WHAT’S IN A NAME
When I name a novel, I try to use words that will entice and intrigue the reader. Bands do the same thing. Has there been a more resonant title than The Rolling Stones? It summons not only the Dylan song, but a lizard-brain ancestral memory of the blues, in which rolling stones prominently featured. Today, the Beatles resonate like crazy, but when they first appeared, people said, “Beatles? What’s that?”
Some names resonate because of what went before, some resonate because of what they suggest, and some resonate because of what came after. Who could have imagined that Hellboy would become part of our geek lexicon? When Hellboy first appeared, the juxtaposition of hell and boy was intriguing. Opposites, or oxymoron, are always intriguing. There’s a Swedish band called the Genuine Fakes. The Violent Femmes. Led Zeppelin. These names are memorable because of their contradictions.
Some names have no meaning. Blink 182. Sum 41. Matchbox 20. Level 42. If they do good work, their names will have meaning. If their work is unmemorable, they will slide into the dustbin.
Some names suggest irony, which is always intriguing. A Simple Plan. Everything Is Wonderful. How I Won the War. Many authors create a style for their titles, uniting a series. John D. MacDonald named his Travis McGee novels, The Deep Blue Goodbye, A Deadly Shade of Gold, Darker Than Amber, A Purple Place For Dying and so forth. Randy Wayne White, whose Doc Ford series follows in MacDonald’s steps, gives his books punchy, two word descriptors. Deep Blue. Black Light. Chasing Midnight. Bone Deep. Sue Grafton, of course, is running through the alphabet.
The title Superman is a stroke of genius, especially considering the timing. Its success has led to innumerable characters with man, boy, girl or woman in the title. When you designate one person The Catwoman, it sounds iconic. And it is.
My novel Banshees is about a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead. I chose the name not only for its literal meaning, “a spirit in the form of a wailing woman who appears to members of a family as a sign that one of them is about to die,” as well as Siouxsie and the Banshees. But the Banshees are male. That’s part of the story, which readers will discover.
The reason for Biker is obvious.
Sometimes I get a title and carry it around for years before I find the story, such as “Trail of the Loathsome Swine.” Sometimes I carry the story for years before I find the title, such as Whack Job. Mine is not the first title to be named Whack Job. You can’t copyright a title.