British Defeat Turks at Shaiba

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 178th installment in the series.

April 14, 1915: British Defeat Turks at Shaiba 

The Mesopotamian theater assumed an outsized role in British strategy because of its proximity to Persia, which allowed the Turks to threaten the oil supply for Britain’s Royal Navy.  To protect the crucial pipeline from attacks by the Turks and their tribal allies, the British government of India mounted an invasion of Mesopotamia using British and Indian troops beginning November 6, 1914, followed by the capture of the southern port of Basra on November 21 and the strategic town of Qurna, where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers flow together, on December 19. 

As the Anglo-Indians began consolidating their position in southern Mesopotamia, on April 12-14, 1915 the Turks mounted a counterattack at the Battle of Shaiba, where around 4,000 Turks and 14,000 Arab tribesmen attacked 7,000 British and Indian troops entrenched southwest of Basra. Against the odds the British inflicted a decisive defeat, which ended the threat to Basra – but also made them overconfident, setting the stage for a disaster of their own.

Amphibious Preamble

The Battle of Shaiba had an odd amphibious preamble, as the great rivers flooded during the spring, covering floodplains for miles around – albeit just a few feet deep in most places. Subsequently controlled by massive dams, these seasonal inundations cut off British land communications between Shaiba and Basra, forcing them to deliver supplies by water. The Turks then attacked the British supply system with native sailboats, forcing the British to respond with improvised war vessels. A British transport officer described the battle in an area that had been dry land just a few months before:

… we had joined boats together with platforms, on which were mounted machine guns and mountain guns covered with straw… a small force issued from Basra, with the intention… of clearing our watery lines of communication of the Turkish bellums met with on the previous day… There was about two feet of water and one foot of mud, and the battle was fought in boats on what is usually the Basra-Zobeir road.

Battle of Shaiba 

After failing to cut the Anglo-Indian force off by water, the Turks opened the land battle in the early morning of April 12, 1915 with an artillery bombardment meant to cut the barbed wire in front of the British trenches, followed by an infantry attack that evening (giving them plenty of time to prepare). However the artillery failed to destroy enough barbed wire, and the infantry advance was turned back with bloody losses.

Giving up on the idea of a frontal attack, on April 13 the Turks simply tried to go around the Brits, hoping they wouldn’t sally out from their secure position to risk an open engagement in the desert. But they gambled wrong, as four British and Indian brigades ventured out and eventually forced them to retreat with artillery support (top, Indian artillery in action at Shaiba). After this defeat the Turkish commander, Suleiman Askari, killed himself and the Turks’ tribal allies – sensing which way the wind was blowing – withdrew to a safe distance to await the outcome of the battle.

On the third and final day of the Battle of Shaiba the British commander, Major-General Charles Mellis, took the fight to the Turks with an attack on the main Turkish camp in a nearby palm grove called Barjisiyeh Wood (above, Gurkhas, British colonial troops from Nepal, escort Turkish prisoners of war after Shaiba). Fierce combat ensued, culminating in a dramatic bayonet charge that left the Turkish trenches full of dead. Colonel W.C. Spackman, a medical officer with the British forces in Mesopotamia, described the battle, when he was responsible for treating both British and enemy wounded:

Our troops passed slowly over the horizon and into the sand-dunes, disappearing into the dust, accompanied by a continuous roar of artillery and musket fire as battle was joined. It was not long before the wounded and stragglers began to return… Pause to imagine being brought in, with other wounded with broken limbs or massive injuries, on a mule cart without springs, travelling for miles across the rough desert under a burning sun. Imagine the pain and the thirst. That evening cartloads of dead and wounded Turks were brought in, the dead, dying, and wounded all mixed up, the job of sorting them out being an appalling experience.

Later Spackman toured the battlefield and came across the Turkish trenches: 

Most of the Turkish dead were lying where they had fallen, a pitiful sight, and highly unpleasant too. One large trench, which had been taken by a bayonet charge, held about 200 bodies. The ground behind that trench back to the wood was also dotted with bodies. I then found the Turkish field hospital, which was in a shocking mess with dead and wounded still lying there.

Following this debacle the Turks retreated upriver, and the British commander, Sir John Nixon, decided to press his advantage by sending a force under Major General Sir Charles Townshend to follow them, resulting in the short-lived and ill-fated escapade known as “Townshend’s Regatta.” Beginning in May 1915 Townshend gathered a flotilla of steamboats and flat-bottomed river craft and raced up the Tigris in pursuit of the withdrawing Turks, making it a hundred miles upriver to the town of Amara before he finally overreached and went down to defeat. 

