NBA Players who Literally Made Their Name

December 05, 2020

It's no secret that many African-American people have unique names. In fact, according to the book Freakonomics, nearly 30% of African-Americans born in California have a name that is unique among children born in the state that year.

But what happens when a person with a unique name becomes famous? The answer: their name becomes a lot less unique. This blog articles takes a look at NBA players who had previously unique names, but whose names have now become common. These are the NBA players who literally "made their name".


38,229 in the U.S.

The name Jalen might seem familiar nowadays, but it was wasn't always that way. It all changed in 1992 when Michigan's "Fab Five" basketball team advanced to the finals of the NCAA tournament. That was the year that Jalen Rose made his appearance on the national scene. The name Jalen exploded in popularity quickly afterwards, peaking in the year 2000.

Variants such as Jaylen, Jaden, and Jayden followed, and eventually eclipsed the original name in popularity. By 2010, Jayden was the 4th most popular name for boys in the U.S., and was a popular girl's name as well.

Today, there is a Jalen echo in the NBA, as four Jalens and five Jaylens have played in the NBA since 2017, most famously Celtics star Jaylen Brown.

Three of the Fab Five: Jimmy King, Jalen Rose, and Chris Webber.


17,018 in the U.S.

It might not surprise you to learn that there were almost no Kobes in the U.S. before the emergence of Kobe Bryant in 1996. Today, there are thousands. Sadly, the Social Security Administration does not record any children being named "Mamba".


15,451 in the U.S.

Kareem is a traditional Arabic name meaning "generous and noble". But that doesn't mean it was common in the United States. There were virtually no people named Kareem in the U.S. until 1971. That was the year that NBA star Lew Alcindor changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The next year, 400 babies were named Kareem, and the name has had a modest level of popularity ever since.


12,744 in the U.S.

Unlike the other stars on this list, Kyrie Irving did not literally make his name. The name Kyrie was already in use before Kyrie Irving became an NBA star. But there was one big difference. When Kyrie Irving was drafted in 2011, more than 80% of Kyries were female. Today, that ratio has flipped and 71% of people named Kyrie are male.


5,803 in the U.S.

The Shaquille trend only lasted one year. But, in 1993, there were nearly 2,000 newborn babies named Shaquille. That means, if you meet a person named Shaquille, there is about a 1/3 chance they were born in 1993!

A surprising number of these Shaquilles have gone on to play professional sports, including NBA player Shaquille Harrison (b. 1993) and 10 different NFL players named Shaquille (or some alternate spelling).

Shaquille O'Neal shooting a free throw. You can tell he's going to miss just by the look on his face.

Honorable Mentions

Dominique: 792% increase, 1981–1992

Carmelo: 742% increase, 2002–2013

Other Notes

Just being a good basketball player isn't enough to make your name popular. For example, there aren't a lot of babies named LeBron (just 21 in 2019).