Origin of Athlete Nicknames

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

Do you have a nickname? How did you get it? Many athletes' nicknames have nothing to do with their sports.

Nicolai “Old One Leg” Andrianov

This Russian gymnast could keep his legs straight and together during extremely difficult exercises, making it look as if he had only one leg.

Jerome “The Bus” Bettis

This NFL running back is so big and powerful that he rumbles through opposing defenses like a bus. Supposedly when he crashes into you, it feels like you've been hit by a bus.

Steve “The Kid” Cauthen

As a 17-year-old, Steve was already a successful jockey.

“Joltin” Joe DiMaggio

Joe received this name because he hit the baseball very hard.

Maureen “Goldfinger” Flowers

Maureen was an excellent dart thrower. At one time, she was the best in the world.

Bernie “Boom-Boom” Geoffrion

Bernie invented the slapshot in ice hockey. His stick hit the puck so hard, it made a boom sound.

Jim “Catfish” Hunter

When this Hall of Fame pitcher first joined the major leagues, he told an interviewer that his hobby was fishing for catfish.

Julius “Dr. J” Irving

When Julius Irving was in high school, a teammate began calling him “the doctor” as a joke. The name stuck with him throughout his professional basketball career.

Randy “Big Unit” Johnson

This major league pitcher can throw a fast ball close to 100 miles per hour and is six feet, ten inches tall.

Thomas “Pepper” Johnson

This New York Giants football player received his nickname from his grandmother. He loved pepper so much, he put it on everything he ate.

Michael “Air” Jordan

This former Chicago Bulls basketball star can jump so high and far and spends so much time in the air that he earned this nickname. He has his own sneaker line named “Air Jordans.”

Florence “Flo Jo” Joyner

This Olympic track star's catchy nickname came from the first letters of her first and last names.

Sonny “The Drummer Boy” Liston

As a boxer, Sonny beat his opponents the same way a drummer beats a bongo.

Karl “The Mailman” Malone

This Utah Jazz basketball star was given this nickname because he always delivers.

Willie “The Say Hey Kid” Mays

Willie Mays was one of the most famous baseball players of all time. As a rookie, he would often shout “Say hey over there” to people whose names he did not know.

Bill “The Owl Without a Vowel” Mlkvy

Bill played forward for the Temple University Owls basketball team. Since his last name does not contain a vowel, he became “the owl without a vowel.”

Helen Wills “Little Miss Poker Face” Moody

When playing the card game of poker, players cannot show any emotion so that their opponents can't guess what they're thinking. On the tennis court in the 1920s, Helen Wills Moody maintained her poise under any circumstances.

Jack “The Golden Bear” Nicklaus

Jack has blond hair and a large, powerful body. He is considered one of the best golf players of all time.

Leroy “Satchel” Paige

His feet looked about the size of a small suitcase, or satchel, which is where this baseball player got his nickname.

Robert “Chief” Parish

This basketball star was given the nickname by a teammate because he always had a stern, no-nonsense look on his face. He reminded the teammate of the Indian Chief from the movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.” Hockey player Johnny Bucyk had the same nickname because he is from Native American descent.

William “The Refrigerator” Perry

This football player astonished his teammates on the Chicago Bears with the amount of food he could eat. He weighs well over 300 pounds.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth

The New York Yankees' Babe Ruth is one of baseball's all-time legends. As a young boy, he wanted to play baseball with the older neighborhood children. When they wouldn't let him, he'd cry-and was called a baby.

Tom “Terrific” Seaver

The media gave this New York Mets baseball player his nickname because of his terrific pitching arm. Tom Terrific used to be a children's cartoon show.

O. J. “The Juice” Simpson

Orenthal James is this football player's given name. His teammates originally believed that his initials stood for “orange juice.”

Kordell “Slash” Stewart

When Stewart first came into the National Football League with the Pittsburgh Steelers, his coach used him at many positions. He was a quarterback/punt returner/wide receiver.

Mitch “The Wild Thing” Williams

The major league pitcher was given this nickname because he used to hit and walk a lot of batters, as well as throw a lot of wild pitches. He also had wild hair and a wild pitching motion. This nickname was also used in the movie “Major League.”

Ted “The Splendid Splinter” Williams

Tall and thin like a splinter, with a splendid swing, Williams came to be known as “The Splendid Splinter.”

Ted Williams at bat
Library of Congress

Willie “Mookie” Wilson

His family gave this baseball player his name because of the funny way he said “milk” when he was a child.

Eldrick“Tiger” Woods

This golf star is named after one of his father's friends, who was a soldier in Vietnam.

Mildred “Babe” Didrickson Zaharias

An outstanding golfer and tennis player, Babe was often compared to baseball's Babe Ruth.

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