By the Wind Grieved

By the Wind Grieved
“O lost, And by the wind grieved, Ghost, Come back again.” Thomas Wolfe

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Titles: What's in a Name?

Naming a book is something like naming  a baby. It can be fun, but you need to be careful. It shouldn't be too outrageous (I once heard a mother call out "Tink" to her young daughter and was, upon inquiring, informed that the nickname was short for Tinkerbell!) but you want something memorable, something suggestive of a budding personality, something creative yet appropriate. Above all, you want something that will compel readers to pick the book up.

There is, of course, a real science to naming a book, and with my manuscript nearing completion, I scoured Amazon for immigrant and medical memoirs to see what catchy titles had been created. Regarding the latter genre, I came across some great ones: The Scalpel and the Soul; The Healing Blade; Intern; Heimlich's Maneuvers; Blue Collar, Blue Scrubs; and (among my favorites) the humorous In Stitches.

Now, during the last months of pitching the completed manuscript to agents and soliciting testimonials, blurbs and referrals from my client's connections, the issue of the title has become pressing. What's more, the working title I have been using for the book (and which I considered strikingly clever) has been called into question. It has elicited from early readers either enthusiastic approval or blatant disdain.

The book, which I characterize as part immigrant chronicle and part medical memoir, follows the life of my client from his beginnings in a post World War II refugee camp, through his boyhood immigration to Phoenix Arizona and his family's struggle in the late 1950s and 1960s, to his journey through med school and subsequent rise to prominence as a spinal neurosurgeon.

Given his profession and the theme that runs through the book of overcoming adversity and striving for excellence, I have been using the working title of Backbone: A Journey from Refugee to Neurosurgeon. I liked the double meaning of the word "backbone," even though my client informed me that any self-respecting spine surgeon would not refer to the spine as such.

Over time, my client has warmed to the title, but now I am having second thoughts, especially since, as noted above, my client is not even an orthopedic surgeon but a neurosurgeon (a fact that seems significant to me) and because both my editress friend and husband abhor it.

So now, I come to you, my small cadre of readers, to ask for your vote on the matter. Do you like this title? Do you think a different title would work better? Do you have any suggestions of your own for a title for this book? Do any of the titles below appeal to you?
  • Daring to Care: My Life from Refugee to Neurosurgeon
  • Doctor of the Spine: A Life Story
  • The Making of a Neurosurgeon
  • Blessed by America: A Journey from Refugee to Neurosurgeon
I would love to see some comments back on this, so if you feel you would like to take a creative stab at it, leave one in the box. And, to add a small reward for taking part in this little survey, anyone who supplies a title that eventually sticks will be invited to the naming ceremony and (this second one is true) receive a free copy of the book when it comes out. Looking forward to your entries!


  1. What's in a name? Everything. Of your examples, I like "Daring to Care . . ." the most because, to my way of thinking, neurosurgery takes more than intellect. There is something heroic about a person who dedicates his life to uncovering the secrets that lie within the human brain. I believe that your title should convey that heroism.

  2. Thank you for the comment Anonymous. I got a reply separately giving Daring to Care and Blessed by America a thumbs down. Was also reminded about a suggestion from someone who knows the story well: "Oranges Grow on Trees: The Education of a Neurosurgeon." The reference to oranges is a well known anecdote about the boy's arriving as an immigrant in Arizona and marveling at the oranges.

  3. I like "Daring to Care: My Life from Refugee to Neurosurgeon" as well.

  4. I like oddball titles. If you go with Oranges, I'd punctuate it differently: Oranges Grow on Trees?: The Education of a Neurosurgeon
    I'd put 'Trees?" in italics, maybe a different font, something to make it scream with incredulity and surprise and contrast sharply with the staid subtitle.

    I ignored objctions to the title to my just-published memoir, "Looking Out the Window, Talking to the Person Next to Me: My Life in Airplanes" and explained the title in the front matter.

    I'm sure people will say the title to my next book is too long:
    It's Too Bad I'll Never Build Another House Because Next Time I'd Know What I Was Doing.

    1. Thanks for your comment Eric and for the novel spin on the oranges title...also for sharing your title with me. I have seen some very inventive long titles out there, so I guess it just boils down to getting the essence of what you think is important in there! Great that you have written a memoir, and have another book in the loop to boot.

    2. Good suggestion...It would get my attention...

  5. "... my client is not even an orthopedic surgeon but a neurosurgeon (a fact that seems significant to me) and because both my editress friend and husband abhor it."

    Well, now I have to agree with that opinion, too.

    Your client's lifelong nerve and tenacity to see his dream of becoming a neurosurgeon to the end - then to serve as well as he could for the good of others, have stayed with me...He was up to the challenges from start to finish. But not just up to it; he had to push himself forward at times.

    All 4 of these titles strike me with the same force -- they don't at the real drama in the story. They all work, but I don't think they'll attract attention of the broader public. You might see these titles in a Reader's Digest issue, which isn't "bad". "Oranges" is more intriguing than any of the other four, in my ear.

    Also, Dr. Ben Carson, just published his book "America the Beautiful" in Jan 2012... famous pediatric neurosurgeon and in recent years getting a lot of attention in political circles...

    The Nerve to Serve: The Making of a Neurosurgeon.

    I hate it when I do that to you, Jeanne...give you more to think about, rather than help you to narrow it down. This has gotten too you don't need to post when you want / can.


    1. I love it when you do that Twink2, give me much to think about it (though a little narrowing down would be nice, too). Have been playing around with the word "nerve" or "neuro" as well. The Nerve to Serve has some zing to it. The oranges title reminds me of the well known novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeannette Winterson. The reader only learns the significance of the oranges in the text. Keep the comments coming!

  6. I actually like your original title; however, I would make minor deletion changes--Backbone: From Refugee to Neurosurgeon. However, if your close allies really hate it, keep searching. I am not too keen on the alternative titles so far. It is somewhat challenging to name the book without knowing specifics of the content, but I will think about this. (Have to do this once again as anonymous because the blog won't accept my URL) -- Best wishes! from Linda B.

  7. I think I have two "anonymouses" out there Linda, so thanks for identifying yourself, and for the input. I didn't realize what a challenge it would be to name this book, but as you can see it goes all over the place, and what appeals to one person obviously puts off another. I really appreciate your comment. Good to hear from you!