Sunday, August 03, 2008

Naming things

When I was about 3 or 4 years old I had a plastic cup I loved to drink out of. If I couldn't find it I would ask---very loudly, I had a strident voice as a child---where my green cup was.

One of my sisters (bullies!) would give me a bright green cup from the back of the cabinet.

"No, I want my green cup. It's green. Not this."

Ah, she was colorblind you say. Or just plain stupid. Well, that might be, but in fact the cup--my cup--was bright pink (I also had a bright pink room with bright pink shades...what'ya gotta say about that huh? Nothing? I didn't think so) but...I had decided that the word "pink" did not adequaely convey the beauty of the actual color pink. "Pink" the word depleted the splendid pinkness of the actual color I loved so much. Green, now that was a more attractive sounding word and fully conveyed in my demented child-mind the true beauty of the color others called pink.

I guess it was my first understanding that language itself is a rather arbitrary construct. There is nothing pink about pink or green about green. A chair would be a chair if it was called a log. Someone somewhere a long, long time ago came up with words so that we could communicate via shared meaning.

So how do we name things...or people for that matter? How do you look at an infant and decide she is an Emily and not an Emma?

Why have I been thinking of pink and green and names? It is time to start thinking about the actual title of my new novel and I am lost. It started off as The Beauty Parlor but I am not sure that that name actually fits now. Then I came up with "When Rage is Spent," but it sounds pretentious and portentious....and well just wrong.

I want a title that comes across as prosaic at first glance but then is full of meaning and is rather mysterious. A title that only makes sense when you finally read the book. Some authors are just good at naming their books. Even books and stories I don't like have great names (as are the ones I do like): Unaccustomed Earth, Interpreter of Maladies, The Name of the Rose, The Great Gatsby, Meghadoot (The Cloud Messenger, an ancient Indian work), Love in the Time of Cholera, The Last King of Scotland, The Heroes Walk, Mammaries of the Welfare State, etc. etc.

It's good to see others grapple with this naming issue. In fact, there is an interesting article on good book titles, here.

And here are the top novel names according to one writer.

What are some of your favorite book titles? Do titles for your own work come easily to you or do you struggle?


Sher said...

One of my favourite titles is 'The Deep End of the Ocean' (Jacqueline Mitchard). It only refers to a sentence that the main character has with her son and for me really doesn't encompass the meaning or theme of the book. I just liked it. Amy Tan seems to be good at naming her books -'The Joy Luck Club', One Hundred Secret Senses', The Kitchen God's Wife.'
Happy naming.

Jawahara Saidullah said...

Ah yes, I do like Amy Tan's titles...I just wish I actually liked her books :-(

I do really like The Deep End of the Ocean as well. A title should pull you in, right? And this one does.

Damn the pressure!!!!

Also, what are school dinners? I really want to know. :-)

BS said...

My favorite article on this subject: