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Dante Hitner and 17 Other Athletes Who Changed Their Names

by: Esteban On  Monday, October 7, 2013

athletes who changed their names

After the 49ers’ week 4 destruction of the Rams, the NFL hit San Francisco safety Donte Whitner with a hefty $20,000 fine for what they deemed was an illegal hit on St. Louis receiver Chris Givens. As you would expect, Whitner wasn’t very happy about this, so he did what anyone in his situation would do: he created a t-shirt with the hashtag #LegalHitner on it and put it up for sale on the Internet. Then he also announced on Twitter that he would officially be dropping the W from his last name so that, from now on, he’ll just be Donte Hitner—because I guess he liked the ring of it.

Of course, the name change hasn’t been made official yet, and even when (or if) it does, it will take a while for the new name to get on his jersey. Still, it’s a pretty interesting move on (W)hitner’s part, and if he does go through with it he’ll be joining a pretty small group of athletes who have changed their names over the years.

Athletes like who, you ask? Well, that’s what this list is for. Click on those arrows to get started.

17. Ervin Santana

ervin santana - athletes who changed their names

Ervin’s original given name? Johan. The problem with being Johan Santana? Being confused with the other Johan Santana—you know, the one with the two Cy Youngs and the $137 million contract.

For that reason, the current Royals and former Angels pitcher decided to change his name while in the minors back in 2003. Unfortunately he went with Ervin instead of something sweet like Santino or Sergio.


16. Jose Uribe

jose uribe - athletes who changed their names

The late Jose Uribe acquired the nickname “ultimate player to be named later” in 1985. While playing for the Cardinals under the his given name, Jose Gonzalez, the team made a trade with the Giants. St. Louis got Jack Clark, and San Francisco got a three guys and “a player to be named later.” Then, between the time of the initial trade and his delivery to the Giants as the mystery player, Jose decided to start using his mother’s maiden name, Uribe, because he said there were “too many Gonzalezes” in baseball. So he really was “named later.”


15. Marvelous Marvin Hagler

marvelous marvin hagler - athletes who changed their names

Marvin Hagler was the undisputed middleweight boxing champion of the world from 1980 to 1987. That’s pretty good. However, everyone’s favorite boxer of the era, and the one who got the most media attention, was Sugar Ray Leonard. So in 1982 he legally changed his first name to Marvelous, thus forcing people in the press to praise him every time they wrote about him. (Unless they cleverly put “not-so-” before the Marvelous, which is what I would have done just to piss him off.)


14. Mike Danton

mike danton - athletes who changed their names

Yep, that’s right. The guy who went to jail because he hired somebody to kill his agent changed his name. But not after his legal troubles. No, he’s still Mike Danton today. He changed his name before he even made it to the NHL. After becoming estranged from his family (obviously, Mike was a confused, messed up kid) he changed his name from Jefferson to Danton because he thought it sounded cool.


13. Maurice Jones-Drew

Maurice-Jones-Drew - athletes who changed their names

Maurice was given the last name of his mother, Andrea Drew. However, he was actually raised by his grandmother and grandfather, Maurice and Christina Jones. And when his grandfather died of a heart-attack while watching Maurice play for UCLA in the Rose Bowl in 2005, Maurice decided to honor his grandfather by adopting his last name.


12. J.B. Holmes

j.b. holmes - athletes who changed their names

Did you know there is a famous male porn star named John Holmes? Well, there is. And apparently the pro golfer of the same name didn’t like the association (imagine if his dates tried to Google him?), so in 2006 he started going by his initials, J.B.


11. Rudi Galindo

rudi galindo - athletes who changed their names

As you can tell, Mr. Galindo has a flare for the dramatic. It’s no surprise, then, that when he was the pairs partner of the great Kristi Yamaguchi, Rudy changed the spelling of his name to Rudi just to match.


10. Boof Bonser

boof bonser - athletes who changed their names

This journeyman pitcher was given the name John Paul Bonser by his parents. However, apparently they and everybody else called him Boof (which makes him sound super smart, no?) and in 2001 he decided to join the “pitchers with weird names club” and legally change his name.

