William Shakespeare once asked “what’s in a name,” suggesting a rose would still smell sweet regardless of what humans called it. While that theory may stand true in poetry and literature, Vince McMahon would probably reply there was no chance in hell Shakespeare could have ever drawn a dime in the sports entertainment business. In the WWE Universe, and indeed all of professional wrestling, perception is far more important than reality.
It doesn’t matter what inherent qualities a given superstar possesses—what people call them as they exhibit those skills can make or break a career before it even begins. Unfortunately, not every wrestler out there is great at self-promotion, and sometimes the names they pick for themselves aren’t destined for stardom. Lucky for them, as long as they make it to the heights of WWE, either Vince or one of his many writers will save the day by giving them something better.
Well, most of the time, anyway. Truth be told, there have been a few cases where McMahon blatantly made a wrestler’s name worse, solely so he could take all the credit for their success. Most of the time, though, it’s genuinely for the better when wrestlers change their names. That said, real fans will never forget where it all began, so take our quiz and find out if you know the original ring names of these future WWE legends.
Viva la raza! Similar to the majority of wrestlers in his homeland, Eddie Guerrero started his career wearing a mask and using a presumed name, though few fans remember any of that today. While he was still in Mexico, Guerrero switched over to using his real name in a tag team with Art Barr, calling themselves Los Gringos Locos. From there, Guerrero made the way to America and became a massive star, winning countless titles in ECW, WCW, and WWE on the way to the Hall of Fame.
Now that The Rock has officially taken his throne as the highest paid actor in Hollywood, one doesn’t even need to be a wrestling fan to chant his name. Of course, well before he entered the movie business, Rock was already the People’s Champion and most electrifying man in sports entertainment. With nicknames like that, it’s clear The Rock is a creative genius when it comes to self-promotion. It’s for that exact reason his original persona still causes people to scratch their heads, wondering how The Great One arose from such humble beginnings.
The Fabulous Moolah
Like with every other business around, the main point of pro wrestling is to make money. By naming herself The Fabulous Moolah, Mary Lillian Ellison was making clear her intention to earn as much of her namesake as she possibly could. Interestingly, her original ring name evoked almost the exact opposite, implying not a dollar was to be made through her efforts. Perhaps this dichotomy is what inspired her to use manipulative tactics in keeping herself on top for three decades, but that’s another story for another time.
Big Boss Man
Police officers can get a bad wrap in the modern world, thanks to the negative actions a few of them have become known for. By and large, society still respects those who uphold law and order, though some outliers like the Big Boss Man are deserving of reprimand, to say the least. Boss Man used his law and order persona the whole time he was in the WWE Universe, spare a few strange months where they dropped the “big.” He worked for a number of other promotions throughout his career, though, usually with a different moniker altogether.
Despite some fans questioning if Jacqueline truly deserves her WWE Hall of Fame status, there’s no denying she made an impact on the wrestling world throughout her career. Especially during Jacqueline’s day, a powerhouse female wrestler was rare enough, and the idea of a black WWE Women’s Champion was a concept entirely left to the future. Jacqueline managed to break down that racial barrier, justifying her status in history in one way or another. Had she been using her original name, however, things may have been a little bit different.
Getting introduced as the family member of another wrestler usually pigeonholes them a bit, yet Molly Holly somehow overcame the Holly cousins' reputation as low level performers didn’t hold her back in the slightest. Part of the distinction is that Molly quickly branched away from Crash and Hardcore to do her own thing, which was miles above what the average female performer was doing at the time. Getting her training outside of the WWE Universe probably helped, and the company maybe could have taken a cue from her original name.
The Ultimate Warrior
A name like “The Ultimate Warrior” only works when there are dozens of other warriors for him to be superior to, so Jim Helwig using the persona from day one wouldn’t have made perfect sense. At the time, he was at best merely another warrior in a sea of many, hardly standing out in any notable way. At the time he debuted, Warrior was so unprepared for the spotlight he needed a tag team partner to hold his own in the ring, who happened to become a star in his own right with the name Sting.
Road Warrior Hawk
One half of the most destructive tag team in wrestling history, it’s hard for wrestling fans to even acknowledge Hawk’s name without first calling him a Road Warrior. Appropriately, Hawk’s career before putting on the spikes and face paint was hardly noteworthy, not taking off until he met his friend Animal. Believe it or not, though, Hawk did have a career prior to becoming a tag team specialist, and he utilized a pretty strange name when doing so. Would he have succeeded the same way without changing it? Time will never know.
