with the Orlando Magic and he led the Boston Celtics to an NBA championship in 2008. But Doc isn’t his real name, despite him using it ever since he first entered the NBA in the 1983 draft.
Rivers played college ball at Marquette using his real name of Glenn Anton Rivers. One summer, he attended a basketball camp wearing a Julius “Dr. J” Erving T-shirt. Rick Majerus, who was an assistant coach for Marquette at the time, starting calling him “Doc.” His teammates quickly followed suit and the rest is history.
14. Bo Jackson
Bo knows baseball. Bo knows football. Bo knows nicknames. Do you know Bo Jackson’s real name, though?
Jackson was an athletic freak of nature, capable of effortlessly performing incredible feats that the rest of us could dream of. He turned those talents into perhaps the most successful two-sport career we’ve ever seen, as he suited up as running back for the Los Angeles Raiders in the winter and as a home run hitting outfielder in MLB for three different teams, most notably the Kansas City Royals.
Vincent Edward Jackson is one of only a few athletes to be named an All-Star in two different sports (Pro Bowl in 1990, MLB All-Star in 1989). The nickname Bo was given to him as a youngster, when he apparently displayed the energy and aggression of a wild boar. That kind of also accurately describes his playing style.
13. B.J. Penn
In the prime of his career, B.J. Penn was one of the most naturally talented fighters that MMA had ever seen, and was one of the primary reasons that fight fans started to pay more attention to the lighter weight classes. He is one of only three fighters to win a UFC championship in multiple divisions, having captured both the lightweight and welterweight titles while fighting some of the best opponents in the history of the sport, like Matt Hughes, Georges St-Pierre, Jens Pulver, and Frankie Edgar, just to name a few.
You may already know that B.J. stands for “Baby Jay,” but that’s also not Penn’s real name. He was born Jay Dee Penn, but so were his two older brothers (a third older brother was mysteriously named Reagan). Each of the sons gained a nickname in order to avoid confusion, and since Penn was the youngest of the bunch, aka the baby, he was referred to Baby Jay, which obviously got shortened to B.J. Next time, his parents should just try to not name all their kids the same damn thing.
12. Cy Young
Cy Young is one of the best pitchers in baseball history. While it’s worth pointing out that he played in an entirely different era of the game, he holds many records that will never be broken. His 511 wins top the list of incredible feats, but his 749 complete games is pretty damn impressive too. Throw in his career ERA of just 2.63 and it’s easy to understand why Major League Baseball decided to name their pitching award after him.
Except they didn’t really name it after him. His full name was Denton True Young, but he earned the nickname “Cyclone” in the minor leagues when reporters claimed that his fastball had destroyed a wooden fence, saying it looked like a cyclone hit it. The nickname was shortened to “Cy” (perhaps to save headline space in the papers), and a legend was born.
Pele is perhaps the most famous soccer player in the history of the sport, although the likes of Diego Maradona, David Beckham, and Cristiano Ronaldo might argue the point. The Brazilian legend helped his national team to three different World Cup titles and earned a massive 10 league titles while playing for famous club side Santos. Later in his career, he would start the first inroads to soccer in the United States when he joined the New York Cosmos in 1975 and turned the NASL into a (very) brief sensations.
Despite being world famous with just a single name, Pele was actually born Edson Arantes do Nascimento. Back when he was just a schoolboy, he mispronounced the name of favorite player, a local goalkeeper named Bilé. His friends teased him for it, and the more Pele protested, the more his schoolmates used the new name. Eventually, he just accepted it and continued to use the now world famous moniker.
10. Spud Webb
Spud Webb stands just 5’7″ tall, but still managed to have a successful NBA career surrounded by much larger men. The tiny point guard played 17-years in the Association, which is definitely a noteworthy achievement. However, Webb is most well-known for upsetting teammate Dominique “The Human Highlight Film” Wilkins in the 1986 Slam Dunk Contest. Webb amazed everyone by showing off a leaping ability that he had never really displayed in a regulation NBA game — even more amazing considering how short he is.
It should be no surprise that “Spud” isn’t his real name, though. After all, what kind of respectable parent would jot down “Spud” on a birth certificate. Webb’s birth name was Anthony Jerome Webb, but he apparently earned himself the nickname when he was just a newborn. A friend of Webb’s father commented that the new baby had a head shaped like Sputnik, the famous Russian satellite. Little Sputnik quickly became little Spud.
9. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Junior is basically royalty in the NASCAR circuit, being the son of the late Dale “The Intimidator” Earnhardt Sr. His name alone makes him one of the most popular drivers in the sport, but 26 wins on the NASCAR Cup Series and 24 more in the NASCAR Xfinity Series don’t hurt either. But many fans don’t even know his real name.
Junior’s full legal name is Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr. Unlike other “juniors” on this list, Earnhardt didn’t start using his middle name in order to be different from his father. Dale Sr.’s first name was also Ralph, which he obviously didn’t care for either. Earnhardt is in his forties now and still racing, but he finally settled down and got married in 2016. We’ll have wait and see if a Ralph Dale Earnhardt III is in the cards.