Meanwhile, after the betrayal at Shaiba the Turks decided they could no longer rely on their Arab tribal allies, long notorious for their treachery, resulting in a rapidly widening breach that strengthened the hand of Arab nationalists who wanted independence from the Ottoman Empire. The seeds of the postwar order in the Middle East, such as it was, had been sown.

Central Powers Plan New Eastern Offensive

Back in Europe the dynamic was about to shift dramatically in May 1915. After the Western Front settled into stalemate in the fall of 1914 and German winter attempts to break through bled into the snow in early 1915, the victors of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes, General Paul von Hindenburg and his brilliant chief of staff Erich Ludendorff, finally persuaded Kaiser Wilhelm II and chief of the general staff Erich von Falkenhayn to switch the main focus of the German effort to the Eastern Front, reinforcing the earlier decision made at a meeting on New Year’s Day.

They received support from Austro-Hungarian chief of the general staff Conrad von Hötzendorf, who had once again failed to liberate Galicia from Russian control in a series of bloody campaigns over the first three months of the year, culminating in the humiliating loss of the key fortress town of Przemyśl along with over 100,000 Habsburg troops. The Germans were also alarmed by the formation of a new Russian force threatening Eastern Prussia, the Twelfth Army, as well as the prospect of intervention by hitherto neutral countries like Italy and Romania, whose governments believed the Allies – despite some setbacks – were about to conquer Constantinople and win the war.

Hindenburg and Ludendorff argued that Germany could preempt these threats, protect its hapless ally Austria-Hungary, and maybe even end the war with a massive combined offensive against Russia. Unlike Germany in the Second World War, no one seriously entertained the ambition of conquering Russia in its entirety; instead they hoped to take enough territory (and threaten enough future losses) to force Russia to abandon Britain and France and make a separate peace. Then Germany could turn back to the Western Front and with all its strength and finish the war. 

On April 13, 1915 Kaiser Wilhelm and Falkenhayn agreed to the plan presented by Hindenburg, Ludendorff and Conrad for a major offensive on the Eastern Front. Having identified a weak spot in the enemy defenses between the Russian Third and Fourth Armies, the generals proposed transferring eight German divisions from the Western Front and allotting six of these to a new combined Austro-German Eleventh Army, which would then attack carry out a concerted attack on the Russian lines along with the Habsburg Fourth and Third Armies. They also shifted the Habsburg Second Army south from Central Poland to the Galician front, where it would guard the southern flank along with the German Südarmee (South Army), while the Army Detachment Woyrsch under Remus von Woyrsch extended its lines south to fill the gap this left in Poland.

To win German cooperation, Conrad had to swallow his pride and cede command of the operation (which he had already done most of the planning for) to German General August von Mackensen, whose star was rapidly rising under Hindenburg and Ludendorff. The offensive, scheduled to begin May 2, 1915, would center on a stretch of Russian trenches between the Austrian Polish towns of Gorlice and Tarnów. Initially hoping for a limited breakthrough, the Central Powers commanders would be amazed by their success as Russian defenses unraveled, leading to a major reversal for the Allies known to history as the Great Retreat.

Rumors of Gas Attack at Ypres

At first Falkenhayn agreed to the Eastern offensive only reluctantly, still believing the war would ultimately be settled on the Western Front – and also curious (if skeptical) about the potential of a new weapon developed at the urging of Fritz Haber (below), the brilliant German Jewish chemist who led Germany’s pioneering efforts in nitrogen fixation: poison gas. The result was the first major gas attack of the war at the Second Battle of Ypres, beginning April 22, 1915. 

The Germans had already tried to use poison gas in violation of two international Hague treaties on at least two occasions, but without success. On October 27, 1914, the Germans fired tear gas shells at French positions near Neuve Chapelle (later the scene of the first big British offensive of the war) but amid the smoke and shellfire these failed to make much of an impression. Then on January 31, 1915 they fired shells containing benzyl bromide, another eye and skin irritant, against Russian positions at the Battle of Bolimów, but the air was so cold the gas failed to vaporize. 

However the situation would be very different at the Second Battle of Ypres: here Fritz Haber developed a system using highly toxic chlorine gas instead of relatively “mild” lachrymatory agents, delivered from portable pressurized tanks instead of shells due to a shell shortage. With luck the gas would be blown over the enemy lines by steady southwesterly wind (of course in this and subsequent gas attacks there was a considerable risk if the winds should change direction). 

