A new novel has been written. But what shall the title be? In reading 19th century novels, I have sometimes wondered how much thought went into titles. Even some of Dickens’ great works, in my humble opinion, appear to denote little or no thought; quite a number of them are simply named after the main character in the book: Oliver Twist; Barnaby Rudge, Martin Chuzzlewit, David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby. Now, of course with Dickens, the titles have risen to legendary status because of his literary genius and the passage of time. Another of my favorite 19th century authors, the nearly forgotten Wilkie Collins, selected a very unique title for one of his novels, “No Name.” Before reading that book, I assumed he couldn’t come up with a title, so he just called the book “No Name.” In reality, the name is after one of the main characters who was never given a name in life, which made a little more sense. Today, we rarely see a new novel named after the main character in the book. I think today’s authors want to attract a little more interest from a title than just using the protagonist’s name.
Of course, there are many books with wonderful titles. Who doesn’t love “Gone with the Wind,” “On the Wings of Eagles,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Sun Also Rises,” or “Something Wicked This Way Comes”? The list of great titles is extensive and many contemporary authors are very creative in naming their books.
In my recently completed and soon-to-be released novel, I struggled mightily trying to find the perfect title. This struggle was not one of short duration, but rather lasted several years. When I first began writing the book, I thought I had a really good title: “Delicious Deception.” It didn’t bother me at all that soon after I became aware of a book previously released by Jerry Seinfeld’s wife, Jessica, with the title in reverse, “Deceptively Delicious” (about feeding kids healthy food). However, when I discussed my proposed title with my wife and close friends, I received some unexpected reactions. In fact, a dear friend and client invited me to lunch for my birthday at the Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point and gratuitously told me that he didn’t care for the title at all. Since I had shared the plot with him and his wife before a word of the story had been written, and both had been extremely enthusiastic and supportive, he felt he had a moral duty to prevent a title tragedy. Others also had negative reactions. Some thought it was suggestive of a Harlequin romance, which my story is definitely not, and others believed it implied a saucy script. Since the most favorable response I received was, “It’s not terrible,” I decided to go back to the drawing board.
l listened to friends and family and received many well-intentioned suggestions. After much reflection, I decided to go with, “Deception and Consequence.” Now, the reaction was a little better, but no one (including myself) seemed overly enthused with the new name. For some reason, I was dead-set on using the word “deception” in the title, so it did limit somewhat my choices. One I initially thought clever was “Immaculate Deception,” but I wasn’t sure the adjective immaculate really fit the story; and after finding that title had been used by three or four authors in the last ten or so years, I decided to search for something else. I had pretty much an endless combination of titles with the word deception: “Fortuitous Deception”; “A Convenient Deception”; “Magnificent Deception” (inspired by Dickens, of course); “Irresistible Deception:” to name a few. But, none of them rang true and many of them weren’t truly descriptive of the storyline.
As I was putting on the finishing touches of the book with an interest to adding some terms/phrases in use in 1869-1870 London, I came across a book entitled, “A Dictionary of Victorian Slang,” published in 1909 by James Redding Ware, the pseudonym of Andrew Forrester, one of the first writers to ever use a female detective in a book, in his aptly named, “The Female Detective” (written in 1863). I found a treasure trove of words and phrases that were in use 150 years ago, but have long since disappeared. Many of the words and phrases didn’t work with the dialogue and plot, but there remained a number of them that fit. One expression I loved and adopted in my story was, “Toast your bloomin’ eyebrows!” (an expression similar to “Get Lost” or another frequently uttered and unprintable curse). Another phrase described a character in the book who had put on a fair amount of weight: “He had lost a cartful and found a wagon.” I went through most of the dictionary, never realizing that within its contents was the “perfect title” for my book.
On my second scan of the book, I found it! The perfect title! I couldn’t wait to share it with my circle of friends and family. Yet, I was a little bit guarded in doing so, having been traumatized a couple of times before. The real test would be with my lovely wife, who never hesitates to express her true feelings. So, I started with her, all the while remembering that none of the numerous titles I tried on her before had ever evoked a positive reaction. When I uttered the words, it took less than half a second for her to proclaim, “I love it!” A couple of days later, I saw that dear friend who treated me to a birthday dinner a couple of years earlier and he immediately replied, “It’s perfect.” In fact, everyone I have shared the title with since then, without exception, has praised the choice.
Now, dear reader, I ask you—after you have read my book—does the title, “Forever Gentleman,” fit the story?