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Cody Rhodes at Bash at the Beach

Pro Wrestling

‘Cody Rhodes’: Whose name is it, anyway?

Trying to get to the bottom of the ever-shifting story of why Cody doesn’t use the legendary ‘Rhodes’ name.

“The American Nightmare” Cody, as the son of the late, great Dusty Rhodes, comes from one of the most well-known families in the history of professional wrestling, but he doesn’t use the Rhodes name professionally. Why? Well, what seems to be an easily answered question gets weirder the more you look into what the man himself has said about it in the past.

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The simple answer: WWE owns the trademark for the name “Cody Rhodes” as it pertains to a pro wrestling context. Cody’s, and his brother Dustin’s, last name is actually Runnels — they have simply used the name “Rhodes” professionally as an homage to their father’s kayfabe name. Cody’s brother Dustin is able to use the name “Dustin Rhodes” because he used the name before his time in WWE, while Cody’s career began in WWE and the company is notoriously on top of things when it comes to protecting their intellectual property in perpetuity. Cody’s wife, Brandi, uses the Rhodes name professionally, which she can because WWE never owned the name “Brandi Rhodes” (Brandi went by “Eden Stiles” during her time in WWE).

Case closed, right? Well, according to Cody, he CAN use the name (somehow), he just chooses not to. Odd choice for a man who (rightfully so) honors and reveres his family and legacy at every possible opportunity — I mean, this is a guy who snatches up abandoned NWA/WCW trademarks in his spare time. But maybe he just wants to forge his own path and not mar any success he may have by being seen as simply “Dusty’s kid”. Cody said there is no “evil plot” on WWE’s end, he simply doesn’t want to use the name.

In a November 2018 interview with WSVN-TV, Cody said, “[Cody Rhodes] is literally my legal name, like my ID. My name hasn’t been Cody Runnels since I was 17.”

Well, that’s interesting. Wrestlers have legally changed their names to get around trademarks before — Steve Austin was once born “Steve Williams”, and Ultimate Warrior, Chyna and Ryback all famously changed their names to allow themselves to legally keep using WWE’s intellectual property. So if his name has legally been “Cody Rhodes” since before his time in WWE (Cody joined WWE’s developmental territory at age 21), he should be able to use it no matter what trademark WWE holds.

Well, not so fast. Going back another year, in April of 2017, Cody said the following in a Sports Illustrated interview:

I don’t mind that WWE took away my last name. Deep down, in my bones, I definitely want it back – and I have plans to get it back – but there is something to being Cody. The longer I don’t have a last name, the more I’m OK with it. That’s not to say WWE is holding it ransom. It’s literally an intellectual property law that easily can be remedied.

OK, so the story has flipped back and forth from Cody not being able to use the name and actively working to assume ownership of the name, to “Cody Rhodes” legally being his name that he can use any time he wants to, he simply doesn’t want to.

Huh? With the story changing, it’s worth looking into whether or not Cody actually did legally change his name to “Cody Rhodes” at the age of 17. In February of 2018, Cody tweeted this:

I’m trying to do my research, Cody! Has that been your name since you were 17, or since you were 15?

According to the United States government, maybe never? Somebody named “Cody Runnels” — not “Cody Rhodes” or “Cody Runnels Rhodes” — applied for the “Cody Rhodes” trademark on April 13, 2020. And while Wikipedia is obviously anything but an infallible resource, his name is listed there as “Cody Garrett Runnels”. It stands to reason that if there was any proof out there that Cody’s legal surname is “Rhodes”, the hyper-attentive smarks who keep wrestling Wikipedia up to date would have caught wind of it by now.

Wait a minute, what about Brandi? She took Cody’s last name when the two were wed in 2013. What last name was that?

Yep. Runnels.

That April 13th trademark filing by Cody was denied, even though that was the same day WWE’s trademark on the name expired. WWE was able to get an extension on trademarking the name due to COVID-19.

So despite Cody’s ever-changing stance on the issue, it seems apparent that Cody’s legal name is “Cody Runnels”, and despite Cody’s documented efforts to try to get it back, WWE owns the trademark to the name “Cody Rhodes”, and that’s that. But then the question becomes: why does Cody’s story change so often? Is it part of some strategy relating to the plans he suggested he had to get the name back? Is it the old wrestling adage of “carnies gonna carny”? Does he simply have fun messing with wrestling fans who take ultimately unimportant things like this way too seriously? (I say, as I type out 900 words on the topic.)

We may never know the actual answer. We only know one thing: the current standard bearer of the Rhodes family is seemingly unable to use the family name, and likely won’t be able to unless he ever decides to leave his executive position at AEW and return to WWE.

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