By mid-April the Germans had assembled 5,730 cylinders filled with 171 tons of chlorine gas along a four-mile-long stretch of the front north of Ypres. The Germans tried their best to keep their plans secret, but the Allies received plenty of warning, principally from a German deserter who told the French on April 14. However when the attack failed to materialize on the night of April 15-16 as predicted (the Germans called it off at the last minute because the wind was blowing in the wrong direction) the Allies disregarded this and other reports as mere rumors or psychological warfare intended to shake their confidence. 

In truth there wasn’t much the Allies could do to prepare their troops for this entirely novel form of warfare anyway, and French and British commanders decided that repeating the rumors would only unnerve their men without adding appreciably to their readiness. As a result the French and Canadian divisions in the frontline at Ypres were taken completely by surprise when the new horror swept over them on April 22, 1915.

See the previous installment or all entries.

Star Wars Fans Are Petitioning to See J.J. Abrams's The Rise of Skywalker Director's Cut

Joonas Suotamo, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, and John Boyega in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
Joonas Suotamo, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, and John Boyega in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
Lucasfilm Ltd.

We've all seen the use of petitions in Hollywood before, such as when disappointed Game of Thrones fans signed the now-iconic petition for HBO to remake the final season of the epic series with "competent writers." Unsurprisingly, the petition didn't work—but it did likely cause some mild humiliation for showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

According to ComicBook.com, a new petition has popped up for another major fandom: Star Wars. This one is calling for the release of the supposed three-plus-hour director's cut of The Rise of Skywalker, which is believed to be director J.J. Abrams's personal telling of the final film in the Skywalker Saga. This new plea for the "J.J. Cut" has already amassed more than 6200 signatures on Change.org.

As ComicBook.com reports, the studio cut Abrams's work down to two hours and 22 minutes to adhere to the estimated patience of the average moviegoer. However, on Reddit, user egoshoppe stirred up some controversy by claiming that Abrams was "devastated and blindsided" by the changes that were made to the most recent film, and that they were made without the director's approval. The person claimed to have gotten information after speaking "with someone who worked closely on the production" of The Rise of Skywalker. Whether or not the claim is true, it has made fans even more determined to see the film's original cut.

Though the Game of Thrones petition didn't work, if enough people come together, maybe we could get at least a bit more footage from The Rise of Skywalker than was released in theaters. The Force is strong with these ones.

[h/t ComicBook.com]

The Real Names of 30 Famous Actors

Brad Pitt promotes Ad Astra at the 2019 Venice Film Festival.
Brad Pitt promotes Ad Astra at the 2019 Venice Film Festival.
Maria Moratti/Getty Images

There’s no business like show business for having to leave your birth name behind. Movie stars throughout the past century have often adopted new names for a ton of reasons, from evading racial bias to pure whim. Here are 30 celebrities who you may not know changed their name, and who you may never look at the same way again.

1. Brad Pitt

One of the simplest stage name changes for one of the most famous men on the planet: It’s difficult to think of Brad Pitt as anything other than Brad Pitt, but the Oscar-winning star of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was born William Bradley Pitt. Does Bill Pitt have the same ring to it?

2. Rihanna

Rihanna attends the "Queen & Slim" Premiere at AFI FEST 2019 presented by Audi at the TCL Chinese Theatre on November 14, 2019 in Hollywood, California
Rihanna attends the Queen & Slim at AFI FEST 2019.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Like Brad Pitt, the actor and singer from Barbados goes by her middle name professionally. She was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty. "I get kind of numb to Rihanna, Rihanna, Rihanna," she told Rolling Stone, noting that her close friends and family still call her by her first name. "When I hear Robyn, I pay attention."

3. Michael Caine

English actor Michael Caine, throwing a punch, August 1965
English actor Michael Caine, throwing a punch, August 1965
Stephan C Archetti, Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Some actors streamline their names to be more memorable, which is what Maurice Micklewhite did when he became Michael Caine in 1954. He considered becoming Michael Scott (that’s what she said), but picked Caine because of Humphrey Bogart’s film The Caine Mutiny. In 2016, after a half-century of using the stage name and being unbelievably famous, Micklewhite finally legally changed his name to avoid hiccups at airports.

4. Audrey Hepburn

A photo of actress Audrey Hepburn
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

The daughter of a Dutch noblewoman, Hepburn was born Audrey Kathleen Ruston and baptized as Edda Kathleen Hepburn-Ruston. Her professional name is sleeker, but it still would have been lovely to see "My Fair Lady starring Edda Hepburn-Ruston."

