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Naming Your Baby -- by Beth Overmyer

Naming your book can be harder than naming your first born. For a child, you can go to sites like Behind the Name or Baby Names; but besides the occasional random title generator you might stumble upon, there is no easy way to slap a good title to your writing.

          This is the part where I say, “Or is there?” Ahem. There isn’t really, but here are some methods that might help:

  1. Write a short synopsis of your project. Go through and look at all the important nouns, proper or otherwise. Does your main character have to go on a quest? Highlight your character’s name and quest. What is the quest about? Does she have to find an artifact? Highlight what she has to find. Do those line up into something useable? (And don’t forget the antagonist. Think Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die. It combines the quest—to kill Dorothy—with the antag’s name.)
  2. If you can’t string together anything with the first part, go a step further. Take the nouns and think of related words, not necessarily synonyms. You could slap on the title Indiana Jones and the Search for the Holy Grail, but try out some wordplay first. Indy’s on a quest, yes, but so were some Knights a long time ago. A Crusade. Indiana Jones and the Crusade isn’t immediate or exciting enough as a title. Put pressure on the reader. The LAST in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade gives us a sense of urgency.
  3. If those don’t spark anything in you, look for themes in your book. What happens? Why? Is there a message? In The Lord of the Flies, there’s a moment when one of the characters hallucinates and thinks a pig’s skull is talking to him. However, the reason for the title: another name for the Lord of the Flies is Satan/the Devil, as in “the Devil made me do it” or “the Devil is man’s nature.” Man’s nature is wicked, the theme of the book. Hence The Lord of the Flies.
  4. Play connect-the-dots/stream-of-thought. Write one word that makes you think of your book. Then write another word that makes you think of that word, not censoring yourself until you have a sheet of words to work with. Take the words you like. Write them out in a line. Add other words to them. Cross out some words. Keep tweaking until you get something you like.


Your title should give the reader a small taste of what to expect from the book without giving everything away. Reread some of your favorite books. Think about what made you pick them up in the first place, then study the titles. How do you think the author came up with it? Is it obvious like The Phantom of the Opera? Or a little more imaginative like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

Play around. Don’t commit to anything at first, but don’t throw anything away. Usually your first idea isn’t The One—sometimes it is, though, so don’t discard it. Write at least five things down before settling. Then sleep on it…literally. Think about it before you go to bed, keep a pen and notebook on your nightstand and jot down anything that comes to you throughout the course of the night.

Naming your book may be as tough as naming a child, but at least with books, you have time to change it before publication. And if you go with a traditional publisher, you might have less say in the title than you expect. So no worries. Have fun with it, and good luck naming your baby—I mean book.


If anyone on CC wants to brainstorm titles with me, go ahead and send a private message and I’ll see what I can do. I LOVE brainstorming titles.


Posted by Beth Overmyer 13 Jun 2017 at 01:09
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Responses to this blog

Rellrod 14 Jun 2017 at 02:17  
Great stuff!

Here's one that sometimes works: Does your story remind you of some classic or thought-provoking line from a famous (or not-so-famous favorite) work? (One that's out of copyright, preferably.) Think For Whom the Bell Tolls. I've done that at least twice . . .

Bethywoo 14 Jun 2017 at 02:31  
Great one, Rick!
Trevose 15 Jun 2017 at 04:09  
All good advice. I'd also suggest you give some consideration to including popular keywords in your title. Additionally, you can take advantage of subtitles on Amazon to provide a more detailed description of your work, again using popular keywords to increase traffic to your Amazon sales site.
Siskin 17 Jun 2017 at 08:23  
There's something magical about giving a name to a story. I think it's because the title is out there and you just have to find it. It's similar to water divining; you feel around for the right one.
I love this part of writing. I don't choose a name until the story is written and the search may take days, but it's fun. What's the science behind it? Don't ask! That'd be like trying to understand why the bicycle stays upright. All I know is that my bike does stay upright even when I'm traveling down a steep hill and taking a sharp corner. And all I know about naming stories is that when I find the correct name bells ring, lights flash and the world seems good.
18 Jun 2017 at 14:29  
Sometimes in a novel there is a defining moment or a catch phrase that jumps out. I love when that happens. It's like finding that golden nugget.
Susieq 18 Jun 2017 at 17:05  
Thanks for the invitation. I will take you up on it because I'd already noticed that you're really, really good at titles.
Fictiondog 19 Jun 2017 at 12:32  
I, too, will take you up on your offer!

One thing was missing, however, from your excellent blog post; genre. Simply, different genres have naming conventions, or hints embedded in their title, of the genre. (It seems like every book my youngest (real) child reads is called Magician This or Something Sword.) I changed the working title of my WIP and I'm not sure that it doesn't send a more "literary" message than I'm comfortable with.
Darthjader 23 Jun 2017 at 10:01  
When writing, I'll use a working title in my head and on the page that's often as simple as the name of the main character, but always with the assumption that at some point in the writing process the 'right' title will just come to me... The mileage on that assumption varies widely between projects!
Stebmaya 24 Jun 2017 at 11:32  
Siskin I do the same
Chaine 24 Jun 2017 at 16:00  
Thanks for a great and very interesting blog.

I’m quite convinced that the starting point for some authors is the title. I image this is the process two authors from my part of the world use. The titles of Sheila Quigley’s books are all song titles: Nowhere Man, The Road to Hell, Thorn in My Side, Run for Home, Bad Moon Rising, Every Breath You Take, Living on a Prayer, The Final Countdown and The Sound of Silence. L J Ross uses local place names: Cragside, High Force, Holy Island, Sycamore Gap, Angel and Heavenfield.

It may be worth considering this if you’re casting about for a story prompt. Popular song titles at the moment include: Wild Thoughts, Bad Liar, There’s Nothing Holding Me Back, That’s What I Like, Lie To Me and Galway Girl. I have friends in Illinois who live near a place called Starved Rock. Wow, what a starting point that could be. I live near places with the names Nowhere, Once Brewed, Helm and Bog Houses.

I think a title could be a great starting point for your next book rather than something you think of when it’s complete. As the old saying goes; "There are more ways than one to skin a cat." Come to think of it, that could make a great book title.

Jimo 13 Jul 2017 at 14:51  
Thanks for sharing this Beth. Very useful! With most of my books, I've used a working title as a kind of literary compass to keep me focused. With my first novel my publisher prodded me to find another title we both agreed on. They suggested a process similar to one of your suggestions. Not all publishers are as participatory.
James Osborne
Bethywoo 19 Sep 2017 at 02:40  
Sorry I'm so late getting back to everyone!

@Trevose - Good points!

@Siskin - That's interesting. The title is usually the first thing I have, followed by characters. My titles rarely change. Maybe I'm an oddball

@Lloh - Definitely!

@Susieq - Thank you so much, Susie! And, yes, feel free to contact me, here or my email or wherever works best for you.

@Fictiondog - The offer's still open to you, too (and everyone.) If you, or anyone wants to brainstorm, I'm all over the 'net! Agreed about naming conventions for different genres. Excellent point.

@Darthjader - First, your username ROCKS. That's a good process to go by.

@Chaine - Thank you. Yes, that is me! Title first (usually) then story.

@Jimbo - You're welcome! I'm glad you fond this post useful.

Again, everyone can still contact me. That offer's always open. I'm really busy right now, but I will get back to you as soon as I'm able.

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