What’s in a Name?
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” right? Well, sort of. I mean, what if roses were called stink-thorn flowers instead? They would smell the same, but would you actually want to try and smell them? Probably not.
The point is this: what we call things can matter. Bigly. So, when you write a paper, a proposal, a marketing plan, a novel, or anything else, how are you going to decide on a title? What is going to grab your reader’s attention, accurately convey your message, and reflect the tone of the entire piece?
How to Write a Good Title
Here are 5 tips to ensure that your titular endeavors are as enticing as possible:
1. Start with a working title – You didn’t finish your writing in one draft, right? So don’t worry if the title sucks- you can always change it later. Once you work on the bulk of the text, the title will most likely become clear anyway. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was originally titled Something That Happened. Luckily an editor talked him out of it, but even brilliant writers can fail to come up with profound titles for their work on their first try. Would we still be reading Of Mice and Men if it had been titled Something that Happened? Maybe?
Hopefully you’ll be able to come up with something less generic, but even that title was a start and functioned as a placeholder. So, put down a title and start writing!
2. Make it the right length – Basically, your title needs to sound good. So, for the most part, that means that your title should be short, punchy, and grab the readers attention. With that in mind, it also needs to convey the right amount of information. People lose interest in reading a piece if the title is too long, but what if the shortened version doesn’t contain enough information? Although it may feel too academic or pretentious, you could actually consider using a colon. The main thing is to make sure that the information on each side of the colon is essential and that the title sounds better for it. Would Terminator II: Judgement Day be as cool without the Judgment Day? Nope.
Want to see more examples of how movie titles use colons? How about taking our Movies: Click Before the Colon quiz?
3. Be bold – Your mission should be to boldly title as no one has titled before. Ok, you don’t need to send the reader into warp speed, but your title does need to stand out. It needs to be different enough to catch readers’ attention without confusing them. One way to be bold is to title something the opposite of what the piece is about. For instance, what if this piece were called “How to Write Terrible Titles.” The reader would be intrigued. After all, who in their right mind would spend time explaining how to do something poorly? They would assume it is a joke and might be fascinated to see what was coming next. As long as the content is solid, they’ll keep reading once they’re hooked.
4. Don’t avoid alliteration – When you present writing to any audience, you want to be cool, but not too cool- Johnny Depp cool seems about right, but Bill Murray cool may be too much. Alliteration is a great way to add some spice to your title without being overbearing. You want your writing to be credible, but you also want it to have panache. There are plenty of ways to achieve this balance, but one of the most effective is to use alliteration. Think of all of the the movie titles with alliteration:
- Mad Max: Beyond Thunder Dome (Alliteration and a colon!)
- Donnie Darko
- King Kong
- Dr. Doolittle
Of course, this doesn’t only apply to movies. There are plenty of titles and names in every sector of our world are awesome alliterations:
- Bed Bath & Beyond
- Bob Barker
- Marilyn Monroe
- Krispy Kreme
The list goes on and on…If you’re interested in testing your alliterative acumen, try our Movie Alliteration Quiz.
Here’s the take away: while none of these companies, movies, or people were successful solely because of their alliteration, it certainly helped. Even if you have a fantastic title, your content still has to be good.
5. Brainstorm – I’ve always thought that term brainstorm was kind of weird- I mean, who wants thunder and lightning going off in their head? Not me. Sounds dangerous. Still, we can often be more creative when we bounce ideas off of other folks, whether they’re co-workers, friends, or family members. They can help us refine our thinking and help us make sure that we are making sense, being cool but not too cool, and are not too far out in left field. So, never underestimate how helpful feedback from others can be, but remember to take their advice with a grain of salt- ultimately, it’s your title, and you should know what feels right and what doesn’t.
So, next time you’re working on a title, remember to start with a working title, make it the right length, be bold, use alliteration, brainstorm, and, above all, have fun!! Writing is supposed to be fun, remember?
Matthew Groner is a Staff Writer for Sporcle. He enjoys foraging for gourmet mushrooms and calculating the odds of the Kansas City Chiefs winning a Super Bowl in his lifetime.