5. Cary Grant

Cary Grant is pictured in a publicity photo circa the 1940s
Cary Grant is pictured in a publicity photo circa the 1940s.
Getty Images

Hepburn’s co-star in Charade played a man with a lot of aliases, which had to have been at least a little familiar since Cary Grant began life as Archibald Leach. In 1931, Leach impressed the general manager of Paramount Pictures, B.P. Schulberg, enough to score a contract with the caveat that he pick a name that sounded more American. They came up with "Cary Grant" together.

6. Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe
A photo of Marilyn Monroe.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Most everyone knows that Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson and that she was a natural brunette. Before acting, she modeled and sometimes flip-flopped her name, going as Jean Norman. But when she signed with 20th Century Fox, an executive there changed her name to "Marilyn" because she reminded him of Broadway actress Marilyn Miller. Monroe is Norma Jeane’s mother’s maiden name.

7. Albert Brooks

573683
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for TCM

Is there any need to explain why Albert Einstein changed his name to Albert Brooks? The legendary comedic factor and filmmaker was born into a showbiz family. His mom was a singer, and his father was a comedian on the radio. His brother, the late Bob Einstein, didn’t have the same need to change his name.

8. Tina Fey

Tina Fey attends the 2018 Tony Awards Meet The Nominees Press Junket on May 2, 2018 in New York City
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

It seems appropriate that Tina Fey, who is famous for playing 30 Rock's Liz Lemon, is actually named Liz. Born Elizabeth Stamatina Fey, the former head writer of SNL and creator of 30 Rock has used the shortened form of her Greek middle name since early in her career, which kicked off in grand fashion with a banking commercial (and by "fashion" we mean: "Check out that swell vest").

9. Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling of 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' speaks onstage during the Hulu segment of the Summer 2019 Television Critics Association Press Tour in Los Angeles in 2019
Rich Fury/Getty Images

Vera Mindy Chokalingam got her start doing stand-up, where she noticed that emcees would butcher her last name or mock it, so she shortened it. She also chose to go by her middle name, which her mother chose for her because she watched a lot of Mork & Mindy while she was pregnant.

10. Spike Lee

Spike Lee attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 09, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California.
Spike Lee attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California.
John Shearer/Getty Images

The legendary filmmaker goes by Spike, but his birth name is Shelton, which is also his mother’s maiden name. She gave him the nickname "Spike" when he was a baby because he was tough. With that in mind, "Spike" has been his identity since almost the very beginning.

11. Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman attends the premiere of FOX's "Lucy In The Sky" at Darryl Zanuck Theater at FOX Studios on September 25, 2019 in Los Angeles, California
Natalie Portman attends the premiere of FOX's "Lucy In The Sky" in Los Angeles, California.
Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

Getting a professional start at a very young age, the Israel-born Neta-Lee Hershlag was an understudy on Broadway at 11 and starred in the hitman movie The Professional before she turned 13. To protect her family’s identity, she adopted her grandmother’s maiden name as her stage name.

12. Vin Diesel

Helen Mirren and Vin Diesel attend the 45th Chaplin Award Gala at the on April 30, 2018 in New York City
Helen Mirren and Vin Diesel attend the 45th Chaplin Award Gala in New York City.
Jamie McCarthy, Getty Images

“Vin Diesel? Of the New Brunswick Diesels?” It’s no surprise that “Vin Diesel” is a made-up name, but it’s interesting that Mark Sinclair didn’t come up with it because of his acting ambitions (even though he’s been acting since he was a child). Vin Diesel became Vin Diesel when he was a nightclub bouncer in New York City, which is why his name makes him sound like a nightclub bouncer. He’s the one who made us believe a bouncer could become an international movie star.

13. Helen Mirren

A name like Ilyena Lydia Vasilievna Mironov makes it sound like Helen Mirren was born to Russian royalty, but she was the child of an immigrant diplomat-turned-taxi driver in London. Her father, Vasily, and British mother, Kathleen, Anglicized the family name to Mirren in the 1950s. In 2003, after four decades of stellar work (plus Caligula), Mirren was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, making her name even more impressive.

