Elegy for a pen name

russelldaniel3I’ve enjoyed being Russell Saunders.

Earlier this year, I wrote about my decision to use a pseudonym back when I very first started writing this blog (version 1.0). It’s an angry internet out there, and it seemed prudent to try to keep a buffer between my work as a doctor and the potential for particularly angry responses to things I might happen to write. The decision to be Russell was about protecting my practice and my colleagues from negative reactions to my work as a writer, beyond any other consideration.

However, it wasn’t without its downsides. As I wrote at the time:

The first and most obvious [cost] is to my credibility. Those inclined to take issue with what I write can point to my pen name as a reason to discredit what I have to say. Most recently, a doctor well-known within the pediatric community for carrying water for the anti-vaccine movement noted on Twitter that I am accountable neither to readers nor patients.

The credibility question has come to require a different answer.

A few days ago, my editor at the Daily Beast (who I now count as a good friend, too) sent me a very kind but clear email — the policy with regard to use of pseudonyms had been changed, for precisely those concerns about credibility. If I wanted to keep writing for them (and there was a shiny new assignment on the horizon), I’d have to use my real name. Given that the Beast was one of the few outlets that had been willing to let me use a pen name in the first place, it boiled down to either getting rid of it, or accepting that my professional writing career was essentially kaput.

I gave it some thought. I talked it over with my husband. And then I made the decision I knew I’d have to make sooner or later, anyway.

I wrote the new piece using my real name.

Hi. I’m Dan.

Thus far, all I’ve gotten in response is delighted surprise from doctor colleagues on Twitter, a few very lovely congratulations from friends in the media biz and Ordinary Times contributors, and several queries about what prompted the change. I must admit, it’s kind of nice to share a few pieces on Facebook and say to old friends and family “hey, I wrote this for the internet.” (Up until now, Twitter was for Russell and Facebook was for Dan.) And of course, I can revisit some of those outlets where I got glimmers of interest in the past.

Oh, and I can also casually mention that I got something published in The New Republic awhile ago, which has been a dream of mine for years.

The risks I was trying to mitigate are still out there, of course. I’ll probably need to moderate my swagger on Twitter a little bit. And I may think a bit harder before I tackle assignments about particularly controversial topics. It’s no great shakes if my Twitter mentions go bananas for a couple of days, but malicious and motivated trolls could do genuine damage to my practice if the wrong bee lands in the wrong bonnet.

But really, if it’s important enough for me to want to write about, it’s probably worth a gesture in the direction of courage, too.

I have sincerely enjoyed being Russell. I will let go of him with a little bit of regret. It was fun. But it’s time simply to be Daniel, and let the chips fall where they may from here.

It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.

Daniel Summers

Daniel Summers is a pediatrician in New England, formerly known hereabouts under the pseudonym Russell Saunders. He contributes to The Daily Beast, and his writing has appeared in Salon, Cato Unbound, iO9, and The New Republic. You can follow him on Twitter @WFKARS


  1. You seriously should have taken your new headshot wearing a white lab coat and a reflector. Or maybe a headlamp.

  2. Congratulations! When I started writing an individual blog some years back, I debated the question. Being largely retired, it was easier for me to decide to be me.

  3. Yeah Dan, but I get it. I have a blog too (www.myopinionsgreatandsmall.blogspot.com.
    My husband wants nothing to do with mentioning him, especially by name, in my blog. If you’re interested check out the blog, or find it in FB HX. I am especially pleased with the piece about the Khans and “I’ve always wanted a Purple Heart.” Words no one in my family appreciates seeing as how Jim has one! Keep writing. You’re good. Barb

  4. This feels like I knew Batman was Bruce Wayne for a few years and then he told the world. I want the t-shirt that days, “I knew he was Dan before it was cool.”

    I was scared when I dropped my pseudonym some years ago. Luckily there was never any fallout.

    Welcome to the full spolight you deserve Dan.

  5. I realize that was a hard decision, but wish you the best in your choice.

    I have occasionally wanted to go by my real name, but my career is just not that secure. And there are people close to me who might be tarred by association if my true identity were out there.

    (P.S., you look different from the Russell Saunders picture.)

Comments are closed.