Bang, bang! Mick Foley has been around the WWE Universe for many years now, and yet unlike some wrestlers with considerable longevity, he went through a half dozen names during his time in the company. In addition to his real name, Foley was also known as Dude Love, Cactus Jack, and Mankind, once even using all three personas in the same match during the 1998 Royal Rumble. Before all of that, Foley had been appearing on the independent scene and even WWE with a different, albeit similar moniker.
Suckas around the world take note and dig it: Booker T has been using the same name for decades, and it’s brought him great success around the wrestling world. At first, Booker was constantly teaming with his brother Stevie Ray with group names like Ebony Experience or more famously Harlem Heat. After that, Booker went solo and far eclipsed his brother with multiple runs as WCW and World Heavyweight Champion. Along the way, Vince Russo once tried to change Booker’s name to the original one he used, causing quite a ruckus.
Mainstream culture typically recognizes three types of godfathers: the real kind, leaders of the mafia, and stone cold pimps like the one in WWE. Of course, it took a while for the wrestling Godfather to find his true calling in the business, having suffered through a number of weak gimmicks before he struck gold. Most fans are aware of the Voodoo master Papa Shango, and Kama the Supreme Fighting Machine hasn’t fully faded away, either. However, Godfather is the only one that actually worked, with neither of those other two nor his original name making anyone money.
Whether he’s called The Ultimate Opportunist and Rated R Superstar, WWE superstar Edge has always possessed the quality his name evokes. Despite the way his character evolved throughout his career, Edge never once changed his name or considered doing so, even when some felt it may have helped legitimize him as a main eventer after years of dominating the tag division with Christian. There’s also the fact Edge doesn’t sound like a name in the first place, but compared to the one he was using when his career began, it seems entirely natural.
Arguably the biggest icon in wrestling history, at least in his own mind, Hulk Hogan is a name recognized by anyone ever to gaze inside a wrestling ring. The leader of Hulkamania took WWE from a relatively successful regional company into the biggest wrestling promotion around, with Vince McMahon pulling the strings, of course. Hogan had already come near doing the same for the AWA, and would later do it all over again in WCW, using variations incarnations of his most famous name. Chances are it never could have happened using the one he debuted with.
Cutting his enemies down with sharp wit and a unique move set, Razor Ramon oozed machismo in every sense of the expression (despite the fact only Vince McMahon has ever used it). Based on his charisma, Ramon fast took over the WWE Universe and won four Intercontinental Championships, all before heading down to WCW and changing the wrestling world forever by forming the nWo. At the peak of his career, Ramon went by his real name Scott Hall, much better than the silly one he was given when his career began.
Calling herself one of the first true divas in pro wrestling, Sunny was the perfect name for a bright and cheery personality all the male wrestlers would soon fawn over. Given the way Sunny looked, it’s not like a bad name would have stopped people from doing that, and she clearly had no trouble staying famous after WWE stopped hiring her and letting her use the one that made her famous. Things nonetheless may have been different had Sunny kept her original name and persona, a more pretentious character campaigning for women’s rights.
The Junkyard Dog
Back in the 1980s, there were few wrestlers quite as charismatic as The Junkyard Dog, who broke racial barriers by becoming an extremely popular star throughout the American south. That fame kept coming when The Dog headed towards the WWE Universe, as Vince McMahon had yet to decide renaming all incoming wrestlers would be a requirement for signing with him. This is probably a good thing, considering Junkyard Dog was a perfect name for the personality using it, as evidenced by how demure his career was before he discovered it.
Anyone described as a lunatic probably has a poor grasp on reality, and a guy like Dean Ambrose probably doesn’t much care what we call him. Quite frankly, the moniker he uses is pretty generic, hardly calling to mind the sort of mad chaos that happens when Ambrose gets inside the squared circle. Of course, that’s just the way it is in the WWE Universe today, and it’s not like the name he was using on the independent scene was any more evocative.
One more time, we’re not exactly sure what R-Truth means, at least not without thinking about his run in TNA, which it’s hard to picture WWE wanting us to do. While wrestling for that promotion, he called himself Ron “The Truth” Killings, using his real name and an insistence he was the only honest man in the business to fuel his character. Truth also did a whole lot better in TNA than in his current role, which would explain why he keeps referencing the good old days.
If puns happen to be your thing, chances are you also feel Paul Bearer’s wrestling name is one of the greatest in history. There’s no denying the simplistic brilliance in naming a funeral home director after the guys who bring the caskets out. On top of it all, William Moody, the man behind the character, was legitimately trained in mortuary sciences before entering the wrestling industry, perfectly suiting him for the role. However, being older than his most famous client, Bearer wouldn’t get his name for some time, using a different one prior to signing with WWE.
