How Did Tiger Woods Get His Nickname? Does He Have Any Others?

How Eldrick Became Tiger, Sam and Urkel

Tiger Woods and his father Earl photographed in 2004
Earl Woods (right) gave Tiger his nickname after a South Vietnamese soldier Earl befriended during the Vietnam War. Doug Benc/Getty Images

Tiger Woods has been known as "Tiger" for so long that some people don't even realize "Tiger" isn't his real name. It's a nickname. And it's not the only nickname that Woods has or has had over the course of his life and golf career. And the origins of the Tiger nickname? It goes back to the Vietnam War and an Army buddy of Woods' father.

The Origins of 'Tiger'

First, Woods' real name is "Eldrick" (ful name: Eldrick Tont Woods), but Tiger's father Earl began calling him Tiger very early on. Earl Woods served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War, where one of his best friends was a South Vietnamese soldier, Col. Vuong Dang Phong.

Col. Phong's nickname was "Tiger," and when his son Eldrick was born, Earl took to calling Eldrick "Tiger," too, after his friend Col. Phong.

And from that point, Tiger was known as "Tiger" to everyone. If you look back at the earliest news coverage of Woods, when he started winning significant junior and amateur tournaments, you can find many articles that refer to him as "Eldrick (Tiger) Woods," with both his given name and nickname listed. However, by the time Tiger turned pro, that practice had stopped and he was simply Tiger Woods.

(Contrary to some rumors from earlier in his career, however, Woods never legally changed his name from Eldrick to Tiger. He is still Eldrick "Tiger" Woods.)

The Other Nickname His Father Called Tiger

We said above that "Tiger was known as 'Tiger' to everyone." Everyone except, ironically, Earl Woods, who had given Tiger that nickname to begin win.

Tiger once said that his father, in private, actually called him by another name more often during childhood: "Sam."

Tiger explained:

"My father had always called me Sam since the day I was born. He rarely ever called me Tiger. I would ask him, ‘Why don’t you ever call me Tiger?’ He says,’Well, you look more like a Sam.' "

And that's the reason that Tiger Woods' daughter is named Sam.

And Tiger's College Buddies Called Him ...

During his late teens, in the two years he spent at Stanford University, Tiger Woods' nickname among his college golf teammates (who included fellow future PGA Tour winner Notah Begay III) was "Urkel."

Steve Urkel was a nerdy character on the American television sitcom Family Matters that aired from 1989 to 1997. In his teens, Woods was skinny and gangly, and sometimes wore glasses, giving him a nerdy appearance to some. Teammates, particularly male teammates, love to tease, and his Stanford pals tagged Tiger "Urkel."

In a 2013 interview, Woods told CNN:

"My teammates used to call me 'Urkel' back in college. Yeah, I do have that little nerdy of side of me. That’s probably why I got into Stanford."