What’s in name? A poetic question, indeed. More important, what’s in a nickname? Thomas Haliburton noted that “nicknames stick to people, and the most ridiculous are the most adhesive.” That’s certainly true, just ask Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, who you know as Caligula (means “tiny boots”). Sometimes it’s difficult to separate a nickname from an actual name, or to remember why an athlete was dubbed a certain name in the first place. Ask Satchel Paige: “My feet ain’t got nothing to do with my nickname [“Satchel”], but when folks get it in their heads that a feller’s got big feet, soon the feet start looking big.” Big feet or not, he was always Satchel.
In any case, we love nicknames, and here are a few more of our favorites from Indian country.
Ronnell “The Hammer” Lewis, Muscogee (Creek)
If you see The Hammer coming, get out of the way. Ronnell Lewis, known as The Hammer for his devastating hits, is now a Detroit Lion. The defensive end/outside linebacker was selected out of the University of Oklahoma in this year’s NFL Draft in the fourth round by the Motown Maulers, and is expected to make an impact in his freshman year. Consider yourselves warned, quarterbacks.
Johnny “Pepper” Martin, Osage
Johnny Leonard Roosevelt Martin was a third baseman/outfielder who broke into the majors at age 24 with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1928. The career .298 hitter best known as “Pepper,” was also called the Wild Horse of the Osage. Ol’ Pepper, a three-time All Star, could be a bit of an ornery cuss. According to The National League Story, Pepper was “a chunky, unshaven hobo who ran the bases like a beserk locomotive, slept in the raw, and swore at pitchers in his sleep.” On the field, pitchers were swearing at themselves—and Pepper—as he smacked pitch after pitch for hits. In 1931, he was the Associated Press’s Athlete of the Year.
Sam “King Sam” Bradford, Cherokee
Although the St. Louis Rams all-world quarterback Sam Bradford doesn’t have an official nickname, we’ve heard a few nice ones attached to him, including Cool Hand Sam and Sam the Ram. The one that might stick, though, is King Sam, which he earned while playing at the University of Oklahoma (OU). Bradford threw for 50 touchdowns and 4,720 yards in 2008 at OU and won the Heisman Trophy. According to ESPN, He was such a commanding presence that teammate Gerald McCoy, an All-American defensive tackle started calling him “King Sam.” “He doesn’t like it,” McCoy said, because he’s too humble, “but I do it anyway.” We will too.
Piri “Pow” Weepu, Maori
Piri Awahou Tihou Weepu is a Maori rugby player with New Zealand’s vaunted national team, the All Blacks. The rugged, ultra-competitive player stands out on the pitch—just ask his opponents, who’ve dubbed him Pow. For those not being flattened by Pow, you probably recognize him for leading the haka the All Blacks perform before major international matches. Have a look at our piece here.
Crew “Boss” Moanaroa, Maori
Crew Tipene Moanaroa is the Boss. And it’s somewhat fitting that he’s with the Boston Red Sox organization, as their Sox rival New York Yankees had a guy who was kind of known by that title too. But the big Aussie first baseman is working his way up to the top, currently playing single A ball in Greenville, South Carolina. His big brother Moko Moanaroa was also in the Sox system.
Orge “Pat” Cooper, Choctaw
Orge Patterson Cooper was a big leaguer in the 1940s with the Philadelphia Athletics. Now, his nickname is, well, Pat. And there’s nothing particularly extraordinary about “Pat.” But we do love his actual name, Orge. For that, he gets a place in our starting lineup.
Ellison “Deerfoot” Myers Brown, Narragansett
If ever there was someone born to run, it was Deerfoot. Ellison Myers Brown, who won the 1936 and 1939 Boston Marathon, was known among the Narragansett as Deerfoot, a splendid moniker, and was reknowned for his pure athleticism and extraordinary physique. The book Ellison Tarzan Brown: The Narragansett Indian Who Twice Won the Boston Marathon gushes: “In his prime, Ellison Brown’s physique might have inspired a modern-day Praxiteles. His as-if-sculpted muscles riveted the eyes of his beholders.” An amazing factoid: Tarzan ran the final 13 miles of the 1935 Boston Marathon barefoot—and finished 13th.
Duke “The Big Kahuna” Kahanamoku, Native Hawaiian
Possibly the greatest nickname of all time, The Big Kahuna is the only Native American athlete to win gold medals at two separate Olympic Games. Credited with popularizing the sport of modern surfing, The Big Kahuna was a natural in the water and one of the best swimmers of his era.
The big defenseman with the overwhelming slapshot parlayed a huge 2011-2012 season with the NHL’s Dallas Stars into a fine new contract with the Anaheim Ducks. According to NHL.com, Souray earned an odd nickname when on December 3, 2008, during a 5-2 victory for the Edmonton Oilers (who he then played for), Dallas Stars broadcaster Ralph Strangis referred to a Souray slapshot as a “thunderblast off the thunderstick of Studly Wonderbomb.” The moniker caught on.
Finally, there’s one athlete whose name is so lovely that no nickname could improve upon it: Temryss Lane. Temryss, Lummi Nation, is a former professional soccer player and is now a sports TV journalist and a top fitness model and trainer. Check her out here: http://www.temrysslane.com/.