22 Famous (and Infamous) Name Changes in Sports and Hip Hop History



There are a number of reasons why a celebrity has changed their name. The stage name could be easier to pronounce. Maybe the stage name is cooler than the given name. Or the new name is paying homage to someone who has influenced that person. Whatever the reason, it’s a common occurrence in the sports and hip hop worlds for a person to change their birth name to the name that we come to know them by.

Here are some of the most famous and infamous name changes ever in sports and hip hop.

Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr. to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


The basketball legend not only led UCLA to three national titles between 1967 and 1969, he was also named Most Valuable Player six times and six-time NBA champion. He changed his name after converting to Islam.

Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. to Muhammad Ali


The “The Greatest” captured the gold medal in the 1960 Olympics in Rome and won the world title on three separate occasions. He changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964.

Earvin Johnson to Magic Johnson


The 12 time NBA All-Star was first dubbed “Magic” by Fred Stabley Jr., a sports writer for the Lansing State Journal, after the 15-year-old sophomore recorded a triple-double of 36 points, 18 rebounds, and 16 assists.

Walker Smith to Sugar Ray Robinson


Word is that the five-time middleweight champion earned the nickname “Sugar” after a woman who was seated ringside commented that he looked “as sweet as sugar” after an amateur bout.

Lloyd B. Free to World B. Free

World B Free

The “Prince of Midair” earned the nickname “World” during his high school days in Brooklyn for his 360-degree dunks and 44-inch jumps. He legally changed his name to “World” in 1981 while playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Ron Artest to Metta World Peace


The Los Angeles Lakers forward decided to transform himself from the guy who was suspended for 86 games for a brawl to an inspirational role model. It’s been said that Metta is a traditional Buddhist word that means loving kindness and friendliness towards all.

Chad Johnson to Chad Ochocinco

Chad Ochocinco

Back in 2006, the former wide receiver wanted to be called “Ocho Cinco,” which is “eight five” in Spanish in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month — even though “Eighty-five” would be “ochenta y cinco”. To avoid further fines, Chad legally changed his last name in 2008 but would change it back to Johnson in 2012 because he “wanted to reconnect with his former self.”

Sean Combs to Puff Daddy, Puffy, P. Diddy, Diddy, Swag


Is there any other celeb that you can think of that has had more name changes than Sean Combs? The hip-hop mogul began his career as Puff Daddy, then to P. Diddy in 2001 and then just Diddy in 2005. And there was that week when he called himself Swag. Sometimes he even reverts to his given name.

Christopher George Latore Wallace to The Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls, Big Poppa, Frank White


Christopher Wallace was known as “Big” as a child because he was overweight. So when he recorded his first demo tape, he used his childhood nickname and his stature to come up with the stage name Biggie Smalls.

Lesane Parish Crooks to Tupac Amaru Shakur to 2Pac, Makaveli, MC New York

Tupac Shakur

According to his birth certificate, and the coroner’s report, Pac was born Lesane Parish Crooks. His mother, Afeni Shakur, who was an active member of the Black Panther Party in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s, used a different name when he was born because she feared her enemies would attack her son. She changed it following her marriage to his stepfather Mutulu Shakur. He was named after Túpac Amaru II, an Incan revolutionary who led an indigenous uprising against Spain and subsequently received capital punishment.

Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. to Snoop Doggy Dogg, Snoop Dogg, and Snoop Lion

Snoop Lion aka Snoop Dogg

Because of his appearance, his parents referred to young Calvin as “Snoopy.” When he first began recording, he used the name Snoop Doggy Dogg and then shortened that to just Snoop Dogg. But after a trip to Jamaica, he converted to Rastafarianism and became Snoop Lion. The reason for the name change is that unlike dogs, lions hold a place of pride in Rasta theology.

Curtis James Jackson III to 50 Cent

50 Cent

Would you seriously buy an album from a guy named Curtis James Jackson III? Didn’t think so. So, Curtis changed his name to 50 Cent after this line by a robber from the 80s: “I’m the same kind of person 50 Cent was. I provide for myself by any means.”

Onika Tanya Maraj to Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj at a promotional appearance for her new fragrance

Minaj adopted the pseudonym “Nicki Maraj,” later changing to “Nicki Minaj,” after being discovered by Fendi, CEO of the Brooklyn label Dirty Money Entertainment. She has stated that “My real name is Maraj. Fendi flipped it when he met me because I had such a nasty flow!” She also has a couple of alter egos, such as “Nicki Teresa” and “Roman Zolanski.”

Robyn Rihanna Fenty to Rihanna

55th Grammy Awards

The Barbadian songstress opted to simply go by Rihanna after hitting it big.

Shawn Carter to Jay-Z


The future mogul was once known as “Jazzy” in his Brooklyn neighborhood because of his freestyling lyrics. Eventually this developed into Jay-Z, which is a homage to his musical mentor Jaz-O and the J/Z subway lines in New York City.

Peter Gene Hernandez to Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars

Born Peter Gene Hernandez, the singer earned the nickname Bruno after his father said that he resembled the wrestler Bruno Sammartino as a chubby baby. As for his new last name, he stated: “I felt like I didn’t have pizzazz, and a lot of girls say I’m out of this world, so I was like I guess I’m from Mars.”

James Todd Smith to LL Cool J

LL Cool J

As an outgoing teen, the future entrepreneur adopted the stage name LL Cool J, which stands for “Ladies Love Cool James.”

Tracy Marrow to Ice-T

Ice T

The rapper and actor picked his stage name in honor of Iceberg Slim.

Oshea Jackson to Ice Cube


It’s been said that at the age of 12, his older brother mockingly called him Ice Cube, stating that he was too cool for himself. It stuck so well that the former N.W.A. member legally changed his name to Ice Cube.

Andre Romel Young to Dr. Dre

arrives at the Pre-Grammy Party hosted by Clive Davis

The rapper and producer earned his moniker in part from legendary basketball player Julius “Dr. J.” Erving.

Marshall Bruce Mathers to Eminem

Eminem Live Epicenter

Early in his career Mathers assumed the stage name M&M, a playful reference to his initials. He later began writing it phonetically as “Eminem.”

Russell Tyrone Jones to Ol’ Dirty Bastard to Big Baby Jesus

Wu-Tang Clan

As one of the founding members of the Wu-Tang Clan, ODB already had an unforgettable stage name. But in 1998 he changed it to the  incontestable Big Baby Jesus.

Images via ImageCollect 

Bruno Mars and World Peace – Wikimedia Commons / World B. Free – S.I. 



Never miss any important news. Subscribe to our newsletter.

Latest Hip Hop and Urban Fashion Leads

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

You will not be spammed by us, the newsletter is released once per month “ONLY IF” we have some decent content.