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The best (and worst) name changes in sport

Alex Perry
August 16, 2013
All of Farnborough FC's players will play under a new moniker this season © PA Photos

After the recent stories of the newly-branded Hull City Tigers and Paddy Power paying Farnborough FC's players to change their names to those of the greatest to every grace the game (and John Terry), ESPN's Alex Perry delves into the archives to find some more of the best - and worst - name changes in sport history.

Show me the money!

Paddy Power have previous in this domain, swelling the bank balance of Tongan rugby star Epi Taione in return for changing his name to, you guessed it, Paddy Power for the 2007 World Cup.

The first example of a player changing their name in return for bucketloads of cash is believed to be in 1998, when Aussie Rules footballer Garry Hocking changed his name by deed poll to Whiskas as part of Geelong Football Club's promotion with the cat food company. As if you don't get the snot kicked out of you enough on the "footy" field...

A bit closer to home, who could forget Jimmy White briefly re-naming himself Jimmy Brown? Not in tribute to his favourite soul singer, but as part of a deal with HP Sauce at the 2005 World Snooker Championship.

Football pundit Chris Kamara also got in on the act, changing his name to Chris Cabanga for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa after a Facebook campaign - and a bucketload of cash from Texaco.

Jimmy Brown, nee White, even donned a brown waistcoat as part of his sponsorship deal © Getty Images

California dreamin'

Sports teams in the US are franchises, and every fan lives in fear that one day their favourite side could just up sticks and move to the other side of the country.

It happened in 1957, when thousands of New Yorkers woke up to find their baseball team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, had relocated to California and re-named the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Three years later, LA was up to its tricks again when it poached the Minnesota Lakers basketball team from Minneapolis. Bizarrely, the 'Lakers' suffix was retained, despite the name coming from Minnesota being known as the 'Land of 10,000 Lakes'.

And, to complete the hat-trick, NFL side Oakland Raiders moved 400 miles south in 1982 to become the LA Raiders. This move proved far less successful, though, and 13 years later owner Al Davis moved the Raiders back to Oakland.

You could not dream of such scandals here in jolly old England, could you? It is unfathomable to me that my beloved Torquay United would move to Milton Keynes and be re-branded the MK Gulls…

How to distance yourself from the sordid underworld

American golfer John Holmes was once asked why he had changed his name to JB Holmes. "You guys oughta be able to figure that out," he replied in his thick southern drawl.

A quick Google search (do not do this on your work computer) will tell you that John Holmes was a famous adult film star with a reported 3,000 notches on his bed post. We wonder if he would have done the same if his name was Tiger...

Lloyd B. a touch egotistical

NBA star Lloyd Free was given the nickname 'World' for his ability to score from almost anywhere on the court - or 'around the world' as our American cousins call it. So, naturally, Free decided to legally adopt the handle, christening himself Lloyd B. Free. "That's what people were calling me anyway," he said. They weren't.

The B, it turns out, stands for his middle name, Bernard, and not the far more suitable option that I was thinking of…

Don Bradman's son, John (left), with his children Tom and Greta and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard © Getty Images

Fooling the masses

John Bradman, the son of Australia's finest ever cricketer, was sick of living under the pressure of his name. To avoid oppressive media and public attention he changed it in 1972.

"I'm tired of people 'discovering' who I am. I'm me," Bradman, then 32, wrote in a newspaper column before getting slightly more philosophical.

"I am no longer prepared to accept being seriously introduced as simply someone's son," he added. "I'm an individual, not a social souvenir.

"I was popped into a metaphorical glass cage to be peered at and discussed like the other exhibits."

Strong views. So what did he go for? John Smith? John Jones? John Taylor? Nope. The entirely cryptic John Bradsen. That'll fool 'em!

Home sweet [sponsor name] home

Stadium sponsorship is commonplace in all sports - and there are so many ground names around the world which raise an eyebrow or two.

When Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley re-branded St James' Park as the far catchier @ St James' Park Stadium, there was a backlash among the Toon faithful. Understandably so. Thankfully, those good honest chaps at Wonga - Newcastle's shirt sponsor - heroically took over the stadium rights and changed it back to good ol' SJP.

In the lower leagues, Nestle Rowntree saved York City from extinction before, presumably as a joke, re-naming Bootham Crescent as the KitKat Crescent in 2005. Slightly catchier than the Fruit Pastilles Crescent, we suppose.

Moving in the other direction, meanwhile, is the Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadion in Graz. Named after the bodybuilder turned actor turned politician, who was born near the Austrian city, the stadium is now known as the far more sensible UPC Arena.

But you need to head to the States for some of the best names, like Dick's Sporting Goods Park, home of MLS side Colorado Rapids, Pittsburgh Steelers' Heinz Field and FC Dallas's ground Pizza Hut Park.

Getting shirty

Remember footballer Paul Gascoigne? Remember how we all used to call him Gazza and worship the grass on which he which he would effortlessly dance past defenders? Such grand memories. Remember when he tried to change his name to G8, combining his initial and former England squad number? Announcing his new moniker on television, Gascoigne said: "I quite fancy G8. Watch this space, because it stands for great as well." He probably gave up on the new name when he realised it doesn't stand for that at all.

Stateside, former New England Patriots wide receiver Chad Johnson changed his surname to Ochocinco - the Spanish pronunciation of his squad number, 85. When asked why, he replied: "Have I ever had a reason for why I do what I do? I'm having fun." Scanning over the guy's Wikipedia page suggests he is no stranger to controversy. The NFL's Mario Balotelli, if you will.

Moulding the Clay

Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali is probably the most well-known name change in sporting history. Clay was initially refused entry to the Nation of Islam due to the nature of his job. However, muslim minister Malcolm X recruited Clay when he won the world title in 1964. He changed his first name to Muhammad - meaning 'one who is worthy of praise' - and his second name to Ali - 'rightly guided caliph'. Weeks later, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam and his friendship with Ali ended.

Frankly, it all sounds like an elaborate WWE storyline…

Getting a slice of the action at Pizza Hut Park © Getty Images

Simply Marvelous

Sticking with boxing, undisputed world middleweight champion for most of the 1980s Marvin Hagler was so fed up with announcers forgetting to use his nickname when announcing him to the ring, he decided to force their hand by changing his name by deed poll to Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

The elaborate sickie

For club cricketers, bunking off work to don the whites down on the village green is far from rare. But when it happened at first class level back in 1919, the anticipated media coverage forced Somerset batsman Sydney Rippon to play under the pseudonym S Trimnell - his grandmother's initial and surname. It is a fantastic tale, which I highly recommend you read in full at ESPNcricinfo.

Alex Perry is assistant editor of and tweets at @AlexPerryESPN

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