August 22, 2008

Daily Blog 22: Titles - What's in a name?

Names are more than just letters strung together. They have power and meaning. In some cultures, a name is carefully considered before being chosen since it's supposed to have great impact on the person's whole life. In other cultures, certain names are to be feared as in this newspaper story on British fishermen and superstitions about the name Graham.

Most authors use the same care when choosing a name for a book or story. The name, hopefully, will signify something in the story, like a play on words, or come from part of the story as in Margaret Mitchell's famous book, its name taken from the description of the South being a way of life Gone With The Wind. Or a title should invoke curiosity. Some names, of course, are more obscure and the meaning can't be determined at first glance.

I think my favorite names are plays on words and puns. Mysteries use this style a lot: For Better or Hearse; Holmes on the Range; Evan Blessed; see this Amazon.com Listmania for others.

Funny, and not so funny, at least to the author, is coming up with what sounds like an original title, or their publisher picks a title for which they have no say - and it turns out there are several other books that have the same title.

But choosing a title isn't always an easy process.

Initially, I hated the first title I'd thought of for Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery, but I couldn't think of anything else. I can't remember the exact name, but I know it changed a couple times. I think at first it was the Missing Miniature Art Mystery or something similar - too many mmmm's. Then there was something like Sam's Search for the Missing Art. ZZZ. Blah.

The resulting Searching For A Starry Night is a little cryptic, but makes perfect sense. The photo image of the empty painting gives a clue and reading the blurb reveals that the mystery involves the search for an actual miniature replica of Van Gogh's famous painting, Starry Night. The blue stars on the cover background reflect the painting name, too, so it all ties together.

The sad part is when a title is chosen that doesn't really have any meaning or link to the book. Maybe the choice is made via a quick read of the book blurb, or some other reason. Then the author is stuck explaining it, which can be good, and bad, in and of itself.

** Your Turn: Got a favorite book title or know of one that you think makes no sense at all? Or hate your own book title? Please Share!


6 comments:

  1. I have recently finished a (satirical) play which I have called "Last Man Out".
    Does it refer to cricket? Maybe ...
    But it has a deeper meaning, relating to an old joke with the punchline "last man out, remember to turn off the lights"

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  2. that's a good one, Paul, but what if it's "last woman out?" ha! (just being difficult!)

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  3. I like titles that tell you the genre and give hints about the book.

    Like Thyme of Death by Susan Wittig Albert. You know it's gonna be mystery and, if you don't know already, "thyme" not only is a play on words but gives you the occupation of the protagonist (herbalist).

    Dance on His Grave is another example. Author Sylvia Dickey Smith tells you it's a mystery and hints that it has a touch of the paranormal.

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  4. My first book I sold The Three Truths of Katie Talmadge was a title I struggled over. In the end, I just named it this because I couldn't come up with anything else. I was hoping the editors would come up with something. They kept the title. My second book started out with several different titles, but in the end I came up with Obsidian. It's part of the book and you have to read it to make the connection. It's kind of a play on words in a way. I think that the short, rather strange title actually helped. It peaked people's interests. Either way, I stink at titles and struggle over them every time.

    Teagan Oliver
    www.TeaganOliver.com

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  5. I have a screenplay title, 'Pale Dreamer' which I love, but doesn't necessarily have an obvious connection to the story. It did to myself and my partner...

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  6. [Side note: I think, actually, that Gone With the Wind came from a poem by Ernest Dowson (an English poem, though the title is Latin), "Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae."]

    Possibly my all-time favorite title is "Revenge of the Wrought-Iron Flamingos" (Donna Andrews). But how could any book possibly live up to it?

    Some of James Tiptree's short stories have lovely, lyrical titles, like "Your Faces, O My Sisters, Your Faces Filled of Light," and "Love Is the Plan, the Plan Is Death."

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