What’s in a name?

Titles are important. Which is unfortunate, because I struggle to think up a pithy title. But blog posts and writing gurus tell us that titles are important, so they must be.

Articles submitted to magazines are often renamed before publication. Publishers frequently publish novels with different titles from the ones dreamed up by their authors.

Titles matter.

I recently read a story that illustrates this well: Boat Drowns Lovers (by Justin Teopista Nagundi) on the flash fiction website 101 words (at https://101words.org/).

Titles are rarely counted as part of competition or submission wordcounts. With a limit of 101 words, this title was cleverly used to signal what the story was about. Without it, I might have struggled to understand the narrative.

So how can I find a killer title?                       

When I struggle to find the word I want in the pea soup that is my brain, I resort to online thesauruses (or is that thesauri?) which seems a good place to start for my title. Take, for example, the story prompt Recovery for a competition.

Word’s built-in THESAURUS (activated by pressing the Shift key and F7 together) suggests a number of alternatives, and clicking on any of these will offer more. I’m sure other word processors have similar options, but you can Google “recover synonymsor “thesaurus” to find alternatives. I often use thesaurus.com.

From the alternatives offered, I might fancy playing with retrieval, restoration, reclamation, recapture, rescue, healing, upturn, renewal. . .

Already spin-offs present themselves with ideas to weave into my tale that would give its title layers of relevance.

PUNS work well in titles. Recovery might be a tale about upholsterers. New Day Dawning could be about a girl called Dawn coming out of rehab. Likewise, jargon is an option; Rebooting or System Restore set the tone for a computer-related background.

There is NO COPYRIGHT on titles. If you want to call your story Back to the Future no one can sue you (although you might have some disappointed readers). Don’t forget song titles. . . We Can Work it Out, Walk Right Back. . . How about nursery rhymes – London Bridge is Falling down, Nuts in May?

Then there are LINES from poetry. Not With a Bang, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Things Fall Apart have, sadly, been hijacked already, but everyone has a favourite poem. . . Am I wandering from my Recovery theme?

Beware of song lyrics though. Those are copyright and are jealously guarded.

We’re told to avoid CLICHÈS in our writing, but clichès are fair game for titles. Our Recovery synonyms might be replaced by New Leaf; One Step at a Time; Good as New (Bad as New?)

Having given myself some ideas, I’ll go and revisit that story prompt that failed to inspire me; although it’s the competitions that blithely propose “any theme” that leave me totally blank. Maybe I’ll spend an afternoon researching old proverbs or finding a website of poems I learned at school.

book pile

How do you come up with titles for your stories and blog posts?

Share your tips here (I need all the help I can get).

15 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. I think another aspect you shouldn’t overlook is your target market, the niche you are aiming for. I am working on a novel with a working title of Bermard the Twelvicator but that won’t be the finished title. I have for months been looking at titles that will stimulate interest in my target reader group. So for a crime novel, Killing, Dead, Death and Murder are all worthy of inclusion, place can also provoke interest, London, Cambridge, Oxford or Bath can target a readership familiar and with an interest in that area. So for a crime novel, you could have, Death of an Oxford Don. You will immediately provoke interest in the followers of Inspector Morse, who will read it to compare it with the work of R D Wingfield. People who have an interest as Oxford as aplace might consider it and readers of crime fiction would too.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Always an interesting subject. When I was in business after 2008 I attended as many marketting courses as I could, one particular question we were asked was who were Harley Davidson’s main competitors? We immediately thought of Honda or Yamaha, other motorcycle manufacturers, the correct answer was, swimming pools and conservatories. The market was for older men with disposable income.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lots of thoughts to ponder … Thank you so much for the keyboard shortcut SHIFT + F7. I love tips that help you ‘cut to the chase’.
    From the work I’ve read of yours there’s often a quirkiness, twist, sense of fun going on. From that I’d suggest your niche market would be more Chesterton, less Dexter / more Stephen Fry than Stephen King / more Discworld than Middle-Earth. I may have completely misread your style but I love all those writers so nothing is definitive.
    It also depends on what you enjoy writing, so perhaps the title is more a reflection on the writer. In the past I’ve gone for ‘Suburban Sunday’, ‘Writing the Silences’, ‘Summer of ’66’, and ‘Riding to Success’. I’ve never noticed before but for some reason I go for ‘S’ a lot!
    Thank you again for opening up a very interesting topic, and for the shortcut tip.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Writing titles for my blog posts is my favorite thing to do; that does not by any means suggest that my titles are good ones. I just find it easier to come up with a title than writing a full blogpost. It’s good to know that titles cannot be copyrighted!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoy titling my posts too. I think I often hit a humorous note. I only write them for my own entertainment, however, with no thought of what niche follows me. (If there is a niche it seems to be people with a sense of humor.)

    Liked by 2 people

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