Sometimes just a town’s name is enough to entice you. Who could drive past the exit for Last Chance, Idaho — or Hell, Michigan — or Happyland, Oklahoma — without at least contemplating how your life might be changed if you took that unexpected detour?
All on their own, names tell a story. That’s why I often do an online search to learn as much as I can about a character name that I’m considering for my writing — looking up ethnicity, variations, meaning — because many times, it opens up new insights into that character for me (or proves to be the wrong choice). Have your students try an online search into the names of the characters in the current story they’re either reading or writing — it’s a fun little research side trip.
The “naming” that I struggle with is in coming up with a title. This is usually a labored effort for me, as it is for some students. Here are the suggestions I share with those who struggle to find a good “name” for their story:
- Remember that the reader will look at the title first. You want it to grab the reader’s attention.
- Think about the kind of story you have written. The title can tell the reader what kind of story it is: mystery, adventure, romance.
- Look at all your story ingredients. Which ones do you think are the most interesting? How could you use them in a title?
- Think about the most unexpected or surprising thing in your story. Can you hint at that in the title, making the reader feel like they need to read the story to figure out a riddle?
- Consider slang, word play, and if appropriate to the book, humorous possibilities.
- What is the book about? What theme, or message, is at its heart? Is there a title that hints at that?
Finally, for a fun writing warm-up for your classroom, ask your students to spend a couple of minutes coming up with an intriguing title for a story they have not yet written. Then when they’re ready, have them trade titles with somebody nearby, and begin the story that fits the new title they have now been handed. When writing time is up, they can share what they have so far with the student who originally created the title.
An evocative name (or title) is just the start of a grand adventure….