Writing Craft

Naming Names

We recently received several excellent questions that I would like to answer:

1.) Should (you) repeat a book name and how old should it be?

I believe you are asking if it is okay to use the same title for your book even if it has already been used before. And if so, how many years should pass before using that previously used book title.

What you are trying to avoid is having your book mixed up with someone else’s and there are some precautions you can take.

It’s always a great idea to do an Internet search to see if your title is too similar to current or soon-to-be-published offerings. I’d say if a mid-list book is several years old, and especially in a different genre, it’s okay to use the same title. A caution on choosing a title from another genre: you don’t want to use the same title as an unsavory book. This can happen innocently enough, especially with romance titles.

Another idea is to do an Amazon search to see if a book has more or less run its course so the title is no longer strongly associated with someone else’s work. Classics such as The Screwtape Letters will stay in print and always have strong associations, so these titles are obviously off-limits. You also should not re-use titles such as Gone with the Wind, Rosemary’s Baby or To Kill a Mockingbird.

Even with the best due diligence, it is still possible to end up matching someone else’s title. However, with good search engine optimization on your web site (SEO), your book should come up first on search engines while it’s current.

I recommend not getting too attached to your working title, because the publisher may decide to change it, anyway. I’ve heard that at least half of all books have their titles changed from their original proposed titles. And if you are publishing independently you may find that yours needs to change.

2.) Should you change character names if you see others using them?

I have a wonderful uncle named Grayson. I never knew of any other Grayson until suddenly, the name became hot a few years ago. Now you can’t get away from the name Grayson. That said, remember that trendy names will date your book. Does anyone remember how impossible it was to get away from the name Madison at one time? Now if I read a book with a woman named Madison, sometimes I feel as though I’m in a time warp.

My recommendation is rather than worrying about what others are doing, you should choose good, strong names for your characters that will stand the test of time. Choose names that aren’t too much in vogue, but aren’t too weird. One of my favorites is Veronica. Also, choose a name that people can pronounce because they will be pronouncing it in their minds every time they read it.

Invest in at least one great baby name book. I have a couple from when my husband and I were naming our daughters and I bought more later. Of course, there are great Internet sites, too, but a book is fun and doesn’t expose you to pop-up ads for prenatal massages and diapers.

Writers of historical fiction may enjoy a book that I own, called Names Through the Ages by Teresa Norman.

3.) Does it matter? When an agent gets ahold of it will they check it out? Or the publisher?

As an agent, I might recommend character name and title changes, but only if there is an extremely compelling reason to do so. I would discuss any changes with the author and we can come to agreement as to whether the author should stay with her current names and title or consider my suggestions. It’s always a negotiation. I can’t remember a time I rejected a submission based on a title or character name.

Like agents, publishers will do what they consider best for the market and author.


Your turn:

Has a publisher or agent asked you to change the title of your book?

What is your favorite character name?

What resources do you use to name your characters?


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