So what, exactly, is in that name?!


Recently I’ve come across some movies and books, the names of which have left me scratching my head.

Now I don’t know about you but I’m one of those types of readers who, in the course of reading a book, will always think of the title and what made the author choose that title (given of course that it’s not something obvious like the name of the main character). And there are times when I even anticipate the point in the story where the meaning of the title is revealed. I guess I do the same for movies.

Last week I watched a movie called ‘Abduction’. Wasn’t a bad movie but afterwards I was slightly annoyed. Nobody was abducted or kidnapped in this movie. I tried to look for a symbolic meaning in the title. Nope. Nothing there either. I was left with a similar feeling after finishing The Old Curiosity Shop. I kept wondering why it was called that when not even a hundred pages into the book Nell and her grandfather leave the shop and the rest of the story chronicles their journey away from London. Was the great Charles Dickens just being lazy? No. I had just had an epiphany while writing this blogpost. Since The Old Curiosity Shop was initially printed as a serial in a magazine, on starting it, Dickens had to give it a name. And since the first parts were set in the shop he probably thought it was the best name for the story. (This is my theory, I’m trying to give the genius the benefit of the doubt here…) Of course looking forward this title doesn’t make any sense.

Now perhaps the name of a story shouldn’t influence your enjoyment of it but I have to admit that sometimes for me, it does.

A good example is Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye. This title is an intriguing (if not mysterious) one to someone who hasn’t read it. As I progressed through the novella, I anticipated what this title could mean and how it tied in with Holden Caulfield, the main character. When that point in the book came however, I marvelled at the symbolism Salinger employed and despite the melancholy tone of the story, the revelation of the meaning behind the title put a smile on my face. It’s one of the things that I’ll never forget about that book.

I understand that in some cases, coming up with the title for your story can be more time-consuming and brain-racking then writing the story itself. I know this firsthand too. Some will definitely argue that this shouldn’t be the case and that the story is more important, not the title, but I guess I just find it irksome when no intelligent thought is given to names of things or worse, when the title makes no sense.

So does a terrible, silly or ingenious title affect your enjoyment of a book? And what’s the most confusing name of a book or movie you’ve ever come across?

NM :-)

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14 thoughts on “So what, exactly, is in that name?!

  1. jenniferneri says:

    It does, Nisha!! I too look for the moment of title revelation in a story! Hate it when it’s a let down. I put a ridiculous amount of hours into the title of my current wip and I’m hoping it will bring reader satisfaction. Of course, it only came once I entirely gave up on ever finding the perfect title. lol.

    • Nisha says:

      Glad to know I’m not the only one Jen, and it really is annoying when it’s a letdown especially when it makes no sense! LOL.

      What’s that saying about a watched kettle? Ha ha, sometimes when we try too hard, we block ourselves creatively. But glad you found your perfect title, I’m sure it was waiting for you all along… :)

  2. When I teach creative writing to kids, they often obsess about titles and want the perfect title even before they begin writing. I tell them to relax and write the story; the title will come later. I usually get a look of panic or confusion when I say this.

    I have to say, the titles of Rae Carson’s series (“The Girl of Fire and Thorns” “The Crown of Embers” “The Bitter Kingdom”) don’t really gel for me — although the second was better than the first and I haven’t finished the third book yet.

    • Nisha says:

      LOL, kids can be so cute but to be honest I can empathize with them a little bit. Most of the titles to the short stories I’ve written were already established even before I started writing them(of course the ideas and mindmaps were already done). There was a case though, were I wrote this one story but I had no title, and I was like: oh never mind, I’ll figure out a name for it later. But when I was almost finished with it, I still didn’t have a title and I started panicking a bit because I had no idea what to call it!

      Maybe for a young kid, having a title first gives a sense of focus and establishes the starting point, even though that needn’t be the case… :-)

  3. nelle says:

    Good topic. I can’t think of one, mainly because if it doesn’t connect in some way, I just do an end around and engage the overall story. Most on my shelves seem to have representative titles.

    Now you’re going to have me thinking on titles when I read. :-)

    I hate choosing a title… it took me a long time to come up with a title for my novel, and even then I can’t do it justice without using Photoshop. I’ll post it on my blog.

    • Nisha says:

      Haha, oops sorry, hope I haven’t ruined your future reading experiences in any way :D

      Is it the same title I just saw on Facebook? Twinned? I love it. It so clean and simple yet it stands out. :)

  4. beckyday6 says:

    Yay, this post makes me feel so much more normal because I do this too. I once mentioned somewhere on my blog (not sure if it was a review or ramble) that I loved it when the title of a book was mentioned in it somewhere, especially if it was a line or short sentence. Then someone joked that I would hyperventilate if I read IT by Stephen King. Ha, ha, ha, sarcasm abound. Having said that I don’t think the title of a book has ever ruined one for me, but it does annoy me a bit when it seems to have no relevance. The Caster Chronicles come to mind, Beautiful Creatures/Darkness/Chaos/Redemption. The same goes for book covers actually. It bugs me when there’s some random woman/man on the front representing the main characters when they don’t actually look anything like their description e.g. hair colour, lol.

    As for Abduction, was it the film with Taylor Lautner in? If so there was a reason it was called Abduction because that was how he found out about his true identity, finding himself on an Abduction site. Having said that, no, it definitely doesn’t seem to have any hidden meaning to it. :P I think you’re spot on with the reason for the Dickens title, I kind of like it actually, it’s quirky. :)

    Great post!

    • Nisha says:

      Phew, I did seriously wonder whether I was the only reader who was like this but it looks like I’m in good company ;-)

      Strange thing about IT is that, if it had been called Pennywise it wouldn’t have been as scary. IT has a very scary ring to it.
      LOL, I’ve never come across a book cover where the ‘model’ looked nothing like the MC or didn’t depict any of the characters or the story. That’s definitely reaching new levels of illogic.

      Yes, it was that Twilight dude. Ah okay I think I understand where the title comes from, although in my opinion it still doesn’t make sense because his father purposely gave him up for adoption to those two agents. Maybe it should have been called Adoption. Ha ha, lame I know. :-P

      I guess I was disappointed with the title OCS because I was looking forward to the idea of a story set in a shop. I guess I was picturing a more sedate version of Sweeney Todd or something. But most of the action took place nowhere near the shop. :P

      • beckyday6 says:

        You certainly are! I thought I was the only one.

        I have no idea who Pennywise is but I will take your word for it. :) It is so bizarre, I guess it all goes into the psychology of advertising and so they put on the covers these ideal images of people they THINK we want to see, even if it makes no sense. For instance if a book is about someone from a minority of some sort you can guarantee they won’t put a person on the front cover, or they’ll put someone on there that looks neutral. It’s pretty disgusting actually.

        Hahaa, maybe it started off as Adoption and then they were like ‘no no no….it’s not EDGY enough. Lets call it….Abduction, much cooler.’ :P

        Ohh no that’s a shame, did you enjoy the book as a whole? I don’t know much about it!

      • Nisha says:

        Let’s just say that it’s typical Dickens fare. It can be long-winded and drawn out at times(that long-standing joke, about how he was paid by the word, applies here), but if there’s one thing that stands out about this book it’s the characters. I’ve never come across such unique and memorable characters before. There was even this pony that one of the mc’s looked after, and even he had a personality of his own, it was so brilliantly depicted. So therefore, 10/10 for characterization. :-)

  5. Barb says:

    I don’t pay much attention to the name of a book OR the name of a chapter. So when I happen to come across the book title in the text, I’m usually surprised or pensive….hmmmm. What’s that mean? I think Grapes of Wrath was my biggest disappointment in a name.

    • Nisha says:

      I’ve never read Grapes of Wrath but I did always wonder about that title. I assumed it had something to do with jealousy(sour grapes) and anger. Surprisingly I also tend to ignore the chapter titles(if there are any) but never the main title.
      Good to hear from you Barb, hope you’re well… :)

  6. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    Great post, Nisha, as I too want the title of the book to “make sense”. I mean, it stands to reason it should, don’t you agree?! In my post http://wordsfallfrommyeyes.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/restraint/ when I said how “words fell from my eyes” a lot of people said “Oh, so that’s where the name of your blog comes from” and they appreciated it. There was no opportunity otherwise, to explain it.

    But what I’m saying is, SOMEwhere, it’s got to make sense, at SOME stage. So yes, I’m with you!

    • Nisha says:

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      I’m glad you agree, I can never understand what the thought processes are of some people when they choose names. Perhaps they’re trying to be clever and original or mysterious. But in some cases it doesn’t work.
      And yes, I love that ‘AHA!’ moment when the meaning of a title is revealed. :)

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