What’s in a pro wrestling name? That’s a question that gets asked every time an independent favorite gets put through the wringer, deloused of all his/her trappings, and given a new appellation by the NXT Name Generator. It happened with Antonio Cesaro, Kassius Ohno, Luke Harper, Adrian Neville, and now, the process turned El Generico into Sammy Sane. Most of these names have left fans a bit underwhelmed.
Maybe it’s the old school fan in me, but I’ve always dug the aesthetic of names from the ’80s and early ’90s, pre-gimmick age. Yeah, nostalgia is a dangerous drug and all, but listening to Episode 37 of the Wrestling Culture podcast made a good point. Wrestling used to have awesome names like Crusher Blackwell, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Superstar Graham, Andre the Giant, and even Mongo McMichael (great name, awful wrestler). The real charm of these names wasn’t in the first name/surname combination. That’s a crapshoot. There isn’t a whole lot of difference between, say, Rick Martel and Daniel Bryan.
But I can’t help but wonder how much more memorable some of these guys today would be if they had nicknames or ostentatious first names that really weren’t first names as much as they were descriptors. Wade Barrett is nice, but what if he were named Knuckles Barrett? I mean, it all begins with the presentation, right? It would be nice if the guy actually styled himself in the ring like a bare knuckles brawler too, but that’s a whole other post. What if they emphasized a nickname like “Show Off” for Dolph Ziggler? Instead of just saying he steals the show, or instead of making those two words as a one-off catchphrase, why not announce him as “Show Off” Dolph Ziggler?
There’s evidence that it works, both in wrestling and in other fields similar to it. Brodus Clay, for example, is a very kid-friendly wrestler, and a lot of that has to do with his presentation and nickname, the “Funkasaurus.” That’s not the only thing that endears him to young’uns, but it’s a good entree. The other examples can be found for more mature audiences in MMA. While in most cases, it’s inadvisable to compare the two, a lot of the presentation elements are the same. MMA promoters and fighters, within UFC in particular, have taken a lot of cues from pro wrestling in how to promote and present. It’s no surprise that nicknames are such parts of fighters’ personae. Rampage Jackson, Shogun Rua, Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell, and Jon “Bones” Jones are all examples of guys who give off larger than life auras due to the extra pomp around their names.
Tom Holzerman is a lifelong wrestling fan and connoisseur of all things Chikara Pro, among other feds. When he’s not writing for the Camel Clutch Blog, you can find him on his own blog, The Wrestling Blog.