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What’s in a Name? The Importance of Titles


A. L. Kennedy, the judge of 2011 Bridport Short Story and Flash Fiction Prize, commented:

A number of writers seemed to have real difficulty finding a title that would help them . . .

She went on to say that the successful entries were the ones that work from ‘title to final’ in establishing an ‘unquestionable voice’.

Her stance is quite representative of the advice that editors routinely give writers. The title of a story or book is the first contact that a potential reader and editor make with your work. It represents your work to the world. If the title does not make the intended impact, it is unlikely that the reader or the editor will continue to read.

Some simple dos
A title must be instantly eye-catching
Easy to remember
Appropriate to the content of the book/story

A random selection of published works shows a wide variety of titles. These range from a single word or name:

Saturday – Ian McEwan

Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk

Shantaram – Gregory David Smith

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

Ulysses – James Joyce

to the enigmatic, and sometimes with metaphysical allusions:

The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson

The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner – Alan Sillitoe

to the seemingly mundane:

The Shipping News – E. Annie Proulx

The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje

Surfacing – Margaret Atwood

Family Matters – Rohinton Mistry

to dramatic, eye-catching titles:

Sexing The Cherry – Jeanette Winterson

Talking To The Dead – Helen Dunmore

Catcher In The Rye – J. D. Salinger

Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

For Whom The Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway

(taken from John Donne’s poem:
‘. . . Ask not for whom the bell tolls –
It tolls for thee’)

to the bizarre:

The Short History Of Tractors in Ukrainian – Marina Lewycha

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha – Roddy Doyle

The Windup Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

to intriguing ones:

Flaubert’s Parrot – Julian Barnes

The Speckled People – Hugo Hamilton

An Equal Music – Vikram Seth

The Enigma Of Arrival – V. S. Naipaul

In the highly competitive world of writing and publishing, it is worthwhile giving due care and attention to picking titles that will imbue your work with an almost talismanic potency.
Does the title of a work affect your choice of reading?

How do you choose titles for your own work?

Do you know of any striking titles that you might like to share here?

– Golden Langur

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