Monday, June 18, 2012

Hey, that's MY title

By Pamela

My Jacob
In 1992 my firstborn was christened Jacob, named after my Dutch great-grandfather, Jacob Hamming. (Although he pronounced it Ya-cub while living in Holland.) My boy was never Jake. Just Jacob and I've always loved his name and who he's named for.

Years later, the name Jacob began to appear on the Top Baby Names for Boys' list put out by the U.S. Social Security Department. In fact it's held on to the number one position every year since 1999 after working its way into the top five from 1995 to 1998. So, I'd like to think my Jacob's name is special in that it was chosen before it became popular and was intended to honor his great-great grandfather. But should I holler "Jacob!" in a crowded theater (during a PG or PG-13 movie), chances are a dozen heads would turn my way. My boy is unique; his name ...  not so much.

I recently received a newsletter from a publishing house that promoted their new titles. The leading book (the one listed first) was Shelter, a debut novel by Frances Greenslade. Wait a minute! Didn't Sarah Stonich just release a book titled Shelter last year? And Harlan Coben's first venture into YA last September was also titled Shelter. A search on Amazon revealed a few more in various genres. What? How can this happen?

Well, it does happen because, in part, titles aren't copyright protected. If you're dying to title YOUR next novel Shelter, have at it. No one will stop you. But do you want your potential audience to scroll down through four or five other titles to find yours?

On rare occasions I've seen writers attempt to ride the coattails of popular books by titling their works something very similar to others. The wildly successful Fifty Shades of Grey has spawned copy-cat parodies shamelessly titled: Fifty Shades of Beige, Fifty Shades of Garbage and Fifty Shades of Black and Blue. The best-selling story, Heaven is for Real: A little boy's astounding story of his trip to heaven and back, sparked Heaven is for Real: The Book Isn't--with a scarily similar cover, I might add.

I know a couple of us at What Women Write have set Google alerts for our book titles, so when similar titles make the news, we know. Then the decision becomes: Do we keep the title we've grown to love if someone else claims it first? Or rename our story to make it stand alone in the already crowded market?

For me, I don't regret naming my boy Jacob. No other name would suit him as well. But a story, a book, a novel is not a child. I'd find a new title. What would you do?


  1. In 1993, we thought we were so original with the name Austin. We lived in Maryland and my boss at the time knew Austin Kiplinger (founder of the Kiplinger Letter). Despite some initial hesitation from my husband the Aggie, we thought it sounded sophisticated. About 3 yrs later, we started hearing it everywhere! My sister knows someone who named their daughter Austin Claire (I like!).

    As for books--if I had the perfect title, I'd probably keep it unless the other one (or two) hit the bestseller lists.

    My story might not be a child, but it has certainly kept me up nights, bleary-eyed, exasperated and devoted.

  2. The perfect title would be hard to let go--I agree. Sometimes though it's the second-most perfect title you first fall in love with.

    And yes, those demanding manuscripts can cause more headaches than a newborn and be just as stubborn to reach independence.


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