What's In A Name?

05.10.06 - By Colin Maitland: I have a photo on my lounge wall that shows the MSG ring in 1947, I believe, with Arnold Raymond Cream standing over a stricken Joseph Barrow, the front rows, packed with famous faces from crooners to Mafiosi, flushed with excitement. Barrow got up to win that fight of course, but met an inglorious end a few years later when he was knocked right out of the ring by Rocco Francis Marchegiano.

OK, I’m being smug without the slightest justification. I imagine every boxing fan knows that Mr Cream was actually Jersey Joe Walcott, Barrow was, of course, Joe Louis and Rocco was Rocky, of the Marciano variety.

Trying to name every boxer who’s selected a ‘nom de punch’ would be nearly impossible – and stupendously boring even if one could and it’s probably easier to pick out the fighters who stuck to their real names. But there are some name-change examples that are worth pointing out, if only to wonder why they did it.

For some, it was a question of playing down their heritage. In an era when Irish boxers were more popular than Jewish ones, Hyman Gold’s re-birth as ‘Oakland Jimmy Duffy’ and Arthur Lieberman’s choice of ‘Artie O’Leary’ make a kind of commercial sense. Likewise Vincent Scheer’s switch to ‘Mushy Callahan’ who was Junior Welterweight Champion from 1926-30.

Jacob Finkelstein became Welterweight Champ ‘Jackie Fields’ and Gerhard Steffen changed into ‘Willie Ritchie’ and captured the Lightweight title.

But Jewish names came back into fashion eventually, which surely is why Charles Green fought as ‘Charley Phil Rosenberg’, Bantamweight Champion from 1925-27.

I suspect though that for most boxers who adopted a different ring identity the reason wasn’t ethnicity – it was simply taking a name that rolled off the tongue and fitted on the ring robe. Would history, never mind promoters, have dealt kindly with a boxer named Joseph Paul Zukauskas?

I think not. He found fame instead as ‘Jack Sharkey’. Anthony Zaleski hasn’t nearly the cachet of ‘Tony Zale’ and Maximilian Adelbert Baer simply had to become ‘Max’! Best of all is surely Gugliermo Papaleo; that tongue-twister became the legendary ‘Willie Pep’.

Just two more examples: ‘Rocky Graziano’ was born Thomas Rocco Barbella but I’ve always wondered why he thought that Graziano was aesthetically and commercially better than Barbella?

Then there’s Norman Selby. He became Welterweight Champion in 1898 as ‘Kid McCoy’ and many historians believe that the phrase “the real McCoy” was first used by him to set himself apart from all the other McCoys who plied their trade in the boxing ring. Whether that’s true or not, at least we still remember him and for most boxers that might be quite good enough.

Article posted on 05.10.2006

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