What's In A Title?

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-06-05 12:00:00 No comments

One of the wits circulating through the world of computer science goes something like this: "There are only two truly hard problems in this field: cache expiration and naming things." I'm not sure what the first truly hard problem is in writing, but I'm positive naming things is the second as well.

I am awful at coming up with names for works. So bad, in fact, that I just scavenge the names ahead of time, write them down by the sockful, and trawl through them to see if there's a match between a saved title and something I'm currently working on. Sometimes the title is good enough to inspire a work (case in point: Shunga-Satori, about which I'll have more to say later this year, maybe). Sometimes it's just catchy, and a catchy title is rare enough that it's worth saving whenever you come across such a specimen.

Titles are essentially advertising of a kind, and self-promotion is another one of those things I've never been very good at. On the other hand, choosing a good title can be one of the more efficient forms of self-promotion out there -- if people remember the title because it stands out and evokes something, you have an edge over everyone else who doesn't.

I find that a title is only really memorable, though, when it ends up being attached to something we come to care about. Star Wars is not an especially memorable title. The first time I heard it, at the tender age of six, I thought it was rather bland. (With a mind like that I might well have ended up working for Fox's marketing department, since at the time they were not much more imaginative; they believed the movie would be hard to sell because their surveys showed women wouldn't watch a movie with "Wars" in the title.) But once the movie itself came along, the title went from being not especially memorable to an iconic brand. Maybe all the more readily so for being so generic at the outset; you could fill such a name with anything.

Most of the really great works of our time tend to be like this: Casablanca (what's in a [place] name?), Mrs. Dalloway, Kind Of Blue, The Wire. Every now and then you get something with a little poetry in it: The Dark Side Of The Moon, Journey To The End Of The Night, Notes From Underground. (This is my favorite category.) Or something with alliterative appeal: The Great Gatsby. But for the most part, a title is just a label, and maybe trying to go overboard with a memorable title doesn't help.

Tags: creativity naming things writing