What's in a name?

How to name your novel or short story

Naming your work is often ten times harder than writing it. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but it seems there’s really no perfect name for anything most writers have written – at least, not in our own heads. It’s something we slave over, sometimes longer that it took us to write the work in the first place. But it’s also the first impression anyone will ever have of our work, so it needs to be something good.

Here, I’ll tell you my top five ways to name your book or short story.

These options won’t work for everyone or for every work. That’s a given. A name that works for one story will obviously have difficulty fitting into another. But they’re a good start for anyone, and publishers generally don’t mind having to change the title of your manuscript. It happens a lot, in fact, in the publication process. Rani Divine’s Druid Novels went through nearly a dozen title permutations before finally landing where they are now. But don't let that discourage you. A good titled manuscript is much more likely to catch an editor's eye, even if they think it might need to be altered by the time they're done.


1.      Character names

Obvious. If you don’t know what to call the book, call it after your main character. Or your favorite pivotal character, even if they’re not quite the main character. It’s very frequently a safe way to go, something that maybe won’t grab a reader’s attention as quickly as some of the others, but at the very least it makes a good starting point – and we all have to start somewhere, don’t we?


2.      Plot characteristics

This is one we see a lot as well. This is like The Hunger Games – it’s named after the games. Granted, that’s the series title, but you catch my drift. If your work takes place in a specific time or place, or in a specific field, that might make the perfect name for your work. Especially if it's something somewhat unheard of, or something that combines words in an intriguing way (like The Hunger Games — we didn't know what that was, but we knew all those words. Intriguing). 


3.      Setting details

Rani Divine frequents this method for naming her works. I know because I’m the one who’s frequently working with her to come up with titles for everything. The Druid Novels all have bi-lines that focus on a setting detail, one that adds more interest and intrigue to the title. Coetir: People of the Woods & Cedwig: People in the Vines, have garnered a great deal of interest based on their connection to the woods and the vines themselves, making this the ideal way to have named her novels — and perhaps a good way to name your work as well. 


4.      Objects

My personal favorite way to name a work is off a specific item within the story. I wrote a short story about a witch who was given power through a magical ring, and the piece was aptly titled, The Ring. It also works for things like Stargate, where the story is focused on people going through the Stargate on a regular basis (I know it didn't start as a book, but they did make books in the series, so I'm counting it).

It’s very frequently a fun and intriguing way to name your work, especially if you have an item of particular interest and importance within your story. In my experience, I’ve found it a good way to pique interest in both readers and publishers.


5.      Descriptive phrase

This would be like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It’s a descriptive phrase. All of the books in that series are descriptive phrases as well. They essentially tell you what the book is about, in the simplest terms possible. The first book is about The Fellowship of the Ring, the second is focused on The Two Towers, and the third revolves around The Return of the King. And who can say that Tolkien didn’t name his novels well? Everyone knows about this series, and everyone knows what it’s about, just by the title. That’s what makes this an ideal way to name your work.

Really, you can call it whatever you want. Your publisher might keep your chosen name, but they might not. I can tell you, we’ve had to alter several names of pieces published in Mavguard Magazine before they could be published. It’s just something we have to do, from time to time. But what you really need to do is find a name that you like, that you think fits with the story. Publishers appreciate that. We really do. 


I hope this blog gave you some pointers in the better ways to name your work! If you have a story and you need help naming it, drop a line in the comments. Naming is one of my favorite parts of the creative process.


Senior Editor