Monday, 13 April 2009

What's In A Name?

I’ve been asked to change the name of the protagonist of my latest book and also the title of the book itself. I don’t mind, actually. I wasn’t wedded to either of them and the reasons given for the change seem entirely plausible. I have often changed titles and names in the past, generally without a struggle. Sometimes, however, this process can be more difficult.

Imagine an author of children’s fiction who is contracted by his publisher to write a fantasy . Let’s say that the name of the fantasy is The Temptation of Ignatius Hood. Now as far as I know this is not the title of any book in print and certainly not the title of anything I have ever written and I wouldn’t want you to think, even for a moment, that the anecdote I am about to recount is anything other than an entirely hypothetical situation.

So, let us imagine that this purely hypothetical author went to a meeting with his equally hypothetical editor and she said to him, ‘We’re not happy with the title The Temptation Of Ignatius Hood’ and he said, ‘Oh really. Why’s that then?’

To which the editor replied, ‘Because this is a children’s novel and we think that children will have difficulty with the name Ignatius.’

‘But if they have trouble with the name Ignatius, they are going to have trouble reading the rest of the novel,’ the author pointed out.

Thereupon the editor replied with that old publishers’ ace, ‘Well the sales people are saying that they’re not getting a good reception from the book buyers.’

So, of course, the writer caved in immediately saying, ‘Oh God! All right then. What do you want to call it?’

To which the editor replied, ‘We thought you might like to come up with another suggestion.’

Now imagine that innumerable weeks went by during which the writer produced suggestion after suggestion, each of which received the thumbs down from the sales people until a point was reached where the writer was starting to come up with frankly ludicrous titles just to see what the response from sales might be this time.

Picture the bemused and befuddled writer, thinking of lists of titles, printing them out on a sheet of paper, cutting the paper up, throwing the pieces into his waste paper bin, emptying the bin onto the ground and reassembling them at random when suddenly the phone rings. It ought to be a red phone, really, for this is A Very Important Person In Publicity.

‘How are you?’ asks the very important person in publicity.
‘Fine,’ lies the bemused and befuddled author.
‘Good. Well I was wondering if you’d like to come to lunch with me. I’ve had an idea for your fantasy that I’d like to talk to you about.’

‘Certainly,’ says the author, confident that since this is the VIPIP herself, he will enjoy a fairly decent lunch.

And indeed he does. But the VIPIP refuses to discuss the Great Idea until the dessert has been consumed. ‘Let’s just relax and enjoy ourselves,’ she suggests and the relaxed but still bemused and befuddled author is happy to concur.

Finally the coffee arrives and with it has come the time to unveil the Great Idea. ‘We were thinking about calling your book The Temptation of Ignatius Hood,’ suggests the VIPIP tentatively.

‘But that’s what it is called,’ replies the author, now twice as bemused and befuddled.

‘You like the idea then?’ asks the VIPIP.

‘Of course I like the idea,’ protests the author. ‘It’s my idea.’

‘I’m so glad,’ the VIPIP says, leaning back in her chair and basking in the glow of a difficult mission skilfully accomplished. ‘That’s settled then’

Imagine how irritating this would be. If it was what actually happened.

1 comment:

Paul Lamb said...

I think you could make a good living on the writer's conference circuit telling that story. If it were true, of course.

To Kill a Mockingbird was not Harper Lee's original title. (It was Atticus.) And Toni Morrison had to change the title of her novel to Paradise when the editor required the change. This was after Morrison had won the Nobel Prize, which I think would make any author editor proof.

I don't think any child is going to have trouble with a name like Ignatius -- even if it were the actual character name -- despite what oldsters think. Look at all of the crazy names in Harry Potter and other fantasy stories. I think kids really appreciate this kind of novely in character names.