What’s In A Name? Or a Book Title?

black and white montage of william shakespeare and motley crue singer john corabi

William Shakespeare and heavy metal musician John Corabi of Mötley Crüe inspire today’s post. Yep, you read that right.

One of the most often quoted passages from Shakespeare is this sentiment posed by Juliet in Romeo and Juliet:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Names don’t matter? Try telling that to an author struggling to come up with a book title. The words slapped on our book covers must be creative and original, not hackneyed or dull. They must align with the plot and the mood of the story lest we mislead readers. And they must entice readers to look inside.

book on tablet against a stack of old hardcover books

Trying to find the right name or title for a novel is not as easy as you might think. For me, however, the choice of title for my most recently published book, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, was easy. The title is pulled from the saying “Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” Or its variant, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” The meaning is clear if you give it a moment’s thought: A “leaner” or near-ringer in the game horseshoes still gets you points. A grenade that almost hits its target still gets the job done. As for everything else in life? Almost is not success. At least according to whomever wrote the saying.

I chose the phrase as my title to make the point that actually, almost does count in more than horseshoes and hand grenades. Specifically, “less severe” forms of sexual abuse impact their victims too–it’s not just the horrific, violent rapes and incest cases that change victims’ lives.

But was the title even available? A few years ago, when I was writing the novel, I searched the Internet and found only one other book bearing that name, in a different genre than my contemporary novel, plus the Green Day song from “21st Century Breakdown.” The latter felt like karma to me since Green Day is one of my favorite bands.

My, how things change. I searched again today and found two albums–one alternative rock by Chris Mars, who was the drummer for The Replacements, and one from Christian metal band Disciple, which also has a song by the name “Horseshoes and Hand Grenades.” Then I found books with that title in the short story, sci-fi, occult, horror, and action and adventure categories. Topping it off, there’s now a lifestyle blog called Horseshoes and Hand Grenades! (Many of these pre-date my novel; I’m guessing search results have improved since I didn’t find these a few years ago.)

Now, if that’s not enough to contend with, former Mötley Crüe singer John Corabi has an autobiography coming out. The name? You guessed it. Horseshoes And Hand Grenades. (No idea why he chose this name.)

At least I’m in good company. Or simply company, depending on your musical and literary tastes.

(Btw, since we’re on names, if you’re an author stuck on naming a character, this recent post from Anne Allen’s blog might help.)

So, what’s in a name? A lot, when it comes to book titles. And I expect Shakespeare would agree. While Juliet’s line served his play well, and has stood the test of time as a profound thought, it was one character’s observation. Something tells me old Will put a lot of thought into the titles for his works.

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