8. O.J. Simpson
O.J. Simpson had one of the best nicknames in the business, back when he was still a football superstar. “The Juice” was a dynamic running back on the field, and a marketing mastermind off it, using his million-dollar smile to hawk products like Hertz Rental Cars and Pioneer Chicken. He also parlayed his fame into a budding acting career, most notably playing the bumbling cop Nordberg in the Naked Gun series.
It all came crumbling down in 1994, when he was charged in the infamous double murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman. His life was never the same, but the unprecedented media attention that surrounded the case, the trial, and the aftermath, forced many football fans to learn exactly what O.J. stood for: Orenthal James Simpson.
7. Carl Lewis
Carl Lewis is one of the greatest athletes in Olympic history, winning gold medals in both sprinting and long jump for the United States. He held multiple world records and amazingly won the men’s long jump gold in four consecutive Olympic Games, spanning from 1984 in Los Angeles to 1996 in Atlanta. His collection of nine gold medals during his career, plus another 10 World Championship gold medals, are an impressive collection.
Most people don’t know that Lewis’ real name is actually Frederick Carlton Lewis. He obviously decided he didn’t like Frederick, so he shortened his middle name and became famous as “Carl.” Since retiring from track and field, Lewis had tried his hand at both acting and politics, with limited success.
Surprise, surprise, it’s another Brazilian soccer great not using his real name. Kaka got his start in Sao Paulo, but really rose to fame with AC Milan before Real Madrid came calling. During his time in Europe, he won both Serie A and La Liga league championships, domestic cups, and Champions League in 2007. He was also part of the World Cup winning Brazil side in 2002.
Kaka became the headlining player when Orlando City SC joined Major League Soccer in 2015, and instantly became the highest-paid player in the league. Pretty good for the former Ballon d’Or winner, who was actually born Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite. The name “Kaka” apparently came from his little brother trying (and failing) to pronounce “Ricardo.” At least “Kaka” is a lot easier to use when signing autographs!
5. P.K. Subban
We finally get to the one and only hockey player on our list, the somewhat controversial P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators. He’s one of the best defenseman in the NHL and many Montreal Canadien fans still sorely miss his presence on their blueline, after the blockbuster 2016 trade that send him to Music City. While he may be a star on the ice, it seems like Subban had some mean-spirited parents.
Subban’s legal name is Pernell-Karl Sylvester Subban, which is just… really unfortunate. It’s no wonder that he introduced himself as “P.K.” starting at an early age, because Pernell-Karl is the kind of name that gets you beat up in middle school, along with Winston, Mortimer, and Clarence.
4. Bubba Watson
With a name like Bubba Watson, you probably already assumed it wasn’t his given name. The Florida native was actually born as Gerry Lester Watson, but his father thought the chunky little infant looked like former NFL player Bubba Smith, a monster defensive end. Watson wouldn’t grow up to be a star football player (which is almost a sin in the state of Florida), but his proficiency at the much gentler game of golf has earned him millions of dollars (and two green jackets, so far). All without the constant threat of brain damage or some other career ending injury.
3. B.J. Upton
As far as nicknames go, B.J. Upton has a pretty sweet one. The speedy outfielder’s father, Manny, was nicknamed “Bossman.” When little Upton came around, everyone just called him “Bossman Junior,” which eventually would be shortened to B.J. for his career in Major League Baseball.
That all changed in 2015 when Upton decided he wanted to officially be known by his birth name, Melvin Emanuel Upton Jr. He reasoned that only his baseball peers (and fans) called him B.J., with most of his friends and family already using “Melvin” on a regular basis. The former No. 2 overall draft pick (2002 by the Tampa Bay Rays) has stolen over 300 bases so far in his MLB career.
2. Coco Crisp
Coco Crisp is the story of a man who really loved his nickname. In fact, you could argue that Crisp isn’t even using a fake name anymore, since he legally changed his first name to “Coco” in 2013. Before that, however, it was just a nickname for the originally named Covelli Loyce Crisp, an outfielder who has played for the Indians (twice), Red Sox, Royals, and Athletics.
Crisp was originally teased by his sister that he looked like one the characters on the Cocoa Krispies cereal box. The nickname didn’t stick at first, but during a “get to know your teammates” questionnaire in the minor leagues, Crisp revealed the “Coco” nickname. His teammates thought it was hilarious, and had it put up on the scoreboard during a game. After that, the nickname became permanent.
1. Tito Ortiz
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz is known his game changing ground-and-pound and his hotly contested feuds with the likes of Chuck Liddell and Ken Shamrock. The Huntington Beach Bad Boy definitely played up his Mexican heritage by carrying a Mexican flag to the cage. And with a name like “Tito Ortiz,” it seemed a perfect fit. Except, that wasn’t his real name.
Ortiz was born with the very un-Mexican name of Jacob Christopher Ortiz. When he was just one-year-old, Ortiz’s father nicknamed him Tito, saying it meant “tyrant.” It’s fitting, then, that Ortiz would go on to be a champion level cage fighter. Since retiring from the sport, partly due to a series of severe back injuries, Ortiz started a company that produces MMA clothes and equipment, and opened the Punishment Training Center, an MMA gym in his hometown.