14. Sir Ben Kingsley

Sir Ben Kingsley arrives for the European premiere of "The Jungle Book" at BFI IMAX on April 13, 2016 in London, England.
Sir Ben Kingsley arrives for the premiere of The Jungle Book at London's BFI IMAX.
Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

The celebrated actor changed his name, like so many actors do, as a survival technique. He wasn’t getting stage work under his birth name, Krishna Pandit Bhanji, but almost immediately got roles once he started going by Ben Kingsley. Unlike other actors, Kingsley has completely absorbed the stage name as his own, even signing his paintings with it.

15. Awkwafina

Awkwafina attends the 2020 Critics' Choice Awards in Santa Monica, California.
Awkwafina attends the 2020 Critics' Choice Awards in Santa Monica, California.
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association

The show is called Awkwafina is Nora From Queens because Awkwafina is Nora from Queens. Born Nora Lum, the rapper-turned-actor chose her stage name at 15 and views it as a full alter ego that embodies that wild, teenage energy that she learned to tone down in college. She carried the name over into her acting career for Ocean’s 8, Crazy Rich Asians, and The Farewell.

16. David Tennant

David Tennant speaks onstage during the ‘Call of Duty: WWII Nazi Zombies’ Panel at San Diego Convention Center on July 20, 2017 in San Diego, California
Joe Scarnici, Getty Images for Activision

The guy who became an actor because of Doctor Who—and then became The Tenth Doctor and married his favorite Doctor’s daughter, who played his cloned daughter in an episode of Doctor Who—was originally named David McDonald. He picked a stage name for the rather boring (and common) reason that there was already another actor named David McDonald in the union. Since Tennant started working at 16, he did the 1980s teen thing and named himself after Neil Tennant, the lead singer of the Pet Shop Boys.

17. Demi Moore

Actress Demi Moore attends the signing of her memoir "Inside Out" at Barnes & Noble Union Square on September 24, 2019 in New York City
Demi Moore at a book signing of her memoir, Inside Out, at Barnes & Noble Union Square.
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for ABA

Model Demi Gene Guynes changed her name when she married musician Freddy Moore at the age of 18 and held onto the name after their divorce a few years later, having used it for her role on General Hospital. There’s also some confusion about her first name, with some publications referring to her as Demitria despite Moore confirming that Demi is indeed her birth name. Of course, the more popular confusion about her first name can be cleared up like this: It’s pronounced Duh-Mee, not Dimmy.

18. Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton arrives at the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival in Santa Barbara, California.
Michael Keaton arrives at the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival in Santa Barbara, California.
Jennifer Lourie/Getty Images

Batman star Michael Keaton is an example of an actor who needed to change his name because there was already an actor in the Screen Actors Guild with his birth name. Since actors’ names are their trademarks, it’d be like someone named Coca-Cola wanting to join the Soda Union. When you know that Keaton’s birth name is Michael Douglas, you can probably imagine why he had to pick a new moniker. He thought about becoming Michael Jackson. Ultimately, he went with “Keaton” and not for any particular reason (though there is one pervasive rumor—more on that below). Yet to this day, he has never legally changed it; he still goes by Michael Douglas in real life.

19. Diane Keaton

Diane Keaton at the 2020 Writers Guild Awards West Coast Ceremony in Beverly Hills, California.
Diane Keaton at the 2020 Writers Guild Awards West Coast Ceremony in Beverly Hills, California.
Amy Sussman/Getty Images for WGAW

Ever since Michael Douglas changed his name to Michael Keaton, a rumor has floated around that he chose his now-famous name because of an attraction to Annie Hall actress and all-around titan Diane Keaton. Michael has dismissed the rumor, but not even Diane Keaton is actually a Keaton. The actress was born as Diane Hall; she chose her mother’s maiden name as her stage name. (And yes, the fact that she shares a surname with one of her most famous characters was very much intentional.)

20. Chevy Chase

Chevy Chase attends the premiere of The Last Movie Star in Hollywood, California.
Chevy Chase attends the premiere of The Last Movie Star in Hollywood, California.
Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

The former SNL star's nickname/stage name was given to him by his grandmother, who took it from the medieval English ballad "The Ballad of Chevy Chase." But Cornelius Crane Chase is named for his grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt Crane. It turns out that Chase's Community character’s father being named Cornelius was a nice inside joke.

21. Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg attends Netflix’s ‘Quincy’ New York Special Screening on September 12, 2018 in New York City
Brad Barket, Getty Images for Netflix

Whoopi. Funny name for a funny person (and a serious actress with an EGOT under her belt). She started life as Caryn Elaine Johnson, and her silly nickname-turned-stage name means exactly what you think it means. “I was a bit of a farter!” Goldberg admitted during an interview with Graham Norton. “The theaters I was performing in were very small, so if you were gassy you had to walk away farting, and people would say I was like a Whoopee cushion.”

