Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

What’s in a Title?

One of my students asked a question this week about coming up with good book titles. It got me thinking.  In my view, good titles are:

Catchy – They play with language, use alliteration, rhyme or rhythm, have a sense of humor, rather than just describing the events of the story.  What if Where the Wild Things Are had been called Max Gets into Trouble, or The Cat in the Hat had been The Day We Had Nothing to Do?

Short – The shorter the better. They’re easier to remember (see next bullet item), and easier for the child to ask for.

Appropriate to the materialThe Cat in the Hat tells us the book will be easy to read, playful with language and characters, and probably written in verse.  Would The Day We Had Nothing to Do, The Day the Cat Came to Visit, or even The Cat, Sally and Me have been as accurate a reflection of what’s inside the book?

Don’t directly state what the story is about, but imply it. – If your title reveals everything that happens in the story, why bother reading it?   Think about Goodnight, Moon versus Little Bunny Says Goodnight to Everything and Everyone.

Specific to your bookThe House at Pooh Corner could only apply to that book. But The Toy Friends or The Woodland Animals could apply to that, and dozens of other books.

Memorable – A title that is catchy, short, appropriate, specific and intriguing – per the above – is likely to be memorable.

There are many ways to explore possible titles.  Consider these ideas:

  • Familiar expressionsGuess How Much I Love You? And To Think That It Happened on Mulberry Street, My Side of the Mountain, The King’s Equal
  • A play on words (rhyme, alliteration, rhythm, a familiar phrase turned around, etc.) – Pinkalicious, Pete’s a Pizza, My Family and Other Animals, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
  • A hidden meaning (revealed in the story). –  The BFG, Frindle, Ella Enchanted, The Palace of Laughter
  • Character namesOlivia, Owen, Pippi Longstocking, Knuffle Bunny, The Borrowers
  • A placeSugarbush Spring, The Little House on the Prairie, The City of Ember, Where the River Begins
  • A possessivePeter’s Chair, Charlotte’s Web, Thomas’ Snowsuit, Saffy’s Angel, Elizabeti’s Doll, Mr. Popper’s Penguins
  • One or more “things” – The Hundred Dresses, The Twenty-One Balloons,  The 101 Dalmatians,  The 39 Clues
  • Words that have a “double meaning”The Trumpet of the Swan, Happy Birth Day
  • Things that don’t usually go togetherThe Phantom Tollbooth, The Pushcart War, Stone Soup, The Paper Bag Princess, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
  • An event or activityAround the World in Eighty Days, The Battle for Castle Cockatrice, How I Became a Pirate
  • A memorable line from the story itself To Kill a Mockingbird, Where is That Cat? Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go To Sleep, Bad Dog, Marley! Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
  • Something intriguingA Wrinkle in Time, The Magic Tree House, Treasure Island, Freaky Friday, Math Curse
  • Something ultra-simpleFire Truck, Holes, The Snow Man, The Wish

What are your suggestions for how to choose a good title?

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3 Responses to “What’s in a Title?”
  1. Beth says:

    Thank you, Emma! You’ve given me lots to ponder. This particularly hit home: “If your title reveals everything that happens in the story, why bother reading it?” Right. Of course. (insert figurative slap on the forehead here) The working title I’ve been using on my current picture book project reveals too much, in too mundane a way.

    Thinking cap is in place. I will be re-reading this post a few times, I do believe, as I work at coming up with a “real” title.

  2. Connie Stewart says:

    I have been exploring this site and it is wonderful. I love working with words and this information on the Title of my book is very helpful. I will be revisiting the titles on my list of ideas for books. Thank you.

  3. Therese Nagi says:

    Thank you Emma, you have thrown down a challenge to come with a fun catchy title1

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