Giancarlo Stanton and 10 Other Athletes Who Made Weird Name Changes
Budding Miami Marlins star Mike Stanton has made a name for himself in recent years, but now he’s changing that name to Giancarlo Stanton. It’s actually his real name and he only switched to “Mike” when his classmates in school struggled to get his name right.
While Stanton’s switch might seem strange to some, other athletes before him have made way more bizarre name changes. Here’s a look back at 10 of the best.
The greatest boxer of all-time also had the most famous name change of all-time. In 1964, he joined the Nation of Islam and sect leader Elijah Muhammad gave him the Muslim name Muhammad Ali. “Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it, and I didn’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God – and I insist people use it when speaking to me and of me,” he was quoted saying.
In 1968, NBA star did the same when he found religion and became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. “I’ve been kind of quiet about it up to now, he said. “Now that I’m representing this country, I want to do it. When I’m speaking to people and holding news conferences, I want to use my Islamic name.” Decades later, a pro running back known as Karim Abdul-Jabbar agreed to change his name to Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar after Kareem filed a lawsuit saying that the football player was profiting off his name.
It started with a small prank in 2006 when Johnson played a game with “Ocho Cinco” written on the back of his Bengals’ jersey. He was fined $5,000 by the league, but decided to make it official two years later. “It’s something I don’t think anyone has ever done before,” he told the team’s website. “Have I ever had a reason for why I do what I do? I’m having fun.” Earlier this year, however, he announced he’d be returning to Johnson.
Last September, Ron Artest of the Los Angeles Lakers legally changed his name to Metta World Peace. “Changing my name was meant to inspire and bring youth together all around the world,” he said in a statement. “I’m glad that it is now official.” He cites Buddhist teachings as providing meaning and direction for him. “World Peace is possible. Just check the box score,” mused The New York Times’ Howard Beck toward the start of this season.
Walker Smith Jr.
Before an amateur fight in 1936, the boy born Walker Smith Jr. had to fake his name because he didn’t have an Amateur Athletic Union card. So he took the other fighter’s name, Ray Robinson, and ran with it. But “Sugar” Ray Robinson did have to go back to his original name for at least some period of time. In 1943, he was inducted into the US Army as Walker Smith Jr.
Lloyd Bernard Free
Lloyd Bernard Free entered the NBA in 1975 and became known as World B. Free in the early ’80s. “That name was given to me from the streets of Brooklyn, in the Brownsville section, for being one of the talents from there they thought might have a chance to make it in the NBA,” he said. He also went by another name during his 13-year career — the Prince of Midair.
Before the 1998-99 season, NBA Center Brian Williams opted to change his name to Bison Dele to honor his Cherokee and African ancestry. But he only played one year as Dele before he retired. Years later, he disappeared and is presumed dead. Details of that tragic night are sketchy, but it’s believed that he was murdered by his brother, who then committed suicide.
Martial artist Jon Koppenhaver wanted to keep fighting under his preferred name, War Machine, but feared another fighter with that name entering the UFC. So he legally changed his name to protect his interests. He eventually got tossed from the league after making insensitive remarks in a blog post following fellow fighter Evan Tanner’s death. Earlier this month, he was sent back to jail on a felony assault conviction.
He was at the top of snooker in 2005 when he was approached by HP sauce with a unique sponsorship deal: Change your name to James Brown as part of a mission to elevate the game’s prowess. “I think it is also up to the players to help liven up snooker’s image and raise its profile, and I feel good to do my bit with the help of HP,” White said.
“The Godfather of Soul! I like it. Who knows – I might be James Brown for the rest of my career,” he said then. He did indeed decide to keep it.
Though technically he never changed his name, he was the most famous player to come out of the XFL. Rod Smart joined the Las Vegas Outlaws with the message “He Hate Me” on his back. “Basically, my opponent is going to hate me. After I win, he’s gonna hate me. It is what it is,” he explained. What’s He Hate Me doing today? He’s a high school counselor.