What’s in a Name?

Everything, especially if you’re naming a baby. Wendy Storer uses the baby analogy in her excellent blog post, ‘10 Reasons why writing a book is exactly like bringing up a child’, so the title of your novel is important. Often I’ve heard of writers having very little control over the title of their novel and I’ve experienced this for the first time.

My WIP was believe it or not, originally called, ‘Shades of Grey’. The main character is called Graeme Hunter and he’s forced to confront the truth that there is no such thing as pure good or evil, there’s lots of shades of grey when deciding on the best course of action. The title seemed inspired a year ago when I first started writing it but unless you’ve been living under a stone in recent months, I don’t need to explain why it’s not such a great idea now.

The most effective book title was something that was discussed when I recently made my annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Book Festival. With limited time and money, I normally choose an event based on my love of the writer’s work, but this year, I took a risk (I know, life on the edge, eh?) and went along to see Kerry Hudson and Lisa O’Donnell, both debut novelists and I haven’t yet read either of their books. My gamble paid off. These writers were really inspiring and very engaging.  Both their novels are set predominantly in Scotland; both take place on council estates; and both are narrated by fierce teenage girls in difficult situations, just my cuppa tea!

Lisa and Kerry were asked to discuss the intriguing titles of their books. Kerry’s novel must have one of the longest titles I’ve come across, ‘Tony Hoggan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma’ (THBMAIFBHSMM) and one that I can’t wait to read.

Kerry explained that the title came from a line in the novel and was one of many suggested titles but seemed the most appropriate to sum up the sense of her gritty, semi-autobiographical tale of being born into a matriarchal family of Aberdeen fishwives and living in a series of caravans, B&Bs and council estates.

Lisa’s novel also has an interesting title, ‘The Death of Bees’, which has nothing to with nature’s ecosystem but shares the common theme of the underdog with THBMAIFBHSMM. This novel is a chilling tale of two abandoned sisters who bury their negligent parents in the back garden of their Glaswegian home but is full of dark humour. Lisa explained that her book had several potential titles, including The Council Estate Cookbook (complete with recipes at the beginning of each chapter), The Dole Cheque Kid and Echoes of Small Fires before ending up as The Death of Bees. So now I’ve got another striking title to be added to be my TBR pile!

What’s your favourite book title? The Goodreads website lists the most eye-catching or distinctive book titles voted by their members. Number one is, ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’  by Seth Grahame-Smith. Which book title would you vote for?

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5 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. I think my favourite title is “Dark as the Grave Wherein my Friend is Laid” by Malcolm Lowry. It’s got a sort of black humour to it, it’s long (I’m always a fan of long titles for some reason) and really beautifully sums up the book – not so much what happens in it, but the feeling throughout it. Quality!

    • Interesting choice Duncan and a book I haven’t come across yet but it sounds intriguing. The funniest book title I have in my collection is ‘Nobody Loves a Ginger Baby’ by Laura Marney and it’s a great read.

  2. I think both of these titles are super. In fact – I have bought both of them this morning – the first books on my new kindle! But now I want to buy ‘Nobody Loves a Ginger Baby’ as well. Proof that the name of a book is a really important selling point? I think so.

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