22. Fred Astaire

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers star in Carefree (1938).
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers star in Carefree (1938).
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With a natural gift for performance, Frederick Austerlitz became the most famous American dancer of the 20th century. Like Spike Lee, it was Fred Astaire's mother who changed his name: When the family pursued a vaudeville career for their two children, she dropped the last name and replaced it with Astaire when he was 18.

23. Ginger Rogers

Astaire’s dance partner didn’t go by her birth name either: Virginia Katherine McMath changed her name after winning a Charleston (the dance, not the city) competition in 1925 and heading on tour. Ginger comes from her first name, and Rogers is her stepfather’s last name. She initially toured as "Ginger and her Redheads."

24. Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah attends the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago, Illinois.
Queen Latifah attends the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago, Illinois.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

When Renaissance woman Queen Latifah released The Dana Owens Album in 2004, she was being true to her roots. Born Dana Elaine Owens in 1970, she changed her name when she was eight years old after finding Latifah (meaning delicate, sensitive, or kind) in a book of Arabic names at a time when others in her New Jersey neighborhood were switching to names with Arabic origins. When it came time to go pro, she added the “Queen” to evoke strength.

25. Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx attends a screening at Cinemark Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles, California
Jamie Foxx attends a screening at Cinemark Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles, California.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

When Eric Marlon Bishop was starting out in comedy, he felt that female comics were put up on stage first since there were fewer of them. Looking for a somewhat androgynous name to misdirect emcees picking which stand-up hit the stage next, he chose Jamie, and he landed on Foxx as an homage to comic legend Red Foxx.

26. Bea Arthur

Bea Arthur at a podium on stage.
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Two things that might surprise you about The Golden Girls star: One, she was in the Marine Corps. Two, she was born Bernice Frankel. She married another Marine, Robert Aurthur, after she was honorably discharged, and modified that new last name to act as her stage name.

27. Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga attends Lady Gaga Celebrates the Launch of Haus Laboratories at Barker Hangar on September 16, 2019 in Santa Monica, California
Lady Gaga attends the launch of Haus Laboratories in Santa Monica, California.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Haus Laboratories

It’s appropriately mysterious that there are conflicting accounts as to how Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta came by her stage name. The root of it stemmed from producer and then-boyfriend Rob Fusari comparing Germanotta’s sound to Queen’s "Radio Ga Ga." Fusari takes credit for the full name, saying his phone autocorrected “Radio” to “Lady” when he texted her one day. (He relayed this version of the story when he sued his ex back in 2010.) Gaga disputes that recollection, however; she says she liked how the stately elegance connoted by “Lady” offset and played with the craziness evoked by “Gaga.”

28. Jackie Chan

Actor Jackie Chan makes a public appearance
Kiyoshi Ota, Getty Images

Peerless as a modern martial arts star, Chan was born Chan Kong-sang in Hong Kong. He picked up "Jackie" while working in construction during college, where he worked with a man named Jack who thought highly enough of Chan to call him "Little Jack." More surprisingly, Chan’s mom called him Pao Pao ("Cannonball") as a baby, and it’s slightly disappointing that it didn’t became his stage name. Pao Pao Chan is an ideal martial arts movie star name. Jackie’s cool, too.

29. Portia De Rossi

Portia de Rossi attends the Nate and Jeremiah for Living Spaces Upholstery Collection Launch at Casita Hollywood on October 3, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
Portia de Rossi attends the Nate and Jeremiah for Living Spaces Upholstery Collection Launch in Los Angeles, California.
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Living Spaces

Usually aspiring actors will change a name they find clunky to something almost blandly inoffensive. The opposite is the case for Amanda Lee Rogers, who legally changed her name at the age of 15 to the Shakespearean "Portia." "In retrospect, I think it was largely due to my struggle about being gay," de Rossi told The Advocate. "Everything just didn’t fit, and I was trying to find things I could identify myself with, and it started with my name."

30. Kirk Douglas

Some of the time you learn an actor’s real name, and it makes perfect sense why they wanted to make the change. Other times you learn that Kirk Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch and wonder why he abandoned the raw power of that name. He grew up extremely poor but was able to attend the American Academy of the Dramatic Arts on scholarship where one of his classmates was Betty Joan Perske (a.k.a. Lauren Bacall).

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER