Thursday, March 30, 2017

What's in a Name? Titles and More! by Kathy Halsey

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."  - William Shakespeare.

Names are important and often an overlooked piece of the writer's craft. Today we look at titles, character names, and even how we might craft our signature as authors when we do book signings. 

I have always loved naming things. Every car I've ever owned had a name: King Kamehameha 24, Otilia, Marg, Silver Bullet. I named my hub's new Volt "Usain Volt." I think the perfect job would be naming ice cream flavors, right? So, it is part of my writing process to come up with either a title or a main character's name very early on for a new draft. Even when I read mentor texts, I'm always on the lookout for a clue in the text for what names were chosen and why.

Titles & Main Characters

JOURNEY by Emma Bland Smith is one of my new nonfiction favorites. The main character OR7 is the seventh wolf collared in Oregon. Smith's story ingeniously juxtaposes the wolf's trek with a parallel story of Abby, a young California girl who wins a contest to name the wolf. 

Emma said, "Using the human main character was the only way  to convey some of the information wanted to share."

The naming contest was conceived because conservationists figured this pup would become too "famous" to harm. OR7 was on a trip, and Journey is the perfect name to encapsulate his plight, his story, and the title of Emma's book.

Question for Writers: Does your main character's name do double duty in the same way that Emma's does with "Journey?" 

Another caveat in naming comes from  well-respected children's writer Stacy McAnulty. She was a "critique ninja" for 12x12 and noticed these trends with names:
  • Characters named after their species. A duck named Duck. A bear named Bear.
  • Characters' names in the titles. Bill's Day at the Beach. Fred and John. (Not actual examples.)
Question for Writers: Scan your WIPS for names and titles. Do they fit this trend? Is there a way you could spice them up? Think of fun names such as Andrea J. Looney's "Bunnybear" and his friend "Grizzlybun!"

Author Inscriptions
We've all been to author events and signings. Have you ever flipped through your library of signed books to ponder the inscriptions? What a fun exercise to imagine how you'd sign your own published books! Visualization is always a great motivator, too. Also, an inscription can turn into a good log line or theme for a current project. 

In no particular order, here are some inscriptions I enjoy from some of my favorite authors: 
  • TO THE STARS! THE FIRST AMERICAN TO WALK IN SPACE  - "Shine." (Written in shiny silver ink on the black end pages.)
  • WHEREVER YOU GO - "Say 'Yes' to adventure."
  • SUPER GEAR: NANOTECHNOLOGY AND SPORTS TEAM UP - "Make nanotechnology part of your game."
  • THE HOUND DOG'S HAIKU AND OTHER POEMS FOR DOG LOVERS - "For Kathy and her dogged memories."

Spice up those titles, experiment with character names, and dream of your debut and inscriptions. Have fun with your work now! 


  1. I look forward to your signature on my copy of your books, Kathy!

    To answer your query about signatures/autographs, Nancy Willard signed one of her children's books for me & DREW a moon. I've seen several writers who manage to add some art to their autograph. I draw a palm tree with my sig. on the p.b. bio of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper.

    This is so interesting about JOURNEY. I've put it on my To Read List.


    1. Jan, knowing you as a fan of NF, you WILL love JOURNEY. I live of rate day when I can do book signings. & i like your sig!

  2. Kathy, what a fresh look at titles! Great job. Thank you for reminding us of the power of words.

    1. Ty, Sherri, for being my cheerleader and editor. I did OK today, right?

  3. Thanks, Kathy, for another great post and the importance of titles. I look forward to reading Journey as well as to YOUR bookd! =]

    1. The importance of proof-reading before hitting that button--books NOT bookd!

    2. Hey, I understand, I am always 2 "left" fingers when I type. I do enjoy word play and playing w/titles. Ty for reading, Anne.

  4. Titles! Another bane for me as you know-LOL Thank you, Kathy, for injecting some fresh titles and the use of adding fun to inscriptions :)

    1. And TY, Charlotte, fo r always been here w/me.

  5. Good post. With my new book, Duck and Cover, I sign 'Hang your dreams on a star,' because that is what the main character in the book does.

  6. These are three important elements of a picture book, Kathy. The title, character names and inscriptions must be created with just the right words.

    For more information about titles, readers of the GROG Blog may want to check out this previously published post once again.