Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What's in a Name?

A popular post from August 2010.

By Julie Wright

We are defined by or names. It is who we are and there’s usually a long and detailed backstory of how we came to have our own names. Stories like: She was named after her great grandmother who crossed the plains, or he was named after his uncle who died in the war, or sometimes less noble but no less noteworthy, we named her that because I hate his mother and he hates my mother, and this was the only name we could agree on.

I am named after my grandmother who, as luck would have it, was my very best friend growing up.

Some of us acquired our names because the name means something. Such as your name might mean nobility, beautiful, or strength.

Names mean things to all of us. I have certain prejudices against people named Becky because of some unfortunate incidents growing up. But I have a particular fondness for the name Cindy. A name is more that what we’re called; in so many ways, it is who we are.

Which is why a title is so important to a book. A title is so much more than just something to call your book. It is an intricate part of what that book is. My agent refused to send out my manuscript until I had a title that worked for her—that spoke to her on some level as to what the book was about. It was agony naming the book—pinpointing that one thing that made me sit up straighter in my chair and cry out,“Ah-ha!—so that’s what you’re about!”

When I sent her the title Death Thieves, she wrote me back and let me know she’d be sending the book out the next day. Once I’d distilled the book to its most basic form, I found it was about a girl who’d been kidnapped from her moment of death and taken to save a future where mankind is dying out. Oh, sure . . . it’s about love, and fear, and courage, and society, and family, and action—everything a good novel should be. But the title calls it what it is at the core.

A name defines us. It has meaning and depth. Our titles should do the same. A picture is worth a thousand words, but your title has to be worth at least the word count of your entire manuscript. People judge the book by its cover *and* by the title. If those two things do their job right, the guy standing in the bookstore just might pick the book up and flip it over to read the back-flap. And if that back-flap does its job, he might just wander over to the register and make a purchase.
The moral of this post is to be prudent in your choices for titles. You spent all that time to write your manuscript; it would be tragic if no one ever read it because the title didn’t do its job. Take the time to get your title right. Because I doubt a rose called stink weed really would smell as sweet.


Curtis Moser said...

Interesting how you chose to leave your blog entry untitled on a topic that is about naming your writing. Subtlety at its finest.

Heather B. Moore said...

Julie, was that on purpose? lol

Julie Wright said...

ummm . . . yes! Yes, I did!

Okay fine. I didn't. I had it titled in the beginning but lost the page and had to rewrite it. The title fell casualty to the rewrite. :)