“The Rock” Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does

“The Rock” Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does
Image: WWE

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has stormed Hollywood in the last decade, rising up the ranks of the biz to become a bona fide star and beloved personality. And while many are aware that The Rock’s long career started in the WWF (now the WWE), I’m not sure how many people actually know what “The Rock” actually means.

It’s actually short for something.

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When our pal Dwayne debuted in the World Wrestling Federation at the Survivor Series pay-per-view of 1996, he was a smiling, happy and carefree bubba playing a fairly stereotypical Hawaiian character; complete with what seemed to be store-bought ‘traditional’ get-up.

But this wasn’t “The Rock” we all know and love, this was “Rocky Maivia”, a name derived from a portmanteau of Dwayne Johnson’s grandfather’s name (Peter Maivia) and his father’s (Rocky Johnson) — both of whom were prominent wrestlers in their own right.

See, Johnson comes from a veritable wrestling dynasty, with family roots that stretch all the way to modern WWE and even rival promotion New Japan Pro Wrestling. His cousins Roman Reigns and Nia Jax still perform today, and are dominant in their respective WWE divisions.

The “Rocky Maivia” name paid homage to this family legacy, but it would soon be shortened to something much more palatable as the wrestling world began to reject the bland Maivia character.

Die, Rocky, Die” became a frequent chant in 1997 as audiences demanded more interesting and harder hitting characters like the equally prominent “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who was busy smashing glass and beer cans while Rocky smiled it up.

So “Rocky” got tough, and “Rocky” got mean — and a fortuitous (if unfortunate) knee injury meant that he was able to disappear from the spotlight for a moment and returned as “The Rock”.

He was no longer the happy, smiling hero — a “babyface” in wrestling. He was arrogant, he was tough, and he wasn’t going to be called Rocky Maivia anymore. He even referred to himself in the third person, noting that everybody wanted to be like The Rock.

Originally starting out in the villainous (“heel”) faction, The Nation of Domination (who actually had some pretty important things to say about racism in white America), he grew into “The Rock” nickname, adopting sunglasses, a popped collar and gold chains. Eventually he evolved into the arse-kicking, name-taking champion that everyone came to know and love.

Once The Rock had conquered the WWE scene in the early 2000s, he started moving into acting, making his debut in the mostly awful Mummy prequel, The Scorpion King. While his following films didn’t do much better, The Rock miraculously crawled out from under the mess of B-movie badness to carve out an impressive blockbuster career.

The “Rocky Maivia” name might have been long forgotten, but it will always live on in old school wrestling fan’s hearts.