With bright red hair and an alternative rock inspired style, it didn’t matter what Lita called herself; people in the WWE Universe were going to notice her no matter what. Throw in the fact her debut appearance included a moonsault, something few women in wrestling had tried before, and fans were chanting Lita’s name the second they heard it. Interestingly, WWE didn’t even decide on the name Lita until after her debut match was filmed, adding it into the show during post-production. Oddly enough, this practice wasn’t unusual at the time, and quite common in ECW, where she used a different name.
For as silly as it was seeing him breathe fire while dressed as a lizard, there’s no better nickname for Ricky Steamboat than “The Dragon.” Sharp, quick, and able to take on opponents twice his size with ease, Steamboat is responsible for more than a few of the best matches in history. On top of that, he’s also considered one of the most pure babyfaces the industry has ever seen, making it almost impossible for fans to boo him. Many have noted his real name sounds perfectly suited for the ring, but it could be argued the truth sounds too suited for villainy, hence the change.
Architecting his success from day one, Seth Rollins was the first of his friends in the Shield to break through and become WWE Champion. Of course, that’s because he was one to turn his back on Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose to side with Triple H and the Authority, which could make anyone a star almost overnight. That said, Rollins was already well on his way to stardom before ever stepping inside a WWE ring, when he was dominating the indy scene under a different, somewhat darker name.
Inspired by his cousin Yokozuna, the wrestler formerly known as The Sultan and Headshrinker Fatu decided to bulk up a bit and name himself after a sumo wrestling term. Though he settled on Rikishi and later made the name famous, his character had almost nothing to do with sumo aside from the type of gear he wore. Rikishi’s most famous run also had little connection to his family, which is surprising considering The Sultan character, Fatu, and his initial moniker all did so in a direct manner.
Instantly recognized as one of the most frightening characters in wrestling history upon his WWE debut, it’s hard for long term wrestling fans to picture The Undertaker as anything other than the man from The Dark Side. Even when he was representing his homeland as “The American Bad Ass,” the name Undertaker seemed wholly appropriate for the destruction he was capable of causing. That said, Undertaker may have never visited a graveyard were it not for Vince McMahon, as he was using a much more generic name when his career began.
To this day, those who don’t follow wrestling probably think of the Police singer when they hear the name Sting. On the other hand, whether one is a fan of WCW, WWE, TNA, or NWA, the name calls to mind wrestling’s energetic and bombastic scorpion. While the Stinger evolved a whole lot during his time in the sun, going from a surfer to a more introspective warrior of justice, his name remained the same throughout most of it. The only time he used something other than Sting was way back in the beginning when he was teaming with The Ultimate Warrior.
To fans of the WWE Universe exclusively, Butch and Luke, The Bushwhackers, are one of the silliest and strangest duos ever to make a name for themselves in sports entertainment. Surprisingly, before they found employment with Vince McMahon, the Whackers were one of the most vicious and feared tag teams of their day. When calling themselves The Sheepherders, Butch and Luke were even considered progenitors of hardcore wrestling, known for bloody matches filled to the brim with violence. One thing that remained the same about them throughout was their New Zealand heritage, which influenced their first name.
The Iron Sheik
Spouting that Iran and/or Iraq were number 1 while USA was hock-tooey, The Iron Sheik was proud of his homeland above all else. The first Middle Eastern man to win the WWE Championship, Sheiky Baby was a technically proficient master of pro wrestling from his earliest days as an amateur wrestler in Tehran, only getting better when trained by Verne Gagne to go pro. Sheik has changed his name a number of times over the years, typically relating to his heritage in some way, and often referencing his real name along with whatever persona he was using.
The British Bulldog
Whenever a wrestler makes their mainstream debut as a member of a tag team, there’s a small chance they’ll never be able to succeed as a solo performer. The British Bulldog, formerly a member of The British Bulldogs alongside The Dynamite Kid, took one of the stranger methods in history at avoiding this problem. Once the Kid was entirely out of the picture, Bulldog stopped using the moniker he had been competing under, taking the name used by his team for his own. Naturally, The Dynamite Kid wasn’t too pleased, yet there was little he could do about it.
Billed from hell fire and brimstone, the name Kane is completely appropriate in describing the demonic monster who uses it. Well, at least in his original form as The Undertaker’s stronger, faster, younger brother that is. Quite frankly, the more corporate Kane has become over the years, the less appropriate his nom de guerre has felt. Standing as he does today in a suit and tie, maybe an earlier name like Isaac Yankem might sound more normal, and less ridiculous. We could also suggest the first name he used in the industry, though he may never have become a star with it.
