A rose by any other name would be called something else

“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose would be as nice if it were called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”–Anne Shirley, from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables

Not an illustration of a skunk cabbage

I have the posts from this blog reposted to my tumblr blog. Normally, I just let them go without comment, but yesterday I had to hurry over, log in, and add a note to the book review that went out yesterday for M.J. Rose’s (coincidence) Seduction. The title, without the book’s cover, looks like a romance title. And I don’t read romance novels. And I don’t want people to think I read romance novels. Yeah, it’s childish, but there it is.

Apart from reflecting on this less than admirable part of my psyche, this incident got me to thinking about the importance of choosing a book’s title. Along with an attention grabbing cover, the title is probably the most important attention-grabbing thing about a book. Other than making it short*, I can’t think of any rules that govern book titles. Most of the time, titles need to have something to do with the content of the book. Maybe it contains a clue to the central mystery of the plot (which Seduction did) or it restates the story in a clever way. Or, in the case of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, it’s a running joke over the course of the series. I think, most of the time though, I think titles are just meant to be eye-catching.

The thing about a title like Seduction is that the word has connotations. It’s a romance word. English is a slippery language. Even though we have more words than any other language in the world, a lot of our words do double (or triple, or quadruple) duty. As the Tea Party learned after the nation spent two seconds on the Urban Dictionary, there are some words that just make people think about sex instead of the lesser used meanings of the word. It must be incredible hard for publishers to find titles that don’t give potential readers the wrong idea about the book.


* Even this rule can be broken. For example, the full title of Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders is The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, &c. Who was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu’d Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest, and died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums.


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