Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Double Titles

or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Commitment Issues

Pay attention; there will be a quiz.

I enjoy coming up with names for things — stories, poems, warts, whatever — using puns, alliteration, homophones, and other sorts of wordplay. Maybe I enjoy it a little too much, because I often find myself giving my stories and poems two titles. This annoys some people who think it's done out of pretentiousness or narcissism. I hope I'm not doing it out of some subconscious narcissism; I just think it's fun.

Sometimes I do it because I have two great puns and can't choose just one of them (like Crimson Tithe; or, Orange County Whoppers), sometimes it's so I can add a little wordplay to a known phrase (like Love in an Elevator; or, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Office Park), and sometimes I add a second title and then, a week later, I can't remember why I decided to use both (like The Darkness That Grows Within; or, Even Hypochondriacs Get Sick).

Usually, though, when I double-title something, the first title is what I ought to call it, and the second title is what I want to call it, and it often takes the form of The Title; or, This Other Title That Is Entirely Too Long but Is More Descriptive, Witty, or Downright Hilarious.

Not many writers are double-titling their works these days. But after doing a little poking around, I find that I'm in pretty good company. Famous double-titlers include Mary Shelley, Cormac McCarthy, Herman Melville, William Shakespeare, and my role model, that paragon of brilliant simplicity, Kurt Vonnegut.

Granted, most of that company is long deceased — in fact, Cormac McCarthy was the only living author I could find who had double-titled a book* — but still, I find some comfort in knowing about this tradition among literary greats of giving a piece a second title.

So don't expect me to bow to the current trend of giving a piece just one little ol' title anytime soon.

It's just not my style.

But now, the promised quiz: Match up the well-known title on the left with its second title on the right.

1. Blood MeridianA. The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death
2. Breakfast of ChampionsB. The Evening Redness in the West
3. CandideC. Goodbye Blue Monday
4. FrankensteinD. The Impostor
5. Moby-DickE. Life Among the Lowly
6. Slaughterhouse-FiveF. The Modern Prometheus
7. TartuffeG. Optimism
8. Twelfth NightH. The Whale
9. Uncle Tom's CabinI. What You Will

* As opposed to books with subtitles. There are plenty of those around, especially in nonfiction. But subtitles are really a second part of the main title, not a second title in its own right.

Drag your cursor here to see the answers: 1B, 2C, 3G, 4F, 5H, 6A, 7D, 8I, 9E