He’s the face of WWE and the most popular wrestling superstar in the world today, and John Cena has used his real name en route to achieving that status. Sure, he also called himself the “Doctor of Thugonomics” and other fun nicknames along the way, yet the creed “Hustle. Loyalty. Respect.” has always been accurately associated with Cena. It’s a good thing Cena was able to come up with that catchphrase, too, since his early character’s suggestion he was “50% man, 50% machine, 100% mayhem” probably wasn’t going to cut it.
Sitting behind the announcing booth is probably one of the lowest intensity jobs someone in the pro wrestling industry can have. That said, it’s no easy task coming up with relevant, entertaining things to say over the course of a two or three hour broadcast, so Tazz and anyone in the same profession as him shouldn’t be discounted for their efforts. On top of that, about half the men and women at a given commentary table have probably been in the ring at one point or another, Tazz included, and he had a different name when he did.
Again, we find ourselves wondering what exactly Vince McMahon and Sean Waltman were thinking when they came up with the name “X-Pac.” The one part of it that makes sense is that X-Pac was reintroduced to the WWE Universe as a member of D-Generation X. Pac pretty much came out of nowhere, more an effort to make fans forget his humble beginnings as The 1-2-3 Kid than anything else. In fact, most of X-Pac’s early names related to his youthful appearance and unique at the time style, including the one he started with.
So big he looked like a van and wearing a contraption that made him look like Darth Vader, Leon White was given his most famous wrestling moniker immediately upon his arrival in Japan. While the full name “Big Van Vader” wouldn’t follow him everywhere, the last part of that moniker would, presenting a concept of destruction and villainy few other words could create. Early on in Vader’s career, he used an equally evocative moniker, albeit one that clearly wouldn’t work his entire life.
WWE Women’s Revolution be damned, some of the ladies in the company still have a long way to go in creating fully fleshed characters for themselves. Bayley is actually one of the wrestlers leading the charge, with her characterization as an always optimistic “hugger” revealing far more about her than any mere name ever could. Of course, a last name could go a long way in making her seem like a real person, and in this way, Bayley’s original ring name on the indy scene might be superior to her current one.
The Big Show
With all due respect to Vince McMahon and Paul Wight, what exactly does “The Big Show” mean, anyway? Sure, it works when describing a WWE Pay-Per-View or even television program, but for a human being, the name doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In any event, Big Show has managed to take the name all the way to the peak of WWE for decades now, and his massive size at least makes it a somehow fitting moniker. That said, if we’re going for accuracy, the name WCW gave him was a bit more apropos.
Not exactly a giant but still looking like a monster, Rhyno the wrestler chose the perfect animal to name himself after. A rhinoceros doesn’t necessarily immediately cause fear, unless of course it’s running at you with full force, which could make anyone terrified at the prospect of being gored, gored, gored. Fans of ECW know WWE forced him to make a minor change when making his debut in the mainstream, switching the “I” in his name to a “y.” Less common knowledge is that his name was even longer before making it to Philly.
Before the women’s wrestling revolution started changing how females in the sport are viewed, many ladies in the business had very simple names, including Terri. Also referred to as Marlena, the closest she ever came to having a last name in the WWE Universe was when the company acknowledged her real marriage to Goldust, taking his last name Runnels as her own. Terri’s stint down in WCW didn’t go much better in terms of success, but she was at least treated with a little more respect, and given a full name.
Still the largest WWE Champion in terms of weight to this day, the idea to give Yokozuna a gimmick inspired by sumo wrestling was one of Vince McMahon’s many brilliant decisions. Naming him after the highest rank in that sport was also an inspired move, regardless of how some fans feel about the man’s technical capabilities. Unfortunately, this might have contributed to Yokozuna’s downfall when his weight started getting out of control because of the gimmick. Granted, his earlier name was also size inspired, albeit perhaps better insofar as he wasn’t pretending to be Japanese.
Draped in black, seated in a corner, and talking like a Shakespearian poet, Raven was the perfectly named voice of his generation. Edgar Allen Poe’s dark opus “The Raven” inspired countless teenagers into a melancholy state, the same feeling Raven the wrestler regularly accomplished in his speeches and matches. In contrast to all this, before Raven became Raven, he was a far more colorful, light-headed personality, and his ring names regularly reflected it. WCW called him Scotty Flamingo and WWE tried Johnny Polo, while the man himself chose an equally flashy moniker before getting mainstream.