These days, in case you were wondering, you can find Boof in the unemployment line. He recently got released from his AAA contract with the Indians.


9. J.R. Sakuragi

j.r. sakuragi - athletes who changed their names

As J.R. Henderson, this basketball forward won a National Championship with UCLA in 1995 and went on to play for the Grizzlies. Then, when the whole NBA thing didn’t pan out, he went over to Japan and found success. Unfortunately, Japanese sports fans really don’t like foreign players that much, so Henderson couldn’t pull in the big bucks and couldn’t get on the Japanese National Team, despite becoming a naturalized citizen. So what did he do? He decided to go all-in and change his name to Sakuragi. Now he’s totally Japanese.


8. Bobby Ryan

bobby ryan - athletes who changed their names

This one is a little crazy. Rising NHL star Bobby Ryan, now with the Ottawa Senators, was born Bobby Stevenson. However, his dad, Shane Stevenson, got into trouble with the law for beating his wife, Bobby’s mom, in the late 90s. So he fled New Jersey and changed his name to Shane Ryan. Then his (forgiving) wife and son met up with him, changed their names, and moved to California.

Eventually the police caught up with Shane Ryan, and he pled guilty to assault. But the name Ryan stuck. Hence Bobby Ryan, and not Bobby Stevenson, plays for the Sens.


7. Chad Ochocinco

chad ochocinco - athletes who changed their names

Always the showman, then-Bengals receiver Chad Johnson decided to change his name to the Spanish words for his number, 85, back in 2006. Of course, “Ochocinco” is actually just “eight five” in Spanish. Eighty-five would be “ochenta y cinco.” But I guess Johnson thought “Ochentaycinco” was too much of a mouthful.


6. World B. Free


No, this was not some political statement. You see, former NBA guard Lloyd B. Free had acquired the nickname “All-World” because of his impressive vertical leap, so in 1980, while playing with the Golden State Warriors, he decided to chisel this awesome moniker in stone by legally changing his first name from Lloyd to World.

Clever, right?


5. Metta World Peace

metta world peace - athletes who changed their names

Some time after the famous 2004 “Malice in the Palace—the epic brawl between the Pacers and Pistons that ended up in the stands and earned him a 73-game suspension—the basketball player formerly known as Ron Artest decided to turn over a new leaf. That included changing his name to Metta World Peace, which he said “was meant to inspire and bring youth together all around the world.”

Of course, he’s still doing stuff like this.


4. Mark Super Duper


When your last name is Duper and you are really good at something—anything—it’s a given that people are going to call you Super Duper.

Such was the case with former Dolphins wide receiver Mark Duper. As the favorite target of Dan Marino, he caught a lot of passes and racked up a lot of yards in his 11-year career, earning the nickname Super. And in 1985 he made the name official by legally adding it as his middle name.


3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

kareem abdul-jabbar - athletes who changed their names

Before he was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history, he was Lewis Alcindor. Actually, he was Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, but he went by Lew. In fact, it was as Lew Alcindor that he won his first NBA MVP award in 1971. After that he converted to Islam and changed his name to Kareem.


2. Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar

abdul-karim al-jabbar - athletes who changed their names

Born Sharmon Shah, this former Dolphins running back converted to Islam in college, and supposedly his Imam gave him the name Karim Abdul-Jabbar because he thought it suited him, and not at all because there was a really famous basketball player with the same name. Believable? Well, maybe…if Karim Abdul-Jabbar didn’t also choose to wear the #33 when he got to the NFL. Sure, he said it was in honor of Cowboys great Tony Dorsett, but come one, we’re not stupid.

Neither, it turns out, is the real Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He sued the younger Karim in 1998, arguing that he was using his name and fame to make money, and the court took his side. As a result, the football player originally known as Sharmon changed his name to Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar, wearing just “Abdul” on his jersey.


1. Muhammad Ali

muhammad ali - athletes who changed their names

Ah yes, Muhammad Ali. His change from Cassius Clay in the mid-60s certainly isn’t the weirdest in the history of sports, but it certainly was a huge deal at the time and is the most notable, given that he’s probably the greatest boxer of all-time and a beloved figure around the world.