Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

What’s in a name?

Titles are often our first impression of what a story is about and encapsulate a book’s entire thesis. So, with this in mind, it’s always worth seeing if a book could do with a potential change of title as well as why certain titles work.

A popular trend in titles is to keep things simple by using the name of an important character. Examples include Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist and Moby Dick. All of these take the most memorable character – be it the heroine, young hero or white whale – to remind readers who their attention should be on. But while these approaches work as summations, are they enticing enough to the modern reader?

They require enticing and direct titles that sum up their content’s value

Maybe not, because there is a similar way titles are created for a different genre of books – self-help guides. These books are designed to help people work out every life problem imaginable. They require enticing and direct titles that sum up their content’s value. Examples include: How to improve your marriage without talking about it, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Economics. Such titles are reassuring and tell the reader that their time will not be wasted through the act of reading. With this approach in mind, Moby Dick could easily be changed to: 99 Reasons to get into whaling and One Reason why not to, which sums up the balance of content painfully well.

This approach could also have worked for Victor Hugo, who brought us The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables. To emphasise the book’s content directly, Hunchback could be retitled as: Death, Denial and Deformity: Why Architecture Matters. Les Miserables would also have worked with the honest title: A Comprehensive Guide to Everything I Have Passionate Thoughts about with a Story Attached, which could also apply to anything Proust has written.

Other authors who could benefit include Gustave Flaubert who may have entitled his magnum opus: 12 Reasons Why the Bourgeoise Life is Bad for Marriage instead of Madame Bovary. This direct approach would certainly prevent all the complaints aimed at readers of the books who did not reckon with what they were about to get into.

Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men could be easier to approach under the title of American Dreams and Agricultural Despair

Other approaches to the title are examples which aim to be more ambiguous but sound poetic, so they work regardless. Such works include: To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men and Heart of Darkness. All these titles hint at the central theme, meaning that GCSE Literature students will inevitably spend hours analysing them and contending with their more literal classmates in doing so. But for their sake, what if the theme had to be more directly pronounced?

Taking after Jane Austen, who managed to break her themes down to two words in Pride and Prejudice, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men could be easier to approach under the title of American Dreams and Agricultural Despair. It would certainly prepare readers yet to be traumatised for life by its ending just a tad more. Alternatively, Heart of Darkness would have been less ambiguous for uncertain readers had Joseph Conrad simply gone with the less ominous title: A Momentous Journey to the Centre of Colonialism.

Certain titles stick in our heads because they capture the tone, be it poetic, tragic or threatening, and others spell out the themes for readers for their comfort and convenience. Either can work.

Titles are always worth celebrating for their diversity and attempts at capturing the true meaning of a story in limited characters

But a saving grace of book titles is that, even in this age of mass media, books do not have to have the same regulations as films and TV when it comes to sequel titles. For instance, Go Set a Watchman wasn’t entitled 2 Kill 2 Mockingbirds and A Clash of Kings didn’t have to be called Game of Thrones 2. Hopefully book titles will never have to receive the dumbed down approach many film titles do.

And in terms of interesting variations, this article could go on for pages. Had Jaws been written by Jonas Jonassan it may have been called The Shark that Terrorised the Tourist-Dependant Town or if Lemony Snicket had written about mature stories of misery he could have retitled Psycho as The Maternally Motivated Motel. Titles are always worth celebrating for their diversity and attempts at capturing the true meaning of a story in limited characters. Some work, others don’t; but they all matter to our understanding of summarising stories.

Related Posts

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *