Of all the names whispered in the presence of ghosts, “Susan” is by far the most popular.
The examples are seemingly as numerous as the theories why.
On one of the dozens of Internet discussion boards dedicated to the Susan phenomenon a man named Anthony posted his recent experience:
“I was sleeping and had this vivid dream. It went from vivid, like I was in it, to kind of thin, like I was looking through a film negative. My dream was still in the forefront, but through the images I could see my bare feet sticking out from under my covers. Like I was hot.
It was so vivid but I’m have trouble finding…finding the words for it now. There was this swirling redness, like hair or wind—color with texture—swirling toward and around me, and the rest of the scene was dark and in shadow. Like there was a moon behind a mountain, so I could still see.
But I couldn’t. Not really.
And over the swooshing I kept hearing a loud whisper: ‘Susan!’ with drawn out syllables at the end. At first the sound was in my dream, in my head, but then I saw through the dream and the sound was in my room.
As I started waking up—or, as I tried to wake up, as I fought to sit up but kept feeling this pressure on my chest, pushing me back down, gently somehow—I heard the name more and more: ‘Susan.’ Until I couldn’t tell if the name was in my dream, my room, or coming from me. Like I was saying the name, ‘Susan.’”
Though no one has yet responded to Anthony’s post attesting to the same dream, there are commonalities across the hundreds of published stories on similar nighttime encounters: flashes of red, chest pressure, waking dreams, and the name.
In fact, one of the only things that marks Anthony’s story as unique is his claim to have known several women in his life named Susan. One who even had red hair.
But most other witnesses report no prior connection with the name nor anyone bearing that name, alive or dead.
Theorists have pointed to the linguistic properties of the name (or the closely related, Susana) as explanation that the sound is more visceral, unconscious reflex than meaningful utterance.
They point to the whispered first syllable, “Sue,” with its emphasis on the “s” that is often involuntarily produced by sleeping individuals exhaling through small openings in their mouths.
In conjunction, the second syllable, “an” or “ana,” is explained as the guttural intake of breath corresponding to normal, deep breathing during the latter stages of REM sleep.
The middle “s,” they claim, is mostly conjured in witness’s minds in hindsight, trying to piece together sounds into meaningful cadence.
Dreaming nothing into something.
Together: sue + (s) + an(a).
No other names come close. And this, of course, is only based on people who self-report occurrences, in effect silencing all those who witness the breathy call alone in the dark.
But even these estimates don’t necessarily include the growing number of documented utterances observed by “ghost hunters”: a niche population of enthusiasts who travel to supposedly haunted locations in order to document ghost activity, such as audible whispers that they capture with recording devices and call EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon).
According to one of the group’s professional websites (which claims to represent over 1,500 such “hunters”), the name “Susan” is captured in EVPs or on video at a rate of 3:1 to other names. The voices can be both male and female in form, but decidedly echo the same name.
Aside from theories responding to this growing body of “research” and personal testimonies, though, there is little explanation for the phenomenon.
Susan is a historically enduring name, dating back etymologically to at least 2000 B.C. in ancient Egypt and Persia to mean lily, or lotus.
Because of this, many have theorized that the name is an EEP (Earth Echo Phenomenon), a belief with astrophysical roots that celestial bodies in the universe (including our planet) have unique sounds that reverberate endlessly.
The echoes, such theories surmise, accumulate as they reverberate, attaching themselves to other sounds (including human utterances) as they grow, like a snowball rolling down a hill.
The name “Susan” may be one of the first sounds in human history that we’re only now hearing said back to us.
There is reason to wonder why more cases aren’t reported and studied in more empirical and anthropologic ways, especially given the occurrences’s near unanimous effects.
Witness Anthony concluded his post describing them:
“I eventually woke up, like real waking up where I knew where I was. My lips were still moving and I’m pretty sure they were saying the name, Susan, over and over. I was suddenly really scared, and I pulled the sheets over me and tried not to move. That fear was with me till morning.
But then over the next days, a growing sense of calm came over me. Like someone was taking care of me. And I’d catch myself when I was by myself—waiting at the bus, going to the bathroom, turning out the lights—saying underneath my breath, without even thinking, ‘Susan,’ like a prayer.”
For Anthony, like a multitude of others reporting similar stories, silence has given way to speech, fear to comfort. An otherness, whether ghosts or collective memory, has a name.
Since his post no one’s responded to Anthony, nor has Anthony posted any follow-up reports. He isn’t likely to.
Most witnesses who report hearing the name say it never comes again, as if we all get only one opportunity that frightens us into realization and leaves us whispering as if not to forget.
That we are not alone.