Outfielder B.J. Upton batted .208 last year for the Atlanta Braves after batting .184 the season before. Others might change their swing or their stance. Upton opts to change his name. B.J. now goes by Melvin Upton Jr.
What in the name of Chad Ochocinco is the meaning of all this?
After initial reporting maintained the new name represented a fresh start, Upton denied the rationale for trading names. “This has nothing to do with starting a new chapter,” he said Monday to reporters. “I just wanted to. My father thought enough to give me his name, so why not?”
It’s unclear if Upton consulted Belle, Joey or Albert, on the name change. The nominal metamorphosis makes B.J. Upton the latest but not the greatest in a line that includes Lew Alcindor, Cassius Clay, and Bobby Moore.
St. Louis Blues center Mike Jefferson’s solution to a rough patch with his family called for him to change his name to Mike Danton. If only that settled matters. Danton later served 62 months in federal prison for a murder plot that targeted—who else?—the man responsible for passing on that “Jefferson” surname to him. At least that’s Danton’s story. The court says the conviction stemmed from Danton hiring a hit man to kill agent David Frost, at whose hockey camp Jefferson stumbled upon the “Danton” nom de hockey. A tape of a conversation between the close pair closes with Frost instructing his obliging client to acknowledge his love for him. Would someone say “I kill you” so soon after saying “I love you”?
Jose Gonzales became Jose Uribe for the quite sensible reason of “too many Gonzálezes in baseball.” Other players dubbed the late Giants shortstop “the player to be named later.” Chris Berman called him Jose “Game Winning” Uribe. Over ten seasons, the light-hitting infielder boasted just 219 RBIs, with very few of them Game Winning Uribes.
If more conventional reasons, such as marriage, cause female athletes to abruptly re-brand, the fans who chant their names nevertheless can’t always transcend habit and verbally come to grips with the new cognomen. Mary Decker? Mary Decker Tabb? Mary Decker Slaney? Chris Everett or Chris Everett Lloyd? Transitions of a non-connubial sort create even greater confusion. Decathlete Bruce Jenner, for instance, ponders “Agnes” or “Bridget” as the rest of the world ponders his wellness.
For some, transforming the letters on the back of one’s shirt involves the loftier goal of transforming planet earth. After his rap career didn’t work out and his decision to beat up Pistons fans got him briefly kicked out, NBA star Ron Artest became the World B. Free of his era by becoming Metta World Peace. “Changing my name was meant to inspire and bring youth together all around the world,” Artest reasoned. Metta World Peace later called himself “Pandas Friend” while playing basketball in China. In Chicago, where he drank Hennessy at halftime and applied for a job at Circuit City during his rookie season in hopes of obtaining a discount on electronics, they called him strange.
So don’t knock B.J., er, Melvin, Upton for springing a new first name on us during spring training. He’s not trying to change the world or scorn his parents or embrace a new religion or announce his gender reassignment surgery. He’s just trying to break a slump—or not (might depends who you talk to, B.J. or Melvin). And if Jason Giambi can wear a gold thong to generate hits during a fallow period, then what’s wrong with B.J. morphing into Melvin for a similarly good cause?