Tag Archives: the great gatsby

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? What makes a good title?

rose-by-any-ther-nameWhat’s in a title is like asking what’s in a name? As the Bard famously told us, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” It would, Willy Shakespeare, but it wouldn’t sound the same.

Titles are a lot of fun to create, and play with, turn upside down and inside out, but sooner or later, you have to settle on one. This is a challenging process. Did you make the right choice? What about that other title you still like?

There are many famous examples of novels that seem unimaginable under alternative titles. Here’s a great list by Lynn Shepherd. Given all the focus on vampire fiction these days, it seems fitting that Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in its original contract, was referred to as The Un-Dead. One of the most infamous (and head-scratching) is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, such a simple and sleek title, was possibly going to be called Trimalchio in West Egg. Hardly rolls off the tongue.

Ultimately, that’s the point. Choosing a title is about simplicity over complexity, brevity over length. Clarity and concision, with a hint of rhyme, even better. Think of some of those other titles in Lynn’s list: War and Peace, The Good Soldier and Jude the Obscure. Confident, elegant, and memorable.

Isn’t that what you’d want from a title?