Maria Sharapova's name change brings back memories of other sportstars doing the same

Los Angeles Lakers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1982 NBA Finals

By now, you must have heard of Maria Sharapova legally changing her name to Maria Sugarpova, to promote her brand with the same name. The name change is part of a carefully constructed marketing strategy to grab more eyeballs for her brand of candies called Sugarpova.

But as bizarre as it may sound, this isn’t the first instance of an athlete legally changing names. History is littered with instances of sportstars changing names; some for business and marketing reasons, some for religious reasons and some because they simply could.

10) Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor/Kareem Abdul Jabbar

For basketball enthusiasts, Kareem Abdul Jabbar is someone who needs no introduction. He is the all-time leading NBA scorer with 38,387 points, a 6-time NBA MVP and was part of 6 NBA Championship winning teams. Arguably the greatest basketball player ever, Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis “Lew” Alcindor.

Lew Alcindor, as he was called then, boycotted the 1968 Olympics by refusing to join the US Men’s Basketball team for the Olympics. His reason for boycotting the Games was to protest the unequal treatment of African-Americans in the United States.

Following his Milwaukee Bucks‘ 1971 NBA Championship win, Alcindor converted to Islam and legally changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar, which roughly translates to “the noble servant of God.”

9) Marvin Hagler/Marvelous Marvin Hagler

Marvin Hagler 1987 Photo Shoot

Marvin Hagler will go down in boxing history as one of the best ever, of that there is no doubt. Between 1980 and 1987, Hagler was the Undisputed World Middleweight Champion, and till date holds the highest KO (Knock Out) percentage at 78%.

But there was something that was annoying Hagler, and that was the commentators and network announcers not referring to him by his nickname “Marvelous”.

So, to solve this particular annoyance, Hagler decided to legally change his name to Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1982.

8) Lloyd Bernard Free/World B.Free

Golden State Warriors vs. Boston Celtics

Lloyd Bernard Free was an NBA player between 1975 and 1988, playing for Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors among others. He had a very flamboyant playing style, full of high risk shots and outrageous dunks.

It was this particular playing style of his that led to his friends nicknaming him “World”, for his 44-inch vertical jumps and ability to shoot from any corner of the court.

In 1981, Free did what every person desires – he dropped his first name and started using his nickname “World”, kept Bernard as his middle name and in the process created the coolest name ever – World B. Free.

What a legend!

7) Sharmon Shah/Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar

Karim Abdul-Jabbar Dolphins

Yes, you read that right. The man pictured above is NOT the famous NBA player and no. 10 on our list, Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

No, the man in the image above is Abdul Karim al-Jabbar. The story of how he came to be Abdul Karim al-Jabbar is quite intriguing.

Sharmon Shah was his birth name and he shot to fame on the back of his success as a running back for UCLA in the early 90s. Shah would often wear the no. 33 jersey, so that was another thing that he shared with Jabbar, the NBA star, apart from also being from UCLA.

Following the advice of his Imam, Shah changed his name to Karim Abdul Jabbar. Needless to say, this irked Kareem Abdul Jabbar the NBA star, who demanded that Shah change his name so as not to profit from using Abdul Jabbar’s name. The NBA star even went as far as to sue Shah for using his name illegally.

Following the lawsuit, Shah changed his name to Abdul, and then again to Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar.

So, Sharmon Shah briefly became Karim Abdul Jabbar, which was changed to Abdul and finally became Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar. Quite a tale, huh?

6) Peter Janson/NGK Janson

Peter Janson

According to Australian motorsport rules, drivers were only allowed to have their name on the sun visor strip on top of the windscreen. Peter Janson, one of the drivers, was approached by a spark plug manufacturing company, called NGK, who said that they wanted Janson to carry their name on his car.

So, when the organisers approached Janson and informed him that he would need to take down the “NGK Janson” printed on his windscreen, Janson promptly showed them the deed poll, a legal document used for changing names. Sure enough, Peter Janson had been officially changed to NGK Janson, and the organisers had no choice but to allow Janson to race. And thus, the sponsors and NGK Janson laughed their way to the bank!

5) Ron Artest/Metta World Peace

Los Angeles Lakers v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Five

Ron Artest was a successful NBA player with a bright future ahead of him. He had everything that a man could desire. But there was something missing, something that he couldn’t put his finger on.

In September 2011, Artest had a breakthrough with his problem of not having enough of a charmed life. The solution? A cool name. Ron Artest was apparently not enough of a cool name for him, so he legally changed it to Metta World Peace.

“Metta” is a Buddhist word which roughly translates to friendship and/or kindness, which is pretty ironic considering what happened in the infamous brawl between players and fans of Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons.

Artest was at the center of the altercation and for his part in the brawl, he was suspended for 86 games – the longest suspension for an on-court incident in NBA history.

Still, he got what he wanted. A pretty cool name.


4) Greg White/Stylez G. White

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL player Greg White changed his name to Stylez G. White in 2008. It wasn’t for religious or business reasons, but for personal reasons. You see, White loved a particular character in a cult movie titled “Teen Wolf” so much that he decided he wanted the same name as well.

This was either a desperate attempt for cheap publicity, or one man’s love for a movie character gone too far. You be the judge of that.

3) Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali

Former world heavyweight champion Muhamm

The sportsmen who have appeared on our list so far changed their names for a variety of reasons; some to make a quick buck, others because they were bored with what they had.

Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali because he joined the Nation of Islam in 1964, so in that respect this is perhaps the most high profile name change in sport history. A number of broadcasters refused to accept Clay’s change of name and religion, but who’s to say Ali’s new name did not help him in becoming one of the most iconic sportsmen of all time?

Cassius Clay is pretty solid name for a boxer, but Muhammad Ali is just that bit better.

2) Garry Hocking/Whiskas

Garry Hocking aka Whiskas

In the late 90s, Geelong Cats, an Aussie Rules Football team, were in heavy debt and needed a miracle to salvage the club from administration.

Enter club captain Garry Hocking. Hocking agreed take up a sponsorship offer from Whiskas, the cat food maker that promised to help the team in their dark times. As part of the deal, Hocking, for a brief period, legally changed his name via deed poll to Whiskas, so as to lessen the financial burden on his team.

1) Chad Johnson/Chad Ochocinco/Chad Johnson

Washington Redskins v Cincinnati Bengals

Chad Johnson was an NFL wide receiver playing for the Cincinnati Bengals in late 2006. His favoured shirt number was 85, so in honour of Hispanic Heritage month, Johnson decided he would like to be called Chad Ochocino, as Ochocinco in Spanish means “eight five”. Johnson also put a label bearing the words “Ocho Cinco” on his shirt instead of the usual C.Johnson, a stunt for which he was fined $5000.

In 2008, Johnson decided to legally change his name to Chad Javon Ochocinco.

But that’s not all. In 2009, Ochocinco revealed to his fans that he was going to change his name once again, this time to “Hachi Go”. “Hachi Go” is Japanese for eight five, just as Ochocinco was Spanish for eight five. Mercifully, Ochocinco did not go ahead with the name change.

In 2012, Ochocinco moved to the Miami Dolphins and legally changed his name to back to Chad Johnson. The reason for this backtracking? He wanted to “reconnect with his former self”.

So there you have it. Chad Johnson to Chad Ochocinco to almost Chad Hachi Go, and all the way back to Chad Johnson.

Notable Mentions

Snooker player Jimmy White for becoming Jimmy Brown to reflect the colour of his sponsor, HP Sauce’s product.

Pakistan cricketer Yousuf Youhana changing his name to Mohammad Yousuf after converting to Islam.

NFL Player Mark Dupas changing his middle and last name to Mark Super Duper, presumably in the hopes of becoming awesome.

Players and managers of Farnborough FC changing their names to iconic football players and managers.