Just got off the phone with a student; we spent about twenty minutes discussing a topic near and dear to many writers, and perhaps a source of curiosity to many readers: How to settle on a byline. 

For me, my choice of name had a lot to do with a journey of self discovery.

Later it led to an actual journey…

Here below, an excerpt from “Mike Sager by Mike Sager,” originally published in Esquire, now available in a longer “author’s cut” in my second collection, REVENGE OF THE DONUT BOYS. 

Call me Mike Sager.

Everyone does.

It’s the way I answer the phone, the way I introduce myself. It’s how I think of myself–my symbol, my logo, my brand name, like Prince’s glyph. Mike Sager . A random collection of nine Latin letters arranged into two groups, one space in between, the first group upthrust and masculine, like the monuments of the West, the second group rounded and feminine, like those of the East. Mike Sager , the yin and the yang. Three syllables, easy to say. Short and sweet–which my wife, in one of her occasional playful moods, would say describes me perfectly. Mike Sager . A simple name. A name that leaves room in a conversation for the next sentence. Not a fancy show-off name like Brandon Miller-de la Cuesta. Not a cool, exotic name like William Least Heat-Moon. Not a tragic name like Richard Kuntz, a kid who went to my high school. His parents called him Dick. He called himself Dick. I always wondered: What were they thinking?

Mike Sager . A name with no baggage, no connotation. Just a name, an ordinary name. Not too Jewish sounding, thank God–my mother’s line; the first anti-Semite I ever knew. A name like a blank canvas or raw hunk of granite, a name you can work with, chisel into something. Mike Sager . A name of my own choosing.

My given name, of course, is not Mike Sager : It is Michael Andrew Sager. Mi-kul, as people in Baltimore said. Miiiii-kuuuuullllll, one of eight Michaels in my first-grade class, an overweight boy in husky-size corduroys who cried easily but never backed down from a fight, who spent his entire third-grade year sitting in the front of the room, his desk pushed against the teacher’s.

Then, in junior high, I discovered sports; I ended up on the soccer team at Emory University. I made varsity my freshman year. They listed me on the roster as Mike Sager .

From there, things began to turn around. Mike Sager was not Michael Sager. Mike Sager was a winner. He was popular. He did well. He got a job at one of the world’s best newspapers, albeit as a copy boy on the graveyard shift. And then, in 1978, the really big thing happened: I got my first big-league credit.

By Mike Sager .

That’s me.

A body of work. A lifetime of actions large and small.

What’s in a name?

To me, everything.

So you can imagine my surprise on that day some years ago when I typed the nine Latin letters of my name into Google.

I was gut shot. There were other Mike Sager s. Tons of them. I mean, Mike Sager is not exactly John Smith. How could there be others? What right did they have to use my name? A name I’d built from the ground up.

Time passed. I tried to forget them. But as is often the case, the things you hate become a prickly fascination. I found myself wondering: Who are these guys?

I started clicking around. There were 3,650 Google entries for ” Mike Sager ,” fifty-three pages. Going through them over a period of several days, I identified thirty-nine other Mike Sager s. This did not include the hundreds of still more Mike and Michael Sagers listed in various telephone databases on the Web.

There was Lutheran pastor Mike Sager in Spokane; motorcycle racer/sound technician Mike Sager in Wenatchee, Washington; car salesman Mike Sager in Perrysburg, Ohio; rock ‘n’ roll roadie/blogger/political-campaign worker Mike Sager in Reston, Virginia; and high-tech-company owner Mike Sager in southern California, who declined a meeting through his personal assistant, saying he preferred not to divulge any personal details. Third-generation plasterer Mike Sager lives on a small island near Vancouver with five hundred other humans and a large number of bald eagles. There were three Captain Mike Sager s: a Louisiana state police officer; a jail warden (he also played semipro baseball) in Virginia; and an avid poet, ex-Navy, sailboat enthusiast, and all-around renaissance man (just ask!) living in early retirement in a river town called Daphne, Alabama. And then there was help-desk coordinator Mike Sager , who works for a tire and auto business in Tampa and calls himself mIKEY(tm), a name he is attempting to trademark.

All of them Mike Sager .

None of them me.

What’s in a name?

I needed to find out.

To read more of “Mike Sager by Mike Sager” please see:  


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