The Best/Worst Name Changes in Sports History

Jon GilbertCorrespondent IIJanuary 26, 2011

The Best/Worst Name Changes in Sports History

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    "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet." — Juliet

    That may be true, William Shakespeare, but not always so when it comes to athletes.  Chad Ochocinco is raising the question with his possible second name change.

    Whether it was to fulfill religious or marketing motives—or something different altogether—name changes have defined careers for better or for worse and are always followed by opinion.

    Here are some of the best and worst name changes in sports history.

Honorable Mention

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    Neither Tiger Woods nor Babe Ruth have ever changed their names to legally be what everyone knows them to be.

    But Eldrick Woods Jr. and George Herman Ruth Jr. are names that fail to spark recognition. Tiger and Babe can each only be in reference to one person.

Best: Ahmad Rashad

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    Would Ahmad Rashad have had the post-football broadcasting career that he's enjoyed had he stuck with his given name, Bobby Moore?

    Who knows? But it's undeniable that Ahmad Rashad has a much better ring to it. It's the ridiculous type of thing that makes all the difference in show business.

Worst: Karim Abdul-Jabbar

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    No, not that basketball player. Yes, the picture is right. That's just the problem with this name.

    The Muslim Abdul-Jabbar was born Sharmon Shah and would eventually be given the name Karim Abdul-Jabbar by his Imam. Then he played football at UCLA (sound familiar?) with the number 33 (sound familar?). He changed his name in between his sophomore and junior seasons as a Bruin.

    Eventually, a lawsuit by the famous basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar forced Karim to change his name again to Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar. Really?

Best: Pele

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    The best part about the Pele nickname, that is now all but his real name, is that it comes from people making fun of Pele mispronouncing the name of his favorite childhood footballer, a goalkeeper named Bile.

    Pele went on to tremendous fame and acclaim while the name Edson Arantes do Nascimento withered into obscurity.

Worst: Muhammad Ali

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    Muhammad Ali is a perfectly fine name. It has a good sound to it. But Cassius Clay is an epic name.

    Cassius Clay is original, rolls off the lips and should have never been touched. I guess a pass is due considering the religious reasoning behind Ali's name change.

Best: Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

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    Honestly, I doubt I even pronounce Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf correctly.

    But how many thousands of Chris Jacksons are there? If nothing else, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf sets himself apart with the name change.

    He avoided any potential Steve Smith and Mike Williams conundrum experienced by NFL wide receivers.

Worst: Bison Dele

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    Brian Williams played seven seasons in the NBA. Then, he played one more as Bison Dele.

    The name change was a tribute to his Native American and African descent. But it came off as another eccentric chapter in the always puzzling Williams' life.

    Williams then abruptly retired at the age of 30 in 1999 and disappeared in the South Pacific Ocean in 2002, presumably murdered by his brother.

Best: Hulk Hogan

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    Terry Gene Bollea died the day that Hulk Hogan was born. Hulk Hogan is the character that Bollea created and eventually adopted full-time.

    It's not legally Hogan's name, but go ahead and try to call him Terry. I dare you.

Worst: He Hate Me

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    Rod Smart used He Hate Me as his moniker while playing in the only season of the XFL. The question has to be asked, how much of his ensuing NFL career has to be credited to attention paid because of his eccentric name?

    The truth is, the NFL doesn't care what your name is if you can play. So giving yourself a fragmented sentence for a name is useless and regrettable.

Best: World B. Free

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    Lloyd Bernard Free is a fabulous name with which any tinkering should come with great hesitation. But Lloyd turned something great into something classic.

    World B. Free uses Free's original surname, his original middle initial and adds a cool first name that creates a great message when all put together.

Worst: Marvelous Marvin Hagler

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    Nicknames are great as long as they stay nicknames. But boxer Marvin Nathaniel Hagler decided that ring announcers weren't using his "Marvelous" nickname enough.

    So he forced them to by legally changing his name to Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

    What do his friends and family call him now that he's likely not a marvelous boxer anymore? Should he change his name to Retired Marvin Hagler?

Best: Charles Atlas

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    Angelo Siciliano wanted to make it very clear that he was a successful body builder. He was molding his body after the Greek Titan, Atlas, so why not mold his name in the same way?

    Atlas was able to market a body-building and exercise program he developed using his new name.

Worst: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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    Lew Alcindor became a living legend while playing basketball at UCLA. But religious preference led Alcindor to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

    Abdul-Jabbar ended up with an enviable name. But Ferdinand Lewis "Lew" Alicindor could have provided so many better nicknames.

    He could have delivered "Alcindor blocks." "Ferdinand the Bull" would have given the wrong idea for an athlete but you get the point.

Best: Sugar Ray Robinson

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    Boxing is all about promotion. It's a lot easier to promote Sugar Ray Robinson than it is Walker Smith Jr.

    However, that's not how Robinson got his name. Instead, he was a 14-year-old trying to enter a boxing tournament restricted to boxers 16 years and older. He borrowed his friend Ray Robinson's card.

    His style was then dubbed "sweet as sugar" by his manager. Eventually, Smith made his legal name Sugar Ray Robinson.

Worst: God Shammgod

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    Actually, God Shammgod never legally changed his name. He was born God Shammgod but used Shammgod Wells while in high school. He couldn't afford a name change when he went to college and was forced to use his given name.

    But he played briefly in the NBA and has played professionally in other countries. Wouldn't it be worth it to legally change his name now?

Best: Chad Ochocinco

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    People either loved or hated Chad Johnson for his antics and touchdown celebrations. Johnson changing his last name to Ochocinco only furthered people's previous feelings.

    Personally, I find Ochocinco hilarious. His antics are funny and have never gotten in the way of his play. He's been a mostly good teammate.

    But I'm sorry Chad, changing your name back to Johnson isn't going to take you back to your prime.