Samari Rolle, Demetrius Williams and Cory Ross are familiar names among Ravens fans.
But to those close to them, those three players are better known as "Doorknob," "Scrill" and "Pork Chop."
Rolle said he has been called "Doorknob" since his days at Miami Beach High in Florida because the top of his head looks like a doorknob.
"Every level I've been to, it's just stuck," Rolle said. "Now people just call me 'Knob' for short. Even my wife will call me 'Knob.'"
While Williams is better known as "Spider-Man" for his acrobatic catches and intricate tattoo of the comic book superhero on his right biceps, his University of Oregon teammates called him "Scrill," which is defined by Urbandictionary.com as "money."
"They would say, 'He's money,'" said Williams, who caught 20 career touchdowns to rank fourth in school history. "I didn't really care. As long as they called me something correct."
The diminutive Ross earned "Pork Chop" when he was a freshman at Nebraska.
"I went and ate some pork chops at this guy's house," Ross recalled. "He came back the next day and was telling coaches that I ate about seven pork chops. Ever since then, everybody started calling me 'Pork Chop.' Of course, that was a lie. Then I lost some weight and got down to where I like to be at, and all of a sudden, it went from 'Pork Chop' to 'Chop.'"
Nicknames have been around as long as languages, according to Dr. Robert Kennedy, who teaches linguistics at the University of California, Santa Barbara and co-wrote an article in American Speech on nicknames in sports last year. Kennedy noted that in Homer's Iliad, characters are often referred to by nicknames.
Kennedy said there are two general types of nicknames in sports. One is a descriptive phrase that adds a literary flair. "The Sultan of Swat" was attached to baseball great Babe Ruth, but hardly anyone called him that and only journalists tended to use that nickname, in their copy or radio broadcasts. Two examples among the Ravens players are "The Mad Backer" for linebacker Bart Scott or "Jesus in Cleats," which the University of California student newspaper dubbed quarterback Kyle Boller.
The second type is what is referred to as a hypocoristic nickname, a brief name that is limited in size and generally derived from a person's formal name. Examples among the Ravens include "J.O." for offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, "C-Mac" for cornerback Chris McAlister, and "Moose" for running back Musa Smith.
Though the use of nicknames indicates a sense of familiarity and closeness between fans and players, epithets are more useful among the athletes themselves, Kennedy said.
"I think they can be functional during games in some sports," he said. "Athletes need to be able to communicate during the middle of a play because the movement is so fluid. Teammates need to keep track of where everyone is, and it's easier to say 'Hendy' instead of 'Henderson.' So it's got this multifaceted use of utility."
Many nicknames are derived from pop culture. Linebacker Terrell Suggs got "T-Sizzle" at Arizona State when teammates took to rapper Snoop Dogg's habit of adding "izzle" to the end of words.
"It kind of just stuck," Suggs said. "I like that nickname. I've got other nicknames that my mom and dad call me, but I'm not going to reveal them to you all. But I like it."
Kicker Matt Stover was teased with chants of "Stove Top" during his childhood, and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards was called "Big Circus" after attending one while he was at Oregon State.
Given the nickname "YAC" for "yards after catch" by former Oklahoma wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr., wide receiver Mark Clayton was better known to his Sooners teammates as "MC Hammer" for mimicking the rapper's dance moves. Safety Jamaine Winborne was called "Bam Bam" at Fork Union Military Academy for his strength in the weight room despite his small frame.
Other nicknames are based on physical and mental traits. Notre Dame teammates called safety Gerome Sapp "The Professor" for his on-field analysis. English kicker Rhys Lloyd was stuck with "Winston Churchill" because his coach at the University of Minnesota admired the late English leader. Defensive tackle Kelly Gregg is referred to as "Buddy Lee" for his resemblance to the character in Lee Jeans commercials.
"My rookie year, we were roommates at training camp, and when I first met him, he just reminded me of a big catfish," Smith said. "I just think it's his face. He's got them big cheeks and the way he's built. In West Texas, we go trout-lining and pull them up. The first time I looked at him, I thought, 'Big Catfish.'"
Then there are the nicknames that won't be revealed. Williams and cornerbacks Derrick Martin (known as "Blaze" and "The Mouth") and Corey Ivy ("C.I.") said they have appellations that are only used by their families.
"If I told you that one, I'd have to take you out," Williams joked. "And I don't want to do that."