The Los Angeles Lakers forward announced recently that he would change his name to Metta World Peace, continuing his efforts to reform his image from the poster child of “The Malice at the Palace” to a spokesman for positive undertakings.
Artest — or Mr. World Peace — is far from the first athlete to change his name for reasons personal, promotional or otherwise.
The largest group of such individuals is the religiously motivated crowd, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabar (Lew Alcindor), Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (Chris Jackson).
Artest belongs to a different group, though, one that was inspired by world events, marketing or just plain fun.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson introduced Spanglish to mainstream American sports fans by changing his name to Chad Ochocinco. Boxer Marvin Hagler was annoyed that ring announcers refused to use his nickname when they introduced him before fights, so he had his name legally changed.
A Notre Dame PR man talked Joe Theismann into changing the pronunciation of his last name in 1970 from “Theesman” to rhyme with “Heisman” to improve his chances of winning the coveted trophy. It didn’t work.
In fact, these name changes usually fail. Lloyd Free changed his name to World B. Free. Not only was world peace not achieved, but most fans have forgotten that he was nicknamed “Air” before Michael Jordan came along.
Rod Smart played a few productive seasons in the NFL, but he’s recalled mostly as “He Hate Me” from that punchline of a professional football league, the XFL. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Greg White might think Styles G. White sounds cool, but the name mostly sounds like Cedric The Entertainer butchering the names of rappers in “Barber Shop.” And a Liverpool FC fan who legally changed his name to Fernando Torres in honor of his favorite player was dismayed when Torres transferred to Chelsea.
Then again, who knows? Maybe Artest’s name change will usher in a new era of peace and understanding, and nobody in Detroit will ever want to throw a beer at him again.