Surviving through hard times to become NWA Champion on three separate occasions, Dusty Rhodes in every way embodied the “American Dream” persona he used during his days in the ring. Proudly boasting that he wined and dined with kings and queens, but not until he already slept in allies eating pork and beans, Rhodes was the everyman who had more than a small taste of greatness. He also possessed a considerable amount of charisma, which overrode any of his technical shortcomings. One thing he didn’t have until Gary Hart suggested one was a name, using something less memorable until they crossed paths.
One of the few men to become both WWE and WCW Champion, Kevin Nash has an extra special distinction as one of only two people who achieved this feat using different names in the two organizations. Nash used his own name when conquering WCW and ending Goldberg’s streak, but back in WWE he was inspired by the power of a Mack truck to start calling himself Diesel. Neither of them were the first name he used in the industry, however, kicking things off in a tag team that almost killed his career on day one.
When a man covers himself from head to toe in a single color, it’s fair to say he’s a fan of that particular shade. Should he also change his name from whatever it was to Goldust, chances are he’s off his rocker entirely. Of course, the one place this sort of behavior is almost acceptable would be the WWE Universe, where Goldust has managed to fit in quite well over the past two decades. Vince McMahon wasn’t Goldust’s first employer, though, and the man who was had a different name in mind for him.
The mere fact a wrestler had a career before getting signed by NXT or the WWE Performance Center doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve entered the mainstream as fully formed characters. Take for example Sasha Banks, who grew from a relatively nondescript albeit talented worker to one of the most charismatic females in the game today. Minor as it was, a big part of her development was picking a flashier name than her original one. Sure, it was based on Sasha’s real name, but it wasn’t going to take her to the bank.
The man best known as “Psycho” Sid Vicious has gone through a lot of names throughout his career. Most of his names are based around his real one, Sid, with various surnames and adjectives used depending on the phase of his career we’re discussing. Vicious in particular came from a stint in Japan when he was known as The Vicious Warrior, while Justice was a WWE attempt at making him a good guy upon arrival. Before it all, though, he went a much different route, inspired by the villain in a classic film.
Named after the beautiful material used in construction and art, Ivory’s name followed a fairly common pattern in wrestling at the time. While her name evoked a certain sense of fragility, the 3-time WWE Women’s Champion was anything but. Though not quite as imposing as Chyna, Ivory was nonetheless a vicious character in her own right, more famous for her incredible work on the microphone than what she accomplished in the ring. This isn’t too shocking, as her original intention was to be an actress, and one of her first roles was wrestling for GLOW.
Riding limousines, flying in Learjet’s, stealing kisses, wheeling and dealing, and always styling and profiling, the name Ric Flair evokes all the same qualities as his nickname “The Nature Boy.” Throw in the fact that his real name, Richard Fliehr, sounds almost exactly the same, and it would be reasonable to guess he’s been using his famous moniker for his entire career. While Flair has indeed used the name virtually his whole career, he briefly considered using something different at the very beginning, honoring one of his inspirations.
Injury can strike down a wrestler at any point in their career, and Becky Lynch nearly suffered that fate before ever getting a real shot in the business. Prior to her current stint in the WWE Universe, Lynch already experienced a full career in her native Europe all under a different name. Though still using her Irish heritage as a badge of honor, the Becky Lynch of yesteryear was a lot different than she is today, having improved immensely during her time in NXT.
Ooooh yeah! The term “Macho Man” is so synonymous with Randy Savage he managed to make the entire wrestling community forget about the silly Village People song that made it famous. Even without his nickname, the kayfabe surname of Savage was incredibly evocative in and of itself, implying Randy was wild, fast, and out of control, all entirely accurate descriptions. While it was Randy’s father who got him his first wrestling job, it was actually his mom who suggested the new name, perhaps because his original idea wasn’t viable in the mainstream.
In contrast to the incredible popularity of the man they gave it to, WWE couldn’t have come up with a more generic name than Daniel Bryan. Granted, his real name being Bryan Danielson, it’s easy to figure out where they had the inspiration. Perhaps they even would have let him keep using his real name had it not been part of his indie wrestler persona, the shortened moniker more about branding than anything else. That said, Bryan was also able to come up with a pretty great ring name before he started using his real one.
André The Giant
Imposing in every sense of the word, the name André The Giant perfectly encapsulates the wrestler who used it. Given that he was born André Roussimoff, it was also a pretty basic description, so it would be easy to assume he used the moniker for his entire career. While André did indeed go by his most famous name for much of his time in America, the man became a star in his native France and all throughout Europe before he ever crossed the pond. Back then, he used a more fitting name, which his audience would better understand.