Friday, September 21, 2012

Call Me Ishmael

By Susan _____-_________-___________.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Writers choose their names all the time. From the Bronte sisters writing as men to Stephen King wondering if his work could find an audience without the “King” behind it, writers, for centuries, have struggled with their identity on book covers.

Yet for me, the question of a name goes back way before I decided to send my words out into the world and call myself a writer.  Let me explain.

I married young—at 23—and I liked my maiden name: Susan Park Ishmael. I like my masculine middle name: Park. It was the side of my family descended from Daniel Boone’s brother, Edward, who’d been killed in an ambush by the Cherokees. The Park side of me felt solid and strong. Dropping the middle name for matrimony felt like leaving a part of my heritage behind.

Then there was the matter of Ishmael. I loved the both Biblical and Melvillean aspects of the name, though few pronounced it exactly the way my family did. (We say Ish-mul, not Ish-male, or Ish-may-ell.) When I married a second generation Greek-American boy named Poulos, I was torn. What’s in a name? I asked.  

Yet I didn’t change my name after I married. I’ve used Susan Poulos (or Susan Ishmael-Poulos) professionally for the past seventeen years of my marriage, but deep down (and on paper) I am still Susan Park Ishmael.

Now comes the part where choosing my name for a submission becomes a bigger question. Am I Susan Ishmael? Susan Poulos?  Or some mix of the two?  Should I use Park for some measure of good luck? I studied book cases … do I want to (hypothetically) fall next to Kazuo Ishiguro, Jodi Picoult or James Patterson?

Decisions, decision!

Here are some authors who wrote under different names:

Pseudonym                Author’s Real Name
Ayn Rand                  Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum
Currer Bell                 Charlotte Bronte
Elis Bell                      Emily Bronte
George Orwell            Eric Arthur Blair
George Elliot              Mary Ann Evans
Isak Dinesen              Karen Blixen
Lemony Snicket         Daniel Handler
Mark Twain               Samuel Longhorne Clemens
Pablo Neruda             Ricardo Eliecer Naftali Reyes Basoalto
Richard Bachman       Stephen King
Sapphire                     Ramona Lofton
JD Robb                     Nora Roberts

I never wished for a name like Smith or Johnson. I like the unique fact that I am the only Susan Ishmael-Poulos out there. But when it comes to book covers, what really is in a name?


  1. how can I get the mug in the pic? I have a yacht by that name. Email:

    1. Try for that mug or for a similar one.


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