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A ring name is a type of stage name used by an athlete such as a professional wrestler, mixed martial artist, or boxer whose real name is considered unattractive, dull, difficult to pronounce or spell, amusing for the wrong reasons, or projecting the wrong image. Since the advent of the Internet, it is relatively easy to discover the real name.
Ring names are more common in professional wrestling than any other sport; famous examples include Michael Shawn Hickenbottom becoming Shawn Michaels, Roderick Toombs becoming Roddy Piper, Dwayne Johnson becoming The Rock, Christopher Irvine becoming Chris Jericho, and Michael Coulthard becoming Michael Cole. A number of wrestlers adopted their real name or a variation of it, sometimes modifying the spelling to better fit their gimmick, such as Dave Bautista becoming Batista (later reverting to his real name for his Hollywood acting career), Patricia Stratigeas becoming Trish Stratus, and Richard Fliehr becoming Ric Flair. Others simply use part of their name, such as Bill Goldberg using Goldberg, Nicole Garcia-Colace using Nikki Bella, Mike Mizanin using The Miz, Cody Runnels using Cody (later reverting to his original ring name of Cody Rhodes after securing the rights), and Michael Wardlow using Wardlow. Many female wrestlers go solely by their first name, while many male and female wrestlers also use a nickname in addition to their real name for marketability and other reasons.
Some (mostly independent) wrestlers still go to great lengths to ensure that their real names are not publicly known. It is a highly respected tradition in Mexican lucha libre for performers to hide their true identities, usually wrestling under masks, and revealing a luchador's identity without their permission is considered a serious offence with real-life consequences. Professional wrestlers are often referred to by their contemporaries by their ring name. In interviews, Bret Hart regularly referred to Mark Calaway, Curt Hennig, and Kevin Nash by their ring names (The Undertaker, Mr. Perfect, and Diesel). Ring names are often trademarked by the promotion that creates a character or gimmick for a performer. It is common to see one performer use a variety of ring names throughout their career, even if their overall persona remains similar. This is especially true in WWE, which has largely forced most wrestlers that have debuted since 2006 to use a WWE-owned ring name instead of a ring name that they used on the independent circuit or, such as with Daniel Bryan and a few others, their real name. One notable exception was made for David Otunga because of his real marriage to singer Jennifer Hudson at the time, which gave WWE some mainstream exposure.
Low Ki used a ring name specifically for his second TNA stint so that he would continue to hold on to his original ring name for elsewhere. Another example is the team known as The Dudley Boyz in ECW and WWE and Team 3D elsewhere. WWE trademarked the "Dudley Boyz" name, leading them to have to change their name when they went to TNA. The members' individual names were also trademarked by WWE, forcing them to have to change their names. WWE partially repealed the policy in 2015, allowing wrestlers who were well known in other promotions such as Samoa Joe, A.J. Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Austin Aries, Bobby Roode, and Eric Young to use their long-standing ring names (or, in Nakamura and Roode's cases, their real names) as well as wrestlers who sign "Tier 2" NXT brand contracts such as Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, who wrestle both on NXT and the independent circuit to keep their ring names (or, in Gargano's case, his real name). Gargano and Ciampa have since signed exclusive WWE contracts. "In-house" WWE wrestlers still use WWE-owned ring names.
In rare cases, the rights to a wrestler's ring name may be owned by a company with little or no connection to professional wrestling, such as Marvel Comics' ownership of the name Hulk Hogan until early 2003, which was due to Hogan being advertised as "The Incredible Hulk Hogan" early in his career, while Marvel owned the trademark for their comic book character. Sometimes, a wrestler will buy the rights to their own ring name; for example, Steve Borden owns the rights to the name Sting and licenses it to the musician of the same name. The wrestler formerly known as Test took this one step further and legally changed his name to Andrew Test Martin. Jim Hellwig, known as The Ultimate Warrior, had his name legally changed to simply "Warrior".
In many cases, ring names evolve over time as the wrestler's gimmick changes, either subtly or dramatically. After debuting in WWE as the "Connecticut Blueblood" Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Paul Levesque's character later morphed into Triple H. A more drastic change sometimes occurs when a wrestler turns heroic or villainous, such as when Hulk Hogan joined the villainous nWo and became Hollywood Hogan. His new attitude was enhanced by changing his costume color scheme from his famous red and yellow to nWo's black and white. Steve Williams would later become famous as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, but he had initially taken the ring name of "The Ringmaster" when he joined the wrestling world in the late 1980s as there was already a "Dr. Death" Steve Williams.
Many boxers have used ring names as their mode of identification during their professional boxing careers, particularly more so during the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Some began with the prefix "Kid". Famous examples include:
- Kid Azteca
- Kid Chocolate
- Kid Diamond
- Kid Gavilan
- Kid Meza
- Jack Kid Berg
- Jersey Joe Walcott
- Joey Giardello
- Rocky Marciano
- Tony DeMarco
- Jake LaMotta
- In Japan, sumo wrestlers use a ring name called shikona (Japanese: 四股名 or 醜名). Other martial artists use 'martial names' or 'warrior names' called Bugō.
- In Mexico and Puerto Rico, lucha libre wrestlers use ring names and conceal their identities with masks.
- In Latin America, boxers often use nicknames alongside their real names, and both may be used each time they are introduced. Examples include Wilfred "El Radar" Benitez, Wilfredo "Bazooka" Gomez, and Alexis "El Flaco Explosivo" Argüello.
- In Thailand, both professional boxers and Muay Thai kickboxers tend to use the last name as their stable or gym, for example Khaosai Galaxy, Khaokor Galaxy, Sot Chitalada, Samart Payakaroon, Kongtoranee Payakaroon, Namphon Nongkee Pahuyuth, Namkabuan Nongkee Pahuyuth, Ratanapol Sor Vorapin, Ratanachai Sor Vorapin, Saen Sor Ploenchit, Chatchai Singwangcha, Saman Sorjaturong, Veeraphol Nakornlouang Promotion, Nawaphon Nakornloung Promotion. Also, in the latter, the names of supporters have been introduced (mostly brands of various products, and these names can change depending on the brand of the product they sponsor) to be used as last names as well, for example Samson Dutch Boy Gym, Yodsanan 3-K Battery, Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, Teerachai Kratingdaenggym, Knockout CP Freshmart etc.
- Windsor, William (23 February 2019). "What's In A Ring Name? A Look At WWE's Evolving Approach To Superstars' Names". www.wrestlinginc.com. Retrieved 17 August 2019.