You don’t have to look far to find some great nicknames from great competitors in sports: Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky, Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain, “Broadway” Joe Namath, Ted “The Splendid Splinter” Williams, Maria “The Siberian Siren” Sharapova… the list goes on. Even if you’re a bench-warmer, you probably got one too (albeit probably an undesirable one).
Sadly, not all nicknames work well when these athletes get back to their regular lives. Imagine telling your Starbucks barista that your name was “The Molester” (sorry, Lester Hayes). That’s why when most athletes come home from the office, they drop their nicknames at the door.
That’s not true for all, however. A few athletes like their nicknames so much, they opted to ditch their birth names for good.
These athletes’ nicknames have become so ingrained into their personality and so universally accepted in the sports world that even their grandmothers have taken to the new designation. Have these four iconic players fooled you? Let’s find out.
Basketball: Earvin “Magic” Johnson
If we told you there was a super-successful basketball player by the name of Earvin, you’d probably gape at us. “Magic” Johnson, however, you’ve probably heard of.
Earvin Johnson was first called “Magic” by a Michigan sportswriter who saw the 15-year-old dominate in a high school basketball game, according to NBA.com. Five years later, in 1979, his fast-paced and physical brand of basketball with the Los Angeles Lakers cemented his immortal label. After all, his talent on the court was, in a word, magical.
Arguably the best point guard ever to play in the NBA, Johnson’s nickname was distinct, inspired, and unforgettable all at the same time. Just don’t ever call the Hall-of-Famer by that name in front of his mother. A devout Christian, she still thinks the nickname is blasphemous.
Baseball: George “Babe” Ruth, Jr.
In early 1914, Jack Dunn, owner and manager of the then–minor league Baltimore Orioles, became the legal guardian of 19-year-old George Ruth so he could sign him to a professional baseball contract.
At the time, “Babe” was a very common nickname for young rookies in baseball—essentially a way veterans used to pick on the new kid. Major league first baseman William “Babe” Borton and pitching ace Charles “Babe” Adams were both bestowed that distinct pet name by their teammates.
So when Ruth showed up at practice, the guys on the team called him “Dunn’s new babe”, which eventually was just shortened to “Babe”, biography.com reports. In the end, he never lived it down.
Hockey: Lorne “Gump” Worsley
Lorne Worsley was a four-time Stanley Cup champ during the late 1960s and one of the last goalies in the NHL to play without a mask. Most hockey fans, however, will only know him as “Gump” Worsley or “The Gumper”.
Worsley picked up the strange nickname as a youngster. “I was about nine or 10 years old,” he recalled in a 2004 interview with the Hockey Hall of Fame. “A fella I hung around with in Montreal named George Ferguson started calling me ‘Gump’. I had hair that stuck up like Andy Gump, the comic strip character.
“The nickname came because of that,” he continued, though the Hall-of-Famer admitted he was the one that made it last. “It’s my own fault, because when I went to play junior, you had to fill out a form and they asked for a nickname, and I put ‘Gump’ down and it stuck.”
Golf: Eldrick “Tiger” Woods
You’ve been living under a rock for the last 20 years if you don’t know a guy by the name of Tiger Woods. The first African American to win the U.S. Masters in 1997, Woods has won 79 official PGA Tour events, including 14 majors, and was the youngest player to take home all four professional major championships in his career.
But surprise, surprise: Tiger isn’t Woods’ birth name. He was born Eldrick Woods and only landed his famous nickname from his father.
According to Woods’ website, his father Earl served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and befriended a South Vietnamese soldier named Col. Vuong Dang Phong, whom he called “Tiger”. When his son Eldrick was born, Earl took to calling Eldrick “Tiger” too, and in time everyone in the golfing world followed suit.