It’s undeniable that Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known by his pen name “Dr. Seuss” is one of the most celebrated writers in history. Not only does his work constitute the bulk of popular children’s literature, but he is also widely praised for his achievements as a political cartoonist during the second world war.
That said, his choice to pen most of his critically acclaimed material under the name “Dr. Seuss” didn’t occur by chance. Actually, that name has quite a bit of history attached to it, some of which centers around a father’s wish that his son would have gotten a Ph.D. Theodor started calling himself “Dr.” in his pen name as his way of recognizing his father’s dream.
When it comes to the second half of his name “Seuss,” he adopted it shortly after he was relieved of his duties as the editor for The Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, a college humor magazine.
He had contributed to the magazine for quite some time. In “The Beginnings of Dr. Seuss – An Informal Reminiscence,” originally published in Dartmouth Alumni Magazine’s April 1976 edition, he stated, “almost every night I’d be working in the Jack-O-Lantern office.” However, his time ran out in 1925 when he was caught drinking, which was illegal at the time which caused the then-Dean to suspend him of all of his duties related to the magazine.
“The night before Easter of my senior year there were ten of us gathered in my room at the Randall Club,” he said. “We had a pint for ten people, so that proves nobody was really drinking.” In any case, he, along with the other offenders, was brought before a disciplinary committee which subsequently administered his punishment.
However, despite no longer being officially affiliated with the magazine, Theodor still continued to anonymously contribute to it extensively. After releasing a few of his publications under either fake names or without acknowledging the source, he then issued two with different names: “Seuss” and “T. Seuss” respectively.
At the time, he thought that it was truly an ingenious way to mask his identity while claiming ownership over his work, although he was later unconvinced. “To what extent this corny subterfuge fooled the dean, I never found out. But that’s how ‘Seuss’ first came to be used as my signature. The ‘Dr.’ was added later on.”
His father, a man who managed one of the biggest brewing companies in New England at that time, really wanted Theodor to graduate with a PhD. Actually, he was on the road to doing so. In the 1920s, he was enrolled in the Ph.D. program in English at the University of Oxford with the hope of graduating. Unfortunately, he discontinued his studies and consequently never received the doctorate.
Funnily enough, despite dropping out of university, he was later awarded multiple honorary doctorates, thereby gaining something akin to a Ph.D. It’s safe to say that he was able to live up to his father’s wishes.
That said, in The Beginnings of Dr. Seuss – An Informal Reminiscence, Theodor gave another reason. He said that he added the “Dr.” to his pen name in order to make him sound “more professional.”
At the time, he was working on a project called “Boids and Beasties”. Therefore, he felt that the addition of “Dr.” to his name would have presented himself in a more professional light.
Initially, he used to sign either “Dr. Theophrastus” or “Dr. Theo”. However, those titles were eventually supplanted by “Dr. Seuss,” a name which would become his identification marker throughout the world for years to come.