Home News Team USA Athletes Ex...

Team USA Athletes Explain The Stories Behind Their Names

By Lisa Costantini | Jan. 28, 2016, 1:55 p.m. (ET)

(L-R) Boxer Marlen Esparza, bobsledder Aja Evans and tennis player Coco Vandeweghe share the stories behind their unique names.

This Valentine’s Day everyone can have a cuddly companion thanks to our Team USA teddy bear. But first, the stylish stuffed animal needs a name. You submitted your best ideas and we've narrowed them down to our favorites. Let us know what you think we should name the Team USA teddy bear by voting here. In the meantime, check out the stories of seven Team USA athletes on how they got their names. Maybe one of them will inspire the winning moniker. Good luck!

Kikkan Randall, four-time Olympic cross-country skier:
“My parents kind of invented my name. My dad was a big alpine skier and he was always fond of Christina ‘Kiki’ Cutter, the first American to win a world cup alpine ski race, and liked the nickname ‘Kiki.’ My parents also liked the name Megan, but it was getting quite popular — so they decided to mix the two together to get Kikkan! I love having a unique name.”

Marlen Esparza, Olympic boxing bronze medalist:
“My dad wanted to name me Marlen — after a girl he went to grade school with and who he claimed was ‘the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.’ My mom, of course, said no. Once I was born my dad snuck in and changed my name on the birth certificate from ‘Daisy’ to ‘Marlen’ without my mom knowing. I am so glad he did because — sorry, Mom — I am not a Daisy!”

Aja Evans, Olympic bobsled bronze medalist:
“My parents got the spelling and pronunciation (Asia) of my name from a Steely Dan album and song. It’s funny, usually when older adults know how to pronounce my name correctly it’s because they’re Steely Dan fans. I like my name. Growing up people joked how my name is the same forward and backward. They thought that was pretty funny. And with only three letters there weren’t any nicknames you could derive from it.”

Devin Logan, Olympic slopestyle skiing silver medalist:
“From what I understand, my dad wanted to name me Rory but my mom wasn’t having it. My oldest sister, Nikki, had a friend named Devin and it stuck. So technically my older sister named me!” Logan’s mom Nancy tells the true story: “We were going to get a dog and name it Rory! Nikki, my oldest, did have a friend named Devin and I loved it. I named her Devin with the ‘in’ because I didn’t want her to be called Dev-on.”

Colleen “Coco” Vandeweghe, tennis player:
“My grandmother’s name was Colleen, but her nickname growing up to her close friends was Coco. My grandmother was there when I was born, and when my mother said she wanted to name me after her mom, my grandmother said that I should be named Coco since that was the name she was known as.”

Lowell Bailey, three-time Olympic biathlete:
“I wasn’t really named after anyone — I think my parents just liked the name Lowell and some of the people they knew with the same name, specifically the late guitarist Lowell George of Little Feat.”

Gunnar Bentz, two-time Pan American Games swimming medalist:
His mom, Missy, explains, “His name is Joseph Gunnar Bentz, so that is why they often list him as Joseph at swim meets. His paternal grandfather’s family was from Germany so we thought we would give him a German name. Gunnar is a common name in Europe, but there it is pronounced ‘Goon-are.’ We liked the Americanized version and thought it sounded good with Bentz. When he was little, people were always mispronouncing it.”

Don't forget to vote for the name of the Team USA bear here — and buy one here!

Related Athletes

head shot

Kikkan Randall

Cross-Country Skiing
head shot

Marlen Esparza

head shot

Aja Evans

head shot

Devin Logan

Freestyle Skiing
head shot

Lowell Bailey

head shot

Gunnar Bentz