WWE Has a Problem with Naming Its Stars

Philip LindseyContributor IIJanuary 21, 2022

Photo credit: WWE.com

On this week's episode of NXT 2.0, WALTER returned to put on an incredible match with Roderick Strong in the main event. However, no one was talking about it the next day as a sudden revelation dominated the news and online discussions.

The former NXT UK champion vanquished Strong with a thunderous powerbomb. Afterward, The Ring General stunned fans as he proclaimed, "The winner of this match is Gunther."

The abrupt name change sparked controversy online when many learned WWE filed a trademark application for "Gunther Stark." The company later abandoned its request because the ring name was the same as a former Nazi U-boat commander. As such, the Austrian has shortened his nom de guerre to just Gunther.

Obviously, it's distasteful to use a name with such an ugly history behind it, but WWE quickly remedied the situation. Yes, this was a disaster of its own making, but it made the correct decision in the long run. After all, what could've been an unintentional blunder had already become international news.

This brief fiasco was also the most recent example of the company's baffling need to rebrand established stars. Outside of its problematic implications, this seems like an entirely unnecessary change.


What's in a Name?

WWE has a history of pitching terrible ring names. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin famously talked about all the names he turned down before he became one of the most recognizable wrestlers in the world. Before he landed on his iconic nickname, The Texas Rattlesnake received gems like Ice Dagger, Fang McFrost and Otto von Ruthless.

In December, Bryan Danielson revealed in an interview with Scott Fishman of TV Insider that WWE pitched him the name "Buddy Peacock." The New Day also hilariously ran through a list of 52 names they rejected on an episode of their podcast in 2019.

These awful suggestions make for funny anecdotes now, but could you imagine referring to Big Van Vader as The Mastodon? Sure, the nickname fittingly played off of his trademark helmet and gear, but WCW fans only knew him as Vader. So, it would have been a shame to erase the innovative big man's real claim to fame in pursuit of a marketing tool.

Under the WWE umbrella, creating larger-than-life characters is the name of the game. To be fair, the company has produced other seemingly ridiculous creations that turned into household names. However, it's hard to understand the rhyme or reason behind changes like Shorty G, Doudrop, Happy Corbin, Madcap Moss, or Nikki A.S.H.

It's hard to get too caught up in the argument that no one will take any of these superstars seriously because pro wrestling is intrinsically illogical. However, these names come off as a joke at the expense of the wrestlers who are attempting to popularize them.

For example, Shorty G was never going to work because it emphasizes Gable's height instead of his strengths as a performer. When you reduce an Olympic-level talent to an uninspiring short gag, it's difficult for your viewers to see him as a legitimate competitor.




From Extraordinary to Ordinary

A larger problem is WWE's dated habit of othering its non-white and foreign superstars. We saw this recently when Keith Lee changed his name to "Bearcat" Lee. Saddling a character, who aptly called himself "Limitless," with the stereotypical animalistic imagery surrounding Black men during the Jim Crow era was regressive.

It sadly painted over what made the 37-year-old so special in hopes of relying on nostalgia. It may not seem as egregious but selecting an explicitly German name like Gunther over WALTER similarly accentuates foreignness over notoriety.

This is par for the course because WWE historically relies on foreign heel characters, but it still looks so short-sighted. Even more, it sort of has the opposite intended effect. It exchanges a name that made the three-time wXw unified world wrestling champion stand out for one that is typical to WWE programming and sensibilities.

WALTER may seem like an unremarkable name, but the Austrian spent 15 years building a reputation using his birth name. In just three years with WWE, his run with the NXT UK Championship cemented his dominance. In fact, his 870-day reign makes him the longest-tenured modern champion in the company.

Honestly, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" isn't always a suitable adage because there's always a way to improve on something. However, it's an odd choice to stray away from something that a section of your fanbase is so familiar with.

Gunther will be fine as long as his presentation and in-ring style remain the same, but some fans will always see him as WALTER. After all, his appearance and character haven't changed enough to necessitate this. On the surface, it just reads as the company's edict, and that will always take viewers out of the story you're attempting to tell.

Hopefully, this is a sign that WWE has plans for the newest addition to NXT 2.0. There are so many dream matchups for him to take part in over the next few years. Even more, The Ring General could definitely headline WrestleMania and many pay-per-view events soon.

It's just mind-blowing that Gunther may achieve those accomplishments without the name that got him to the dance. Still, only time will tell if this will pay off for him and WWE. Let's hope this plays out better than some of the company's other name changes.