What’s in a Name?

Book titles can come in all shapes and sizes. There are trends, fashions that fade in and out. There are those that give no clue to the contents, those that make it clear and others that are more poetic and lyrical. One trend that has stood the test of time are those that have names. They could be the name of the lead character. They were perhaps used to falsely indicate a biography. A title that contains a name gives a hint that the story will be character led, but little more than that. The book could be a romance, thriller or horror story but until we turn the front cover we are never entirely sure. The thing is they are intriguing because of the hint that lies behind the title.

So just for fun I thought I’d take a look at some of the variety of books on offer with names as or in the titles.

There are the fairy tales, the stories that have been passed down through the ages, imprinted on most minds so that the story can be told verbatim, many immortalised in animation. Most of us will have read, or been read Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Snow White and Rose-Red, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Rumplestiltskin or at least seen the Disney adaptations.

Then there are the traditional classics. Shakespeare had his fair share of plays named after their characters, as can be seen with Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear, Julius Caesar and McBeth. Charles Dickens too was an expert at using names as titles with Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Martin Chuzzlewit and Little Dorritt as just a few examples.

Many people could rattle off a number of titles with names in them if asked. Some of the most obvious and famous include Anna Karenina, Moll Flanders, The Great Gatsby, Jude the Obscure and Doctor Zhivago.

You could host your own character dinner party, perhaps inviting Mrs Dalloway, Daisy Miller, Lolly Willowes, Silas Marner, Therese RaquinDoctor Faustus, Cyrano de BergeracMary Barton, Don QuixoteDelores Claiborne, Ethan Frome or Rose Madder. Hopefully though that party won’t be Finnigans Wake.

Children’s novels are littered with titles that include names. Some are of the human characters such as Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, Pippi LongstockingPrince CaspianThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Coraline, Artemis FowlGulliver’s Travels, Anne of Green Gables, Heidi,  Marge in Charge, Z for Zachariah, Horrid Henry and Clover Moon to name but a few.

Others are for the animal characters that lead the books such as Charlotte’s Webb and The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Roald Dahl, famous for his children’s tales, was adept at choosing just the right titles, which also happened to feature names. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, George’s Marvellous Medicine, James and the Giant Peach, Danny the Champion of the WorldThe Twits and The Fantastic Mr Fox are all memorable examples.

There are the mystery novels, crimes being detected by the eponymous hero in the title be it The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or The Complete Miss Marple Short Stories. Or there are the ones concerning victims or those caught up in the thriller like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Lord Edgeware Dies or The Mysterious Mr Quin, Mrs McGinty’s Dead and The Talented Mr Ripley.

Some we are on first name terms with such as Clarissa, OrlandoKim, Dracula, IvanhoeIrene, Emma, Carrie or Candide. Others are bit more formal and denote nobility such as Lady Susan, Lord Jim (not to be confused with Lucky Jim),  Lord Peter, Madam Bovery and The Count of Monte Cristo.

There are those that sound like a collection found in a fusty old lost property office where such delights as Lady Catherine’s Necklace and Lady’ Windermere’s Fan can be found propped against The Portrait of Dorian Gray and Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase.

Some may seem related such as Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand or Go Ask Alice and What Alice Knew or even Alice in Wonderland (a stretch I know!).

There are duos like Florence and Giles, Lettice and Victoria, Eleanor and Park, Oryx and Crake and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and there are the books that were banned such as Lolita, Fanny Hill and Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

There are those that have become iconic, spawning films, TV shows and even theme parks such as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Bridget Jones’ Diary or The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. Mary Poppins inspired two films, one based on the book and one based on the making of the film of the book!

We could have Cider with Rosie or Breakfast at Tiffany’s, lounging around on The Island of Dr. Moreau with Robinson Crusoe, outside Uncle Tom’s Cabin (with Tom’s Midnight Garden around the back), whilst Waiting for Godot.

Those with just the name of the lead character give no guidance as to what the story may entail, other than a suggestion the story revolves around one person as can be seen with Olive Kitteridge, Epiphany JonesEugine Onegin, Jane Eyre or Agnes Grey.

Titles with names in can be intriguing, giving no clue as to what story may lay beneath the front cover. Examples of this include Marlow’s Landing, Sophie’s Choice,  Gwendy’s Button Box, Dear John, Mallory’s Oracle, Galina Petrova’s Three-Legged Dog Story, After Helen, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, Ordinary Joe, Daisy in Chains, Britt-Marie Was Here, Carrying Albert Home, Gutenberg’s Apprentice, Be Frank With Me, What Milo Saw, The Less Than Perfect Legend of Donna Creosote, The Spring of Kasper Meier, The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix.

If you group some titles together you could create the most dysfunctional of families, made up of The Other Mrs Walker, Aunt Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, The Brothers Karanazov, My Cousin Rachel, The Roanoke Girls and The Burgess Boys.

Other seem obvious in what will happen with the eponymous hero of the title as in Tuesdays with Morrie, Unravelling Oliver, The World According to Garp, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Other Pieces, Elizabeth is Missing, Mr Gandy’s Grand Tour, We Need to Talk About Kevin, A Parcel for Anna Browne, Forgive me, Leonard Peacock, The Awakening of Miss Prim, George’s Grand Tour, The Prime of Miss Jean BrodieLizzie’s Secret, The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Bartleby the Scrivener, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, A Tale for Owen Meaney, The Thirteen Lives of Harry August, Flowers for Algernon, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, The Jane Austen Book Club, Mrs Palfry at the ClaremontThe Universe Versus Alex WoodThe Testament of Vida Tremayne, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich or The Sweetness of Liberty James. Phew!

Some are misleading as the name refers to a place rather than a person as in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and A Town Like Alice.

Some seem almost biographical. There is The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Last Days of Jack SparksThe Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy or Tennison. Some are based on real life characters like The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or Alias Grace.

The trend doesn’t show signs of stopping. In recent years there have been a flurry of names popping up in titles and future novels have followed suit. The Finding of Martha Lost by Caroline Wallace, The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by Eve Chase, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old by Hendrik Groen and Hester Velmans,  Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik and The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard are all recently published titles with the names at the centre of their titles as well as the centre of the narrative. Upcoming publications include Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech out in September and Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon and The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton both out in 2018.

But sometimes it’s good to go incognito or forget who we are as in My Name is Nobody, I Know My Name, Persons Unknown or Death of a Nobody.

Perhaps then, if you are an author, along with On Writing, and The Writers and Artist’s Year Book you might need this tool of the trade…

What do you think of titles with names in them? Do let me know if you have a favourite amongst the ones listed or if you can think of any others not included.



10 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks for this! I’m struggling with a title for my current WIP and this gave me some good ideas (one may even be great)


    1. janetemson says:

      Ooh fabulous. I do hope you can share the title when you finalise it 🙂


  2. Rachel Malik says:

    Hi there, I just saw this. Very much liked your piece and not just because you mentioned my novel! I’ve always been fascinated by the names of novels. I especially like name titles when they also manage to be symbolic (though often you have to read the novel to find out why: Jane Eyre is a good one in that respect! Also like the name titles that are deceptively simple. There are three Madame Bovarys in Madame Bovary (which is one of my favourite novels). My current favourite title is a book I only recently read: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I’ve only just come across it though it was published in early 1960s! The title just gets better and better as you read the book. With Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves, I tried to go for something that was (I hope deceptively) simple as one of the two main characters also has another name…trying to make that tantalising…. Take care.


    1. janetemson says:

      I agree completely with you. There is something intriguing about a title with names in. And titles can encapsulate so much, they can deceive, console or entice. I do like the sound of We Have Always Lived in the Castle too. I really must read it. And yours is on my wishlist too 🙂


  3. Great post, Janet!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      Thank you. I had great fun compiling it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The Quiet Knitter says:

    Fantastic post, not something I’ve ever given much notice to but you’ve got me thinking now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      Thanks Kate. I found loads more when I started looking. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fascinating post Janet, I really enjoyed reading it x


    1. janetemson says:

      Thank you. I had great fun compiling it 🙂


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