10 thoughts on the tricky task of naming a novel


Yacht names. There are some terrible ones painted on the sterns of some very pretty boats.

There’s clearly no formula for creating a novel’s title, and this post is more about the thought processes I’ve gone through recently, offered up as an idle distraction to anyone doodling on the front page of their own manuscript.

If your doodling isn’t working, I don’t recommend this random book title generator website, although it will divert and work as a splendid displacement activity for ten minutes or so, until you realize it’s really no help at all, fun though it is:


Here are some thoughts on the difficult task of naming a book:

1) Simmering down a mighty 300 page novel to five memorable words or less is not a task to be taken lightly. Clean your office windows and prepare to stare out of them like Holmes on an awkward case. Consider buying a violin (or guitar, see point No.5 below) and employ a Mrs. Hudson to bring you regular cups of tea as you ponder.

2) Still nothing? Perhaps create a list of candidates by reviewing key scenes in the book. The obvious danger here are you’ll spot a few typos, and some minor, yet rampant, structural imperfection in the plot. You switch to editing again to rectify the faults, and delay the naming ceremony for at least another month.

3) Back to the candidate list. Nothing is jumping out at you. Situation normal.

4) Bored — the title still being just out of reach — you’re back to wasting time meddling with the digital oracle that is the random title generator: The Trembling History, Missing Doors, The Voyages’s Voyage. All great album names, but they have nothing to do with your script, not a single thing. You sit down with paper and pen (!) and vow never to use the internet again until the title is decided upon.

5) The afternoon you set aside to finally solve the problem takes a musical lurch off course: Curiously, you find yourself learning Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird on the guitar by watching a variety of ‘How To’ tutorials on YouTube. None of the hairy guitar gurus strictly agree, but after an afternoon’s careful study, you have the ten minute solo committed to memory and your finger tips are now bleeding.

6) You know the title will be a flag to rally to, or a disaster signal if readers hate your book. Either way, you’re going to be stuck with it. These thoughts generate ever more spiralling levels of procrastination.

7) You fret. Is the title is over complicated? Are future readers going to remember it easily if told about it in a noisy café? Oh, the worry of it all.

8) You can’t decide. You abandon all hope and consider the best thing is to burden your friends and family with this seemingly unsolvable problem. You post your shortlist on Facebook. Brilliant. But the issue here is many of your friends and family haven’t read the book. The titles they like are the ones you have already crossed out but reinstated on the list at the last moment to pad out the title you’re beginning to feel comfortable with.

9) The candidate list is back. Again. Shorter now. The truth is, no one can help you with this, the final decision. It’s your problem. No matter what tortuous path you take to choosing a title, the ultimate question has to be: Does this title grab like a grappling hook? Genuinely? Would I pick up this novel if I saw it on a shelf in a bookshop?

Captain’s log, supplemental:

10) My particular book titling hate at the moment is for ones referencing some heavenly object in the night sky ‘rising’. Don’t get me started!


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