What’s in a name?

I have been thinking forever about book titles. Just like book covers are used to attract the readers or a browsers attention, the title does the same for so many of us. At least it does for me. We see so many books around everyday, read about dozens of books, what makes a book really stand out for me is the cover and the title. I remember reading about King Rat on Nymeth’s blog. And then at the end she had mentioned ‘Un Lun Dun’. The title stuck with me and when some time later I happened to browse in the bookstore, I came across it. I didn’t remember anything about the book except the title and that I had read something nice about it. So I picked it up.

The other day I read about ‘A toss of Lemon’ and ‘The boy with the stripped pajamas’ and I know I’ll always remember them and pick them up eventually.

The thing is, why don’t people work as hard on titles as they do on covers? Why are there so many books with similar titles?
Let’s see. There’s A long way gone, A long way home, A long way from home, It’s a long way home, The long way home, The way home. See what I mean?

I want titles that could be distinguished from hordes of other books.

Beautiful titles like A thousand splendid suns, Half of a yellow sun, The Convent of little flowers, Gone with the wind…
or striking ones like The house at Riverton, House on the Tradd street, Witches Trinity, Last night in Montréal, First comes love then come Maleria. I also think Neil Gaiman’s books have the most amazing titles.

If it’s a popular author I don’t think the title matters much, but I do believe it should be given sufficient thought for debut novels.

I agree I don’t buy books based on the title, but it does help to have an eye-catching one when all you see in a bookstore is the spine of the book. Does the title attract you when you browse a bookstore or even while surfing the internet?

Any titles you specifically love or remember?

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16 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Great post, Violet!
    I think it’s a bonus to have a catching title and a cover that easily catches one’s eyes!

    Indeed there’re times I got confused with books which have titles that seems so similiar with the others. I think it’d be good to have a unique title to separate from the others.

    There’re a few titles I like, and you’ve listed them here. 🙂

  2. I disagree with you on one point. Covers are no longer unique to the story and often have very little to do with the content of the book. If you look around, you’ll find that many publishers use stock images for covers and ultimately up to half a dozen books can have the exact same cover barely tweaked. Titles should indeed relate to the content of the book and should strive for originality (perhaps also cleverness), but covers must work to do so as well.

    • Biblibio: Yup, I know what you mean, the lookalikes post are a proof 🙂
      But I’ve seen many striking covers as opposed to appealing titles. And even stock images are sometimes used very well. Take for e.g. Evermore and North of beautiful. They are very clearly the same photographs, but the treatment given to both is very different.

      But yes, in the end attention needs to be given to both.

  3. What a great topic! Titles do catch my eye in the same way a cover might. While neither will be the reason I decide to read a book, they may cause me to take a closer look at a book I might have overlooked otherwise.

    My husband rolls his eyes most at the titles that begin with “The Accidental . . . ” He says it’s overused and tiresome. I can’t say I disagree there.

    One of my favorite titles is of a book I have yet to read, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. And I do love “The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” as a title.

  4. Great topic, Violet! I agree with Literary Feline about Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Although I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I had thought I would, I love the title and will always remember that. A great title goes a long way.

    I keep getting mixed up and calling Daphne du Maurier’s novel My Cousin Kate instead of My Cousin Rachel. I don’t know if there is a Cousin Kate out there, but I can never get it right.

  5. Same here Melody, I get confused with similar titles too. But it’s sad that there are books not with “similar” titles, but with exact same titles.

    Wendy: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a very catching title indeed and I agree Hotel on…is a very sweet title, almost sad.

    There is a Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer, Jennifer 🙂
    You read a lot of historical fiction, you might have heard it somewhere and got it confused with the other title…so happens with me too.

  6. I love a clever title that fits in neatly with the content of the book. Unfortunately, you don’t find that out until you actually finish the book. 😉

    I just finished reading First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria. Apt title, I suppose. Cute book.

  7. A good title will definitely get my attention. I won’t get a book just because of it, but it might very well make me want to find out more about it.

  8. I know just want you mean about titles and sometimes how similar they can be. I’ve been looking for Boy’s Life at the store and get frustrated that there’s a book This Boy’s Life that clerks are getting it confused with.

  9. I think you make a good point here – there are always titles I love and hate but either way I think they’re very important. I really love some of Raymond Chandler’s such as Farewell, My Lovely and The Big Sleep they have a certain feel to them that’s perfect for the content.

    I was never awfully keen on “Les Miserables” for a title as I think while it makes sense to those who have read it I’m sure it probably puts some people off; the book is simply not that sad. And I agree about modern titles – I think that a lot are very formulaic and bland.

    That said I couldn’t really decide on a title for mine and was never happy with it – it’s not always easy!

  10. I have been known to check out a book based on its title, but usually I won’t read it unless I find the accompanying story interesting too. I’ve been led astray by some titles I thought sounded good. The one that immediately comes to mind is “How to Be Good.” The title sounds like something right up my alley, unfortunately I couldn’t say the same for the book itself. Books that have lived up to the promise of their titles are “The Shadow of the Wind” and “The Plague of Doves.”

  11. Oh, I know I’ve purchased books for their titles. I’m such an impulse buyer.

    One of my favorite titles is Ella Minnow Pea – it doesn’t seem that spectacular, but once you’ve read the book, it’s very clever.

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