I believe that people grow into their given names. A baby Bubba will indeed grow up to be a Bubba. Tracie and Gertrude will become different kinds of women.
I don’t have children, but the naming part must be an awesome task. Do you whisper to the Genius Gods with names like Isaac and Albert? Do you tempt fate by calling your daughters Precious and Belle?
Unlike human parents, I’ve noticed that many dog owners prefer ironic names for their pets. How else to explain the number of Bichon Frises named Rocky?
My family has always followed the Last-Out-First-In rule for naming. That is, you name your newborn after the most recently deceased relative of the same sex. It can lead to a covey of Leonas and Louises in one generation. And it will be a long time before any more Jennifers or Jasons show up.
There are some folks who recognize early on that they have been mislabeled. Like fixing a recipe, sometimes it calls for just a tweak — a little more salt, perhaps. Leonas become Lees. Elizabeth becomes Betty.
Others throw out the recipe all together. My old friend Maddie Werner became Illiani Matisse. And webmistress-extraordinaire Heidi Mack became Madeira James. She never felt like a Heidi, and finally did something about it.
Why all this talk about names? Because I can’t start writing without one.
I need a title for a book before I can even write the first sentence.
I know this isn’ÂÂt true for all writers. Some folks find that nugget of a title from a sentence they wrote on page 386. Others have been so burned by title changes at the publisher that they no longer care what name the book starts out with.
But that’s not me.
A good title opens whole new worlds for me. Something called Cold Kill could be a survival story in the bleakest winter. Or it could describe a passionless execution by a serial killer. Louise Penny’s Still Life evokes artwork, but also made me ask, "Is that an unmoving and stagnant life? Or is a still life another name for death?"
I keep three "idea folders" in my desk drawer. One for plot lines and book ideas. One for description, dialog, and character inspiration. One for titles. Guess which one is as fat as a mid-summer tomato?
I once tried to write a book without having a title. I was rudderless. Too many places I could go, and no destination in mind. I got 130 pages into it and realized that it was a collection of scenes, but not a story.
It didn’ÂÂt have a name. And a name would have defined it.
Years ago, I decided that I would someday write a book called Forcing AmaryllisÂÂ. (You know, of course, that it was said in the grandest tone — back in the days when I talked about writing rather than actually doing it.) I had seen the words on an instruction sheet at the nursery. How to force an amaryllis bulb to open after its months-long slumber. Hmmm, I wonder what that book would be about?
My second novel is ÂÂThe Fault Tree,ÂÂ and it, too was named years before it was written. I was driving through Golden Gate Park when the radio announcer broke the news of the space shuttle Columbia’s disintegration in the Texas sky. "They’ve already scheduled a fault tree analysis to see if they can determine what went wrong." Ah, there are so many ways something can go wrong. My own Fault Tree proves it.
The next book will be Liars Anonymous. Then After That Day. Then maybe The Glam Squad. I have no idea what these books are about but the words hang at the point of my tongue, teasing and taunting.
How about ÂÂSnuff Radio? Or Gabble Ratchet or A Silver Bullet for Miss Kahlil.ÂÂ
Maybe ÂÂDime Store Pope or ÂÂSin Lagrimas, when the English-reading world is ready for a Spanish-titled book.
I’m not at a loss for titles. The hard part is creating the books that live up to them. After all, we grow into our given names, don’ÂÂt we?
What about you all? Are you as drawn to titles as I am? When you’re in a bookstore, can a title alone get you to pick up a book? And writers, can you nurture a nameless child? Or must you, like me, name him first?
And just because I think it’s so cool … here’s 500 years of female portraiture in three minutes: