The Name Game

All change on the moniker front

Today is the 50th anniversary of David Bowie assuming his current name. On September 16th 1965 the man who had been born David Jones decided that his current stagename of Davie Jones might lead people to confuse him with Davy Jones of the Monkees. So instead he adopted the surname of Jim Bowie, he of knife fame. Here are some other ‘name change' facts:

The Name Game

1. When Elton John abandoned his birth name of Reginald Kenneth Dwight, he included the new middle name Hercules, in tribute to the horse in Steptoe and Son.

2. Talking of Steptoe and Son - the ‘H' in Harry H. Corbett was added to get round Equity rules. There was already a member called Harry Corbett (yes, he of Sooty fame). Corbett the actor used to say that the initial stood for ‘Hanything'. (Confusion continued in 1976, when Harold Wilson wanted to give an OBE to the Steptoe actor, but accidentally gave it to the Sooty guy. In the end they both received the gong.)

3. Peter Cook was having none of this Equity nonsense - he told the actors' union that he wouldn't change his name, even though there was already a member called Peter Cook. They told him he had to - so he suggested an increasingly ludicrous list of alternatives until they gave in. The last name on the list was ‘Sting Thundercock'.

4. Michael Caine got his surname from a Leicester Square cinema showing The Caine Mutiny. He says that if he'd looked the other way he'd now be Michael A Hundred and One Dalmatians.

5. Nicolas Cage's real name is Nicolas Coppola - his uncle is Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola. Nicolas changed the name to avoid accusations of nepotism.

6. Michael Keaton’s real surname is Douglas – he had to change it because of the already-famous Michael Douglas.

7. George RR Martin added his middle initials in tribute to JRR Tolkien.



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Big Ben

On a visit to Big Ben, I was told that if you stand at the bottom of the tower with a portable radio and listen to the chimes on Radio 4 (they still transmit them live), you hear them on the radio before you hear them ‘for real’. I couldn’t believe it – but was intrigued enough to try it for myself. And you know what? It’s absolutely true. The bongs come out of the radio a fraction of a second before they reach your ears from the top of the tower. It’s something so silly, so counter-intuitive, that you have to tell people. (Well, I did.) Researching the explanation, I found that it’s because radio waves travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) rather than the 700 or so miles per hour at which sound waves travel. The signal travelling down the wire from the microphone to the BBC goes at the speed of light too. Hence the radio version overtaking the real one.

I realised that this would be the perfect way to teach the principle in school physics lessons. Instead of a boring teacher droning on that ‘radio waves travel at the speed of light’, illustrate it with this beautiful and quirky little fact. The kids will remember it then. I certainly would have done if my physics teacher had taken this approach. As it was I had to wait until I heard a piece of so-called ‘trivia’ in my thirties.