The name of the game: the best monikers in the NFL

The name of the game: the best monikers in the NFL

By Sean Tyler @seantyleruk

Names are important. Family names are handed down through the generations, often defining heritage forged in faraway lands. Given names are what our parents bestow upon us, a gift we always carry. Maybe we change our name to better reflect who we really are or maybe the opposite: to portray a persona we’d prefer others to see. Informally, we give and take nicknames and pet names, adopt noms des plumes and use aliases.

Whatever names we inherit or choose, they can resonate. Powerful names, funny names, unpronounceable names, unusually spelled names. Names with gravitas. Names that make you smile. Names that suit a person’s job or match their characteristics.

As a writer, I love names and the best often have a tale behind them. As a UK-based NFL fan, I am exposed to so many absolute gems, reflecting the rich tapestry of life that makes up US society today.

Keith Allison

Over the years, there have been some legendary names, from the Bengals’ TJ Houshmandzadeh, the longest the NFL has ever had to print across someone’s shoulders, to the marvellous D’Brickashaw Ferguson of the Jets.

But what about now? Here’s my homage to what I believe are the best names in today’s NFL…


SO GOOD THEY NAMED HIM TWICE


Let’s start with a pair of wide receivers who have a bit of an echo to their names. The Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster began life as plain ol’ John Smith, but the nickname ‘JuJu’ was given to him by an aunt as a baby, evolving from ‘John-John’. Once in college, he also changed his surname as a tribute to his step-father. Meanwhile, Ray-Ray McCloud III of the Bills is actually a Raymond but probably goes by Ray-Ray to distinguish himself from his dad and grandad, who are also Raymonds. And would you believe, he’s not the only one in the league, thanks to linebacker Aravious ‘Ray-Ray’ Armstrong (a free agent most recently with Dallas).

Michael Hickey / Getty Images

However, the king of the double name has to be another Dallas Cowboy, HaHa Clinton-Dix. Ha’Sean Treshon Clinton-Dix, to give him his full title, was nicknamed ‘HaHa’ as a youngster by his grandmother (there’s a theme here, people). Because his name was often mispronounced as ‘Ha-shorn’ rather than the intended ‘Ha-seen’, the former Green Bay, Chicago and Washington safety prefers ‘HaHa’. For the record, it’s written as one word, without spaces or hyphens, and with two upper case Hs. Getting it wrong is no laughing matter.


IT’S AN HONOUR


Our first honourable mention in this section goes to Prince Tega Wanogho, an OT drafted by the Eagles in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Wanogho is a genuine, bona fide prince; that’s his title from his village in the Delta State region of Nigeria, not his name.

Each NFL team has its team captains and positional captains, but the Panthers have had a real one in their ranks for many years: cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (currently a free agent). To those of us of a certain age growing up in the UK, Captain Munnerlyn sounds remarkably like the bumbling leader of the Home Guard unit in the sitcom Dad’s Army. (“Don’t tell ‘em your name, Pike!”)

Another Carolina player whose name lifts him above the rank and file is Pharoh Cooper, so named by his dad because it sounded powerful. The wide receiver has fully embraced the moniker, with a pharaoh tattoo on his leg and a Tutankhamun-based Twitter handle, @KingTutt_chdown. Top work, sir.

theramswire.com / USA TODAY Sports

CAN YOU SPELL THAT FOR ME PLEASE?


Give the number of players with family ties with the Pacific Islands and Africa, it’s not surprising that the NFL has plenty of names that make us Brits think twice before attempting to pronounce or spell them.

Tampa Bay defensive end Ndamukong Suh – whose father played soccer for Cameroon – has been a mainstay in the NFL for years, as have Detroit’s Halapoulivaati Vaitai, an offensive tackle with Tongan heritage, and the Chiefs’ Tanoh Kpassagnon (Pass-an-yoh), whose parents are Ivorian and Ugandan. I also bet many a pundit will have taken a deep breath before attempting to reference LA Rams linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Denver tight end Albert Okwuegbunam and cornerback Noah Igbinoghene, a recent draft pick by the Dolphins.

If we’re considering full names, we also need to be thankful that Vita Vea, another of Tampa’s defensive front seven, uses a short version of his full Tongan name, Tevita Tuliakiono Tuipuloto Mosese Va’hae Faletau Vea.

The same is true of Miami’s recent draft pick, QB Tua Tagovailoa. We’ve probably all checked how to pronounce it correctly (Tung-go-vie-low-a) and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s grateful the Hawaiian of Samoan descent has shortened his given name from the somewhat daunting Tuanigamanuolepola. Its meaning apparently breaks down as tu (standing), aniga (to be echoed) and manuolepola (morning herald), a bird that wakes everyone up with its early morning call. I think everyone who watches Tua next year will be up on their feet and making a noise! (This video provides more detail about Tua’s name and its meaning.)

USATSI

Steering away from Polynesia for a moment, Jags DE Dawuane Smoot, Patriots OT Yodny Cajuste, Falcons corner Rojesterman Farris II and receiver Kolby Listenbee, most recently with the Colts, are fantastic names on so many levels, from their unique spelling to the satisfying sound they make rolling off your tongue. But I think, because his name looks like it could be a pudding made from Jack Daniels and whisky, 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt takes the biscuit. However, don’t let the spelling fool you; it’s pronounced Ja-qua-ski, as per his Twitter name Quaski Tartt.


DOTTING THE Is AND CROSSING THE Ts


NFL stars have long used their initials rather than their actual names, like AJ Green, TY Hilton and JJ Watt to name but three, but there was a flurry of players whose names spell out their initials in the 2020 draft. Tee (Tamaurice) Higgins joined Green in the Bengals’ wide receiver room, Cowboys wideout CeeDee (Cedarian) Lamb is now at Dallas and running back Deejay (Demetrius) Dallas is not at Dallas at all, but Seattle.

As a writer and editor by trade, accurate punctuation and the correct used of capital letters is a matter of professional pride for me. And I bet it irks if you have them in your name and people get ‘em wrong. So give the likes of Jaguars LB K’Lavon Chaisson, Chiefs safety L’Jarius Sneed and Tampa safety D’Cota Dixon the respect they deserve by getting their names right. Eagles defensive end Cre’Von LeBlanc takes his name from the Irish name Crevan, which means fox (so he’s literally The White Fox – nice). The apostrophe was added to help people know how to pronounce it.

theeaglesfest.com

And should you need to refer to them, don’t forget Titan corner Adoree’ Jackson and another Bucs safety Deiondre’ Hall … err … buck the trend by hanging an apostrophe off the end of their names, testing even the most pedantic of us. Hall was named by his godmother and the apostrophe was supposed to accent the “ay” sound at the end. He wasn’t bothered about it until a foreign trip during high school meant all documentation had to align with his passport, and he’s not dropped it since. Yay’ for him!

One more before we move on. At 6’4”, Saints WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey is definitely not a small person but as a compromise for his older brother, who wanted a sibling named after NBA star Michael Jordan, his mother went with Lil’Jordan. Interestingly, he’s only two inches shorter than the Chicago Bulls legend; I wonder if he’d have changed his name to Big’Jordan if he were three inches taller?


I THINK I’VE HEARD OF YOU


Talking of Michael Jordan, Cincinnati have an offensive guard who goes by that very name, although he was named after his father and grandfather. He used his middle name (Donovan) growing up but once he’d seen Space Jam, a part-animated comedy starring the basketball star, he told all his kindergarten classmates to call him Michael. Then there’s another Mike Jordan, the NFL cornerback with the Rams, Browns, Giants and Titans, who was named after the NBA player. (Check out the excellent No, Not That Michael Jordan article for more tales about what it’s like to share your name with a sporting legend.)

Other NFL players who share their names with other famous people include Detroit Lions corner Michael Jackson and Mike Tyson, the former Seahawks, Texans and Packers safety. In an article with the Tacoma News Tribune, Tyson stated “I probably get that question once a day. Am I related to Mike Tyson, or can I fight like Mike Tyson, or who is the real Mike Tyson?” But, like the aforementioned Bengal, he’s just named after his dad.

As well as celebrities, a fair few NFL players take their names from fictional characters, places and even everyday objects. Broncos LB Josey Jewell should have a sparking career, Chargers offensive guard Forrest Lamp can throw some shade, Washington TE Jeremy Sprinkle has a light tough and Bears OT Arlington Hambright sounds like a fine, upstanding young man, as he shares his name with the US military cemetery in Virginia. Meanwhile, Seattle DT Demarcus Christmas gives QBs a new meaning to the phrase “Christmas is coming”.

Melina Myers / USA TODAY Sports

Jihad Ward, a defensive end with the Ravens, shares his name with the Arabic word for holy war. Ward is a Muslim and his name, apparently popular in the part of Philadelphia where he grew up, has been misunderstood due to the negative connotations associated with the term. Bears cornerback Kindle Vildor probably has parents who like to read and Steelers linebacker Ulysees Lovett Gilbert III may also be fans of classic literature, even if they didn’t necessarily stick to the traditional spelling.

I can’t move on without giving props, as the kids say, to Chiefs DE Taco Charlton and Vikings DT Hercules Mata’afa. Taco’s name is actually Vidauntae but he earned his better-known moniker even before he was born. His nickname is based on the Taco Bell fast food chain, which was advertising heavily during his mother’s pregnancy. Meanwhile Hawaii-born Hercules was the largest of seven kids, so the other option on the table, the rather mundane Anthony, was soon rejected.


LIVING UP TO EXPECTATIONS


Does AndraezGreedy’ Williams, a CB with the Browns, always have seconds at dinner time? Well, his aunt called him ‘Greedy-Deedee’ after babysitting him as a youngster, and maybe he still likes his food. I also wonder whether Rams LB Jachai Polite holds doors open for people and whether Bengals kicker Randy Bullock (mmm, how do I put this delicately?) is a fun-loving guy.

Rock Ya-Sin, or Abdurrahman Ibn Ya-Sin to give the Colts cornerback his full credit, earned the nickname ‘Rock’ as a kid. By his own admission, there’s not really a story behind it, but playing defensive back, he needs to be solid and hard to move. But my long-time champion in this category has to be Richie Incognito. The experienced offensive guard, now with the Las Vegas Raiders, is a 6’3”, 325 lb, tattooed bear of a man and I suspect he doesn’t go anywhere unnoticed.

Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

SIMPLY THE BEST


In April 2009, Barkevious Mingo, a linebacker who turned out for the Browns, Patriots, Colts, Seahawks and Texans before joining the Bears, won the Name of the Year award in an online poll. Mr Hugh Mingo was responsible for calling his first two sons Hugh and Hughtavious, which was probably why his mother took over when it came to naming child number three. Not to be undone, Barbara Mingo created the unusual name by adding the first three letters of her own name to the end of cousin Alkevious’s. The story goes that Barkevious (also known as KeKe) he had to practice writing it every day as a child. 

Up until a couple of weeks ago, Barkevious Mingo was undoubtedly my favourite name in the NFL. Then I stumbled across Equanimeous St. Brown. Or Equanimeous Tristan Imhotep J. St. Brown, to be precise. That’s when the seed for this article was planted. There’s a lot to unpack in this Green Bay wide receiver’s name so let’s get to it.

There’s something that sounds positively Puritan about the name Equanimeous (‘equanimous’ means calm and composed under pressure) and while Tristan is nothing special, Imhotep’s a new one on me. In ancient Egypt, he was chancellor to the pharaoh Djoser, probably designed the first of the Great Pyramids and was high priest of the sun god Ra. So, y’know, quite a chap.

At this point, I must digress. EQ, as some have taken to calling him, has two younger brothers – both college wide receivers – called Amon-Ra Julian Heru J. St. Brown and Osiris Adrian Amen-Ra J. St. Brown. Their dad John, a competitive body-builder and former Mr Universe, wanted his kids to be premier athletes and gave them distinctive names (no kidding!), just in case they rose to stardom. He was clearly fascinated by Egyptology too: Osiris is the god of the underworld and Amon-Ra is the sun god and supreme deity of the universe. 

Back to EQ. After Imhotep, we have ‘J’. Just an initial. I mean, come on! After what’s gone before, what could be so unusual as to warrant the mysterious single letter? We need answers, people! Maybe it stands for John, after his father?

Charlie Riedel / AP

And even St. Brown has been embellished as his dad is ‘just’ John Brown. The Saint bit was added “just to look cool on the back of a jersey” apparently.

So there you have it: Equanimeous Tristan Imhotep J. St. Brown – the best name in today’s NFL and the gift that keeps on giving, right to the end!


What’s your favourite name in the NFL at the moment? Got any other suggestions not listed here? Let us know at @Full10Yards

Banner image credit: Associated Press

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