Several years ago I began to wonder why so many novels had the word bone in the title, and I went through the library catalog to make an extremely long and astonishing (but by no means exhaustive) list. I recently updated the list of “bone” titles, trying to include only novels, though I may have inadvertently picked up a few biographies or nonfiction, which can be equally enamored of bone. Here are a few of the titles:
A Bone From a Dry Sea, Bad to the Bone, Blind to the Bones, Blood and Bone, Bone by Bone by Bone, Bone Crossed, Bone Dance, Bone Deep, Bone Factory, Bone Harvest, Bone Mountain, Bone of My Bones, Bone to the Bone, Bones of Empire, Empire of Bones, Dead Man’s Bones, Dragon Bones, Dragonfly Bones, Feast of Bones, Harvest of Bones, House of Bones, Lovely in Her Bones, The Lovely Bones, The Bone Garden, The Bone Orchard, The Bones in the Attic, The Bones in the Cliff, Trail of Bones, and Zero at the Bone.
You can only marvel that the use of bone in novel titles has not yet been universally derided as a cliché. What is an author or publisher trying to convey with such a title? Are we really supposed to be so thrilled, scared, or impressed? I’m not commenting on the content of books themselves; as an example, I recently read Deborah Crombie’s Dreaming of the Bones, ostensibly a “police procedural” but in reality an excellent literary work.
The fact is that bone is a strong word. Its use as a marketing concept doesn’t change its connotations of death, rot, fear, vulnerability, horror, or the obverse of all those qualities: underlying structure, strength, permanence or at least relative permanence, the truth, the end of denial, the beautiful deep architecture transcending the day-to-day.
Bone has a great sound, and that may be why it gets overused. It also instantly signals mystery or thriller; only in rare cases do we get a philosophical overtone of Hamlet in the graveyard. But using bone so much may be like playing “Stairway to Heaven” over and over and over and over …
After bone, I began to consider the overuse of daughter. So I made another list of novels with “daughter” in the title. Again, biographies make use of the word and I may have snagged one or two of those. While the word can be used a variety of ways, the most common seems to be: The X’s Daughter, where X stands for a profession, as in:
The Colonel’s Daughter, The Courtesan’s Daughter, The Dreamthief’s Daughter, The Executioner’s Daughter, The Fortune Teller’s Daughter, The Gold Miner’s Daughter, The Gravedigger’s Daughter, The Hummingbird’s Daughter, The Mapmaker’s Daughter, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, The Minister’s Daughter, The Mortician’s Daughter, The Narcissist’s Daughter , The Optimist’s Daughter, The Piano Man’s Daughter, The Preacher’s Daughter, The Prodigal Daughter, The Red Queen’s Daughter, The Serpent’s Daughter, The Spinner’s Daughter, The Storyteller’s Daughter, The Tailor’s Daughter, The Thief Queen’s Daughter, The Virgin Queen’s Daughter, and The Witch’s Daughter.
Amy Tan (The Bonesetter’s Daughter) and Ted Dekker (BoneMan’s Daughters) manage to incorporate both our words.
Daughter also has a great sound, though not as striking as bone. But daughter too is rich in associations and these titles are striving for more honesty than bone used as a thrill word. Daughter connotes vulnerability, innocence, hope, possibility, inheritance, continuation, entitlement, empowerment, pride–as well as their opposites when the parent-child relation is poisoned and those positive qualities are thwarted–which often seems to be the theme in these daughter novels.
But, though I know that many of these daughter titles are high quality fiction, what is the point of going to the same well over and over again and pulling out the same tired title form? There must be some marketing angle to it, but it just doesn’t make sense to me why an author would want to have a title that looks like everyone else’s.
Or IS everyone else’s. Welcome to Flashpoint, where the third list, which I started compiling years ago along with the Bones list, shows just a small sampling of identical novel titles. Try Flashpoint (or Flash Point) with at least thirty-four titles by authors including:
Bernard Ashley, 2007
Linda Barnes, 1999
Sneed B. Collard, 2006
Frank Creed, 2009
Suzanne Brockmann, 2004
Jane Donnelly, 1981
Katherine V. Forrest, 1995
Connie Hall, 2008
James W. Huston, 2000
Nancy Baker Jacobs, 2002
Stephanie Newton, 2010
D. A. Richardson, 2006
Jill Shalvis, 2008
Or Second Chance (or The Second Chance, 2nd chance) by
Judy Baer, 1991
Jackie Calhoun, 1991
Jerry B Jenkins, 1998
Almet Jenks, 1959
Claire Lorrimer, 2000
Dan Montague, 1999
James Patterson, 2002
Hildegarde Schneider, 1987
Vian Smith, 1966
Alan Sillitoe, 1981
Danielle Steel, 2004
Kate William, 1989
Chet Williamson, 1994
Other duplicate titles with numerous authors include: Against All Enemies, All That Glitters, Brothers in Arms, Dead Ringer, Dead Wrong, Deception, Deceptions, Desert Heat, Exile or The Exile, Fire and Ice, Fire and Rain, Firestorm, Flesh and Blood, Gates of Hell, Pendragon, Ransom, Riptide, Running Scared, Sacrifice or The Sacrifice, The Sandman, Scarecrow, Secret Admirer, Sleeping Beauty (excluding fairy tales), Sound of Thunder, Split Second, and White Lies.
There are also several novels titled The President’s Daughter.
I’m sure I could make the duplicates list much longer, but I started it with random searches through the library catalog and by testing certain “cool-sounding” titles for matches–which I almost invariably found. But this task was tremendously time-consuming, as opposed to doing keyword searches for bone and daughter.
It can’t simply be that publishers are unaware of these duplications. It’s a simple matter to consult a library catalog, amazon.com or another source to see what’s out there. Something about these titles must strike either the author or publisher as catchy, marketable, safely familiar, or impressive to the masses. Yet many of these titles are pretentious and bathetic, and I wonder at how anyone can be taken in by them. And I still can’t fathom how anyone can issue a new Flashpoint knowing that a fairly famous author published a Flashpoint just a few years ago. There will undoubtedly be more Flashpoints in the future. And I suppose we are expected to be tingled anew by each new appearance of that title.
And while I don’t think much of the other extreme, finding some outlandish and wacky title to make absolutely sure your novel is unique, I certainly don’t want any of mine to be on that duplicates list. I do check before settling on a final title. In fact, it was the discovery of other novels called Property that led me to rename my novel of that name to CommWealth. My first student novel, Nova Scotia, probably does share its title with a travel guide.
Of course, sooner or later one of my novel titles may be duplicated, or has been already and I just don’t know it yet. But that’s life. In any case, it’s a good thing we can’t copyright titles.
copyright 2010 by Michael D. Smith