What’s in a Name?

By Alexandria Harris

Unlike Romeo, I’m going to cut right to the chase and tell you—everything. Before people even see your face, your name causes a certain bias. Your resume, business card, or direct mail piece might as well be your face. And this face can either say “Hello, I can see this is the beginning of something wonderful” or “Nice to meet you.” With the second option, I’m sure you’ve determined by now that it’s because the person has quickly moved past you to the next person with the normal-sounding name. Humans are creatures of comfort, if not anything. 

Naming your work, especially if it’s a book, is like naming a child. You want to take care with what you’ve put a lot of tears, sweat, and face palms into. Having your baby judged like a Harlequin romance when it isn’t is embarrassing.

I messed up and got it wrong.

Thankfully, naming your work can be easily remedied while naming your child…well let’s just say the first time for everything in this instance should be your last.

 I have no shame spending hours on baby name websites and name meaning generators to find the perfect name for my characters. They are going to breathe life into your story, so they definitely deserve a lot of time. Spending that time to make them all they can be is essential. 

My original book title was FORBIDDEN FRUIT. Besides the fact that at least seven other books have that title, my other hesitation was guiding my mainly young adult-intended audience to topics that may seem reprehensible by the title.

I had to go back to the drawing board and to square three. Square one was out because I’d already established a theme. My sequel is called GARDEN OF SOULS, and the third THE GRAPES OF RAGNAROK, so the title of the first book was especially important. It couldn’t just be anything. 

Some authors go through their book and pick a phrase they think was especially clever of them to write and pick that as a title. Others pick a concept or intricate detail. There is no rule of thumb. It actually depends on how much you can get the person reading your title to wonder about it or be awed. Your title should have a similar effect to pouring a bucket of ice water on someone.

I wracked my brain. I was in a bit of a pinch–I had to have my cover design updated and all the associated marketing materials by the next day. I suppose that’s what you get when you decide to change your title and you’re three months away from publishing your work.

After five hours of thinking, my brain felt like a sweat-caked marathon runner. 

The problem is that every title needs to be unique. Besides the cover design (and the back cover copy), it’s the most important thing that will influence people to buy your book (or other work). I hadn’t done my research, and that’s why I was in this conundrum. 

The good news is that little sisters can be accommodating when you promise to do their make-up for Homecoming. 

Going through the dictionary, thesaurus, and reading back through the book stressed me out—panicking, trying not to get it wrong. The fate of the world, or fate of how well this book will do, depended on how well I could command the English language. 

No pressure.  

So like Frodo looking for Mount Doom with Sam for back-up, I went with my sister Morgan through the paths of knowledge and memory to find a suitable title. It had to go where no title had gone before. An epic story demands an epic title.

I also had a little mystical help along the way—the Everchanging Book of Names, which sounds like it should be in a Harry Potter book or at least an epic fantasy novel. The software is amazing, featuring names for characters and locations in different languages. Some are old languages and some are new, but it will help you if you’re stuck under the villainous writer’s block. 

But in the end, how epic something becomes is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes simplicity can pack a larger punch than all of the long-winded, epic sounding names we can come up with. 

After two days of heavy thinking, I decided on THE GOLDEN ASHFRUIT for my title. With another month to go before publication, I’m banking on the title hold its weight and do some of the marketing for me.


Finally, I have some advice on naming. Do the research. If you do a web search and your current title is already being used for twenty other books, don’t use it. No matter how tempted you are, it isn’t worth starting from the bottom and trying to fight your way to the top of all the SEO madness. Also, Google Keywords is your best friend. The kind of best friend you want to hang out with all the time and consult for all your naming decisions. Lastly, be clever but not crazy.


Take your name where no name has gone before, but remember not to go wild and have it resent you for the rest of its (hopefully) long-lived life.