Monday, April 26, 2010

10,001 Names for Baby

I’m really bad at titles.

Last week, I lamented to my mentor that although my novel is really coming along, I still didn’t have a title in mind. It was starting to feel like a character flaw.

One title had been rattling around in my mind for a while: The Face of the Earth. It spoke to the central mystery of the story – the missing girl – and also the narrator’s longing for the physical landscape of her childhood. Or maybe it just plain sucked. It was hard to tell.

I queried some friends and the response was lukewarm at best. “Ehh,” Will said, his face twisted in an unpleasant grimace. It wasn’t the most positive sign.

I sat down with an open Word document and typed out thirty different titles, all variations on the original. After an hour I was coming up with such gems as Place Title Here! and Don’t Look at My Title.

Choosing a title for a book is probably as difficult as choosing a name for a child, something I also know nothing about. (Baxter’s name came to me organically. It was somewhat close to Bailey, the beagle of my childhood, and also the last name of a student I had at the time. It fit his squirmy puppiness perfectly. But I digress…) Some of my pregnant friends have announced the baby’s name months in advance of the actual birth. Last year I attended a pre-baby shower and was a little surprised to hear everyone calling the baby-to-be by name already, even delivering monogrammed gifts. What if the name didn’t fit her? What if the ultrasound had missed a certain tiny something, tucked between his legs? My sister and brother-in-law, parents to the lovely Sabine, resisted telling anyone the name they’d picked out. “I didn’t want anyone to talk us out of it,” my sister explained. Wise – something I should have learned from.

Recently I tuned in late to a discussion on NPR about band names – the basic thrust of which is that pretty much everything that could be a band name is already taken. A few bizarre names were suggested as proof that not everything was already used, to which the subject of the interview replied, “They’ll be taken by tomorrow.” He was half joking, half bitter. I remember often thinking the same thing of movie titles – the good ones are already gone.

I talked to my mentor again, lost in my greedy-neediness. Maybe The Face of the Earth is the one, I mused. But it feels too wordy. Too many single syllables. Maybe I needed something like Facing the Earth. No. Face in the Earth. Or maybe what I needed was my head, buried in the sand.

In the meantime, the ever-astute Paige observed, “It doesn’t really matter what you call it now. That’s something the publisher will decide.”

Okay. True. But there’s still the matter of the thesis binding, the title page, the signature page that has to be mailed by… tomorrow.

My mentor wrote back. What about Face of the Earth?

I held the words in my mouth, chewed on them, expelled them to the admiring silence of the room. Face of the Earth. I liked it. How was it possible that one single syllable could make such a difference? And that in my tortured hours of brainstorming I hadn’t come up with this myself?

So. Face of the Earth it is.

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