What’s in a Name, Anyway?

I always thought that the title to a memoir is very important.  After all, I want people to pick up the book, find the cover enticing and read the blurb or description with interest.   Being an avid reader myself who has always enjoyed autobiographies, memoirs, and historical novels, I have read more than my share.

But as I have been writing, I have been reluctant to settle on a name or discuss it with those who have asked.  So, I decided to do a little research and this is what I have learned.   The good ones have a catchy title like “The Liars’ Club” by Mary Carr, “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt, or “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Others say it must have a colon.  Either way, the title is the first writing to attract the prospective reader and encourage her/him to investigate further.

Many authors and readers see the title as a promise by the author to deliver a certain story and provide a sort of outline for the story.   I, myself, often stop to contemplate the title if I feel a certain tension in the memoir or if I become really curious about the possible ending.  Reading the end before you have finished the journey is not my thing though I know many who do it.

After so much time investment in my memoir, I decided it was time to come up with a working title – “Choices: War, Survival, Love.”  The book is about the choices the three matriarchs in the family made as they tried to triumph through war and displacement.  But, in some ways, it is also my love story.

Let me know what you think.  Does it serve the purpose of peeking your interest?

Neither you nor I should get invested in the title, because if I am lucky enough to get it published, the common wisdom is that a publisher will likely chuck it anyway.

5 thoughts on “What’s in a Name, Anyway?

  1. Choices sounds like a good start, but it feels grammatically off and as a prospective reader I want a clearer hint. The answer might come from thinking about the function of the colon which usually means to introduce a list, an explanation or to answer the implicit question posed. I.e., Choices: here are the ones I’m talking about, could suggest that war, survival and love are a list of the choices faced by the matriarchs, but while the decision to love or survive may be a choice war is not. Similarly, the three words following the colon don’t describe or explain the choices they made.

    I haven’t seen the manuscript but perhaps thinking about an adjective to modify Choices might be fruitful. The question the title raised for me is wanting to know more about what is the tension that love brings to making the choices. Perhaps because the title echoes the very specific war, love and survival circumstances of Sophie’s Choice.

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  2. Ann

    My experience is that agonizing over a title is wasted time. Pick a working title that makes it easy to think about the book. Sometimes a better title will pop into your head. The choice of a title can be left to last. (The title of Julia Child’s book, The Art of French Cooking, was chosen by Julia and her editor in a brainstorming session after everything else was complete.

    If you deal with a real publisher (rather than self-publishing), you will discover that the publisher will pick the title … before they will offer you a contract.

    Jim Malcolm

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