Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Prithee, Inform Me: The McTitle

The Memory Keeper's Daughter.
The Bonesetter's Daughter.
The Heretic's Daughter.
The Calligrapher's Daughter.
The Hummingbird's Daughter.
The Concubine's Daughter.
The Gravedigger's Daughter.

