A Rose by Any Other Title

I have this novella I’m trying to title, and the search . . . isn’t going well.

In the course of hunting for a suitable title, I’ve been thinking about the structure of such things. And, of course, having thought about that, the next thing to do is look at my own ouevre and investigate what sorts of patterns I use more or less frequently.

(What? I may not be a biologist, but Isabella gets her scientific turn of mind from somewhere. Also, procrastination.)

The material below the cut is a breakdown of every title I’ve put on a piece of fiction — and in one case, a piece of nonfiction — since I produced my first piece of theoretically professional work, leaving out those where the title was not wholly up to me. (Mostly pieces that amount to work-for-hire.) I’ve included unpublished works and fanfiction in the mix, since that expands the data set by quite a bit, but not titles that ended up being discarded along the way.

NOUN — 16
#Coyotaje [transportation of illegal immigrants]
#La Molejera [The Grinding Woman]
#Nesu-a [My Prince]
The Rest
The Rose


The City’s Bones
Beggar’s Blessing
Schrodinger’s Crone
Shadows’ Bride
The Mirror’s Tale

A Smile, a Laugh
Chains and Memory
Lies and Prophecy
Serpent, Wolf, and Half-Dead Thing
Sunlight and Storm
The Moon and the Son
The Princess and the . . . .
The Wood, the Bridge, the House
Warrior and Witch (Witch)
Wisdom and Power

NOUN OF NOUN — 19/25
A Mask of Flesh
A Year of Sarain
Centuries of Kings
Daughter of Necessity
Deeds of Men
Echoes of the Wolf
Kiss of Life
The Ascent of Unreason
The Choice of a King
The Faces of Halloweentown
The Gospel of Nachash
The Kindness of Sisters
The Legend of Anahata
The Tropic of Serpents
The Vengeance of Trees
The Waking of Angantyr
The Wives of Paris
To Rise No More
Voyage of the Basilisk
+A Natural History of Dragons
+The Basics of Being a Lady
+The Damnation of St. Teresa of Ávila
+The Deaths of Christopher Marlowe
+The Fall of the Fortress of Brick
+The Life and Times of a Crusader King

A Devilish Exercise
A Prepared Spirit
A Thousand Souls
#Die erste Königen [The First Queen]
False Colours
Historical Curiosity
Impossible Things
Lost Soul
Mad Maudlin
Many Faces
One Spark
The Drowning Ships
The Last Wendy
The Perfect Vessel
The Snow-White Heart
The Twa Corbies
The White Lady
The Wrong Side
True Flight
Two Pretenders
White Shadow
*Desert Rain
*Execution Morning
*Hunter Dance
*Solstice Night
*The Kestori Hawks
+A Special Limited-Time Offer
+My So-Called Perfect Life
+One Last Prize
+The Pontic Rapport: Or, the Curious Cousins

And Everything Nice
Sciatha Reborn
Stories Untold

Calling Into Silence
Crafting Chimera
Dancing the Warrior
Dying Old
Remembering Light
Returning to the Nest
Waiting for Beauty
Writing Fight Scenes
+Smiling at the End of the World

For the Fairest
In Ashes Lie
On Dragonfly Wings
With Fate Conspire
+From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review
+In the Labyrinth of Drakes
+On the Feast of the Firewife
+With Magic or Without

X PREP X — 9/13
A Heretic by Degrees
Clearbrook vs. the Strangleweed
Conversation with a Wolf
Crushed Upon the Shore
Darkness in Spring
Games in the Dark
Silence, Before the Horn
Tower in Moonlight
Welcome to Welton
+A Thousand Paths in a Single Step
#+Dai long wenshen de nuhai [The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo]
+Nine Sketches, in Charcoal and Blood
+The Tough Guide to Yuletide

But Who Shall Lead the Dance?
Can You Hear Me Now?
If You Have No Light
If You Listen
If Your Hands Are Cold, and the Fiddle Is Old

Be As Stone
Sing for Me

ADVERB X — 3/4
Just Right
Oh So Pretty
Once a Goddess
+More an Antique Roman

A Star Shall Fall
And Always Shall Be
And Blow Them at the Moon
Every Moment, I Dream of Sleep
It ends in a small white room
It’s Betty from Apartment 2204
Midnight Never Come
No Harm Ever Came From Digging Up the Past
No Man Needs Nothing
Nothing But One of Your Nine Lives
Salt Feels No Pain
Some Strange Eruption to Our State
Such as Dreams Are Made Of
The Memories Rise to Hunt
The Only Way to Be Sure
What Lies in Books
What Still Abides

An Abecedary of Tragic Ends, Explicated for the Reader
Comparison of Efficacy Rates for Seven Antipathetics as Employed Against Lycanthropes
Letter Found in a Chest Belonging to the Marquis de Montseraille Following the Death of That Worthy Individual

Love, Cayce

(“Ridiculous” is totally a structure.)

+ Complex: the title mostly fits the pattern where it’s listed, but complicates the structure with adjectives or other elements drawn from different patterns
# Foreign: the title is sufficiently unfamiliar in English that its meaning may not be transparent to the average Anglophone reader
* Noun as adjective: the title is technically Noun Noun, but the first noun is being used adjectivally


Categories, by frequency:

  1. Adjective Noun (21/26/30)
  2. Noun of Noun (19/25)
  3. Phrase/Quote (17)
  4. Noun (16)
  5. X Prep X (9/12/13)
  6. Noun & Noun/Sequence of Nouns (10)
  7. Verbing X (8/9)
  8. Prep X (4/8)
  9. TIE: Question (5); Noun’s Noun (5)
  10. Adverb X (3/4)
  11. TIE: Adjective (3); Noun Adjective (3); Ridiculous (3)
  12. Imperative (2)
  13. Other (1)


Despite my general allergy to the “Noun of Noun” structure (which I consider to be the most overused thing in fantasy), it’s hanging in there in second place. Ah well: at least I do what I can to liven it up, either by complicating the structure, or by picking unusual components to plug into it. I’m also somewhat started to find that I’ve got that many simple “Noun” titles; I would not have guessed it was so common in my work. I’m not surprised to find “Adjective Noun” leading the pack, though. When I first learned to write short stories, there was a stretch of time where pretty much everything I wrote had a title in that format, until I kicked myself into thinking up other possibilities. On the flip side, I’ve made remarkably little use of the “Noun’s Noun” format, which most of the time is just “Noun of Noun” doing a do-si-do.

The two I find particularly noteworthy are the “Phrase/Quotation” catch-all category, and “X Prep X.” I hadn’t realized I used the latter so frequently, though I knew it was a structure I liked. As for the former, the Onyx Court novels and stories notwithstanding, a lot of the examples there are from fanfiction. That suggests I feel more freedom to play around with fanfic, as opposed to my professional work. Given that back in 2005, a part of me was concerned that “Nine Sketches, in Charcoal and Blood” was too overwrought to use, I suspect I could stand to loosen up more with my titles in general — though maybe not to the extent of the “Ridiculous” category. 😉

(Actually, that’s exactly the kind of thing I want to do with this novella title. The problem is, my brain has latched onto “In Your Heart Shall Burn,” which would be perfect except for the fact that it’s the name of a main plot quest in Dragon Age: Inquisition.)

Does this get me any closer to having a title for the novella? Nope. But it’s interesting to look at anyway. I’d be curious to hear what patterns exist in other people’s work, and what titles — of your work or others’ — you find particularly striking.

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