During my first pregnancy, I eavesdropped every chance I got. Shamelessly, I turned my ear to parents in restaurant booths, in line at the grocery, on ferries, at the beach and park. When they called their children by name, I leaned in, then scribbled potential baby names on restaurant napkins, pocket scraps, and the palm of my hand.
Back at home I assembled my findings and researched meanings of the names I liked in my dog-eared baby name book. I rolled each one’s sound and texture in my mouth as I spoke those names one-by-one to my growing belly, trying them out. I wanted to know my child, and clinching his name mattered.
My husband, however, thought we should get a feel for the little guy before we stuck him with a life-long moniker. “We’ll name him soon enough,” he said. “Once he’s here, we’ll know.” For months, nicknames prevailed. Finally, two days after our little boy’s birth, after we had kissed and smelled and fed him, talked and sung and stared at him for hours, one name seemed exactly right to us both. Only then.
Naming a book too early can be almost as angsty. When I was still shaping my novel’s structure, I sent my developmental editor Sandra Byrd a title I wanted to cast in concrete.
“Soon enough,” she said. “Your manuscript’s still gestating. After you birth it, you’ll know. Besides, once your book’s in a publisher’s hands, they may change it yet again. All you need right now is a working title.”
Hm. A working title. A nickname.
Air returned to the room. No firm decision needed. In the ensuing months, I dubbed my book at least ten different times. Finally, with my fourth draft in hand, I gave a list of my top six titles to an English teacher friend for a poll of his high school juniors and seniors: my target YA readers.
“Ask them this.” I said. “If you were wandering through Barnes and Noble and saw six books with identical covers and these six titles, and you knew nothing else about the book, which one would you pick up first?”
- Bird Menders
- The Spider Legs of Aggie Hayes
- When Sister Went Missing
- The Agate Jar
- Climb, Run, Drown
- Nest Hunters
The hands down winner?
Climb, Run, Drown— with The Agate Jar (my favorite) a distant second. Just nicknames, for now. But Climb, Run, Drown is the stickiest, so it’s currently in first place. I’ve begun querying it by that title.
Without knowing the plot of the story, which title would you pick up? What would you name the baby? I’d love to know.
Isaiah 43:1 – I have called you by name . . .
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