The Importance of Book Titles… And How They’re Like Baby Names

bookpersonYou’ve all heard the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” – but equally important is the title of a book. If a book were a person, its clothing and outward appearance would be representative of the cover, and its name the title. Just like how we do actually judge books by their covers, we also judge books by their titles, although it seems to be a less-appreciated1,2 and less-discussed topic3,4. And I also don’t know if we all prefer certain titles like we prefer certain covers – an aesthetically appealing cover is likely to be aesthetically appealing to a good chunk of the book community, but is an attractive title likely to be attractive to everyone?

Looking for attractive book titles is kind of like looking for good baby names. And sometimes when I’m bored, I would go on those Popular Baby Names and Meanings sites and make lists of names that I liked. But often, I find myself analyzing book titles like I would baby names – some are too plain, some are too extravagant, some are too common, and so on and so forth. But others are just plain enough, just extravagant enough – just right. #goldilocks ūüźĽūüźĽūüźĽ Here are some of my own categories of book titles I likeand, in my opinion, their corresponding baby names – and how these titles are important in determining whether or not I want to read the book. As with everything book-related, this is a pretty subjective list, so I’d love to hear about whether or not you have the same preferences for book titles!

1. Long (but simple)


These are titles like¬†The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating,¬†How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky, and The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared¬†…¬†something that sounds pretty straightforward and uncomplicated but captures your attention nonetheless. I’m particularly attracted to verbs and easily-visualizable everyday¬†images, and these long (but simple) titles embody those traits well. They are the¬†Mary Jos, Rosie Maes,¬†and¬†Ethan Lees¬†of the book world – longer than usual, but still retain an effortlessness and ease of a young girl or boy walking through the prairie after a long day’s work.

2. Long and extravagant


All hail these book titles!¬†The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making comes to mind immediately, and maybe¬†¬†Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance¬†and¬†Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. They differ from the long (but simple) titles in that there’s some part of them that’s out of the norm or doesn’t fit into our world.¬†They seem to be pretty rare, since most titles that veer towards long and CRAZY (especially ALL THE NON-FICTION BOOKS WITH COMPOUND TITLES aka that long thing after the colon) become¬†difficult to read¬†and even more difficult to¬†dissect. Long and extravagant titles still retain their elegance and sophistication, like a Maximillian or an¬†Anastasia.¬†

3. Short and sweet


These titles are like confetti – one- or two-word titles that just sprinkle down and make everything pretty and shiny and good in the world.¬†Gathering Blue,¬†Paper Towns,¬†Stargirl, Little Bee – I can go on and on and on! The corresponding baby names are the traditional short names like¬†Beth,¬†Kim,¬†Ann,¬†Max, and¬†Jack. (Although¬†Stargirl¬†kind of wishes she were a bit more modern, like¬†Skye…)

4. Trending


I’m thinking of popular YA titles nowadays, and there seems to be a trend towards “A-something-of-something-and-something”-type titles, such as¬†A Girl of Fire and Thorns, Daughter of Smoke & Bone, and¬†A Court of Thorns and Roses.¬†The popular kids are now the¬†Jacobs,¬†Liams, and¬†Isabellas¬†(according to one of those Baby Names websites). (The other trend seems to be “Something-and-other-somethings” in analogy-style, like¬†My Heart and Other Black Holes,¬†Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend, and¬†Love Fortunes and Other Disasters.)

So for me, book titles are very important because they elicit different emotional responses and imagery even without all the fancy fonts and colors. They can give us a glimpse of the plot of the book, or they can represent an obscure part that’s hidden in the book that you immediate gravitate towards, like finding hidden treasure. I draw parallels between book titles and baby names here because there are different types of names, just as there are different types of titles… and I’m sure authors choosing titles for their books gives off a baby name-choosing¬†feeling, haha.

What are your favorite book titles?

19 thoughts on “The Importance of Book Titles… And How They’re Like Baby Names

  1. Great post! Titles have such an effect on whether or not I take a serious look at a book. I’ve read some of the ones you mention, but I’m captivated by the ones I have not–and will check them out.

  2. This is such an interesting idea, I never would have made the connection between titles and baby names. (I do love looking up baby names, though. Especially in this old dictionary I have – some of the names are hilarious.) I’m actually not a fan of the long and extravagant names. I prefer simpler titles with one to three words, especially with alliteration. I’m thinking Lair of Dreams, Beastly Bones, Mockingbird, etc. Of course, that could be because those are the books I’m currently reading/will read soon/just finished. ūüėõ

    • Ahaha, my brain connects the weirdest things together… but I was reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and thought, “Why would Cat Valente give her book such a long name? That’s like me giving my child a name like Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise… which doesn’t sound good unless she’s Princess Anne.”

      I like alliteration in titles too! There are some names that just don’t catch my attention without the help of the cover: Andy Weir’s The Martian and Mira Grant’s Parasite are some of those books. There are also books that I’ve read where I can clearly see that I chose them based on their name (like The Ex Games or Hungry), and I think it was a more common practice for library-goers who skim through the shelves and choose books by titles on the spine.

      • Hahaha, that’s fantastic. I have two middle names, so maybe I can’t talk, but I do wonder if people sometimes have such a hard time choosing a name, they just name their kids everything. I would probably be tempted to do that, because I love names. Maybe it’s better to get a bunch of cats instead. XD

        Yes, The Martian doesn’t do much for me as a title, either, but I loved the book. That’s a good point. Half the time these days we talk about books using acronyms, anyways. I wonder if authors ever pick names with the intention of creating an awesome acronym, like ADSOM. That’s a book whose title would call to me from the shelf, even if I weren’t already a Victoria Schwab fan.

  3. The long titles are some of my favorites, whether simple or extravagant. I feel as though authors often manage to do beautiful things with language in the longer titles and they do intrigue me.

  4. Hmmm, I don’t know how much book titles affect me. I mean, they must, but I don’t have any favorites. I think I’m more likely to put off by bad titles than drawn in by a good title alone. I do get excited though when book titles in a series all relate. You’re so right about that trending one though! I’ve seen it way too many times, and I feel like, is that really selling more books for them? Because I’d much rather go with something original if it were my book.

    • Yeah, the trending ones are interesting! I get them all confused, but I guess a similar thing happens to covers (ex. post-Twilight covers, eep)…

  5. I love this post! I wrote a post about book titles a while back (I’ll have to dig it up!) and one thing I mentioned that REALLY bugs me is when authors just use the name of the protagonist for the title. OK, it worked for Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre) and Jane Austen (Emma), but don’t you think our 21st century authors could get a little more creative?

    • Thanks, Ann! Ooh, I actually haven’t read many books with the protagonist’s name as the title. (Except for the Lunar Chronicles, I guess!) If the names are unique enough, I think I don’t mind too much. But then that leads me down a rant on “unique” names, haha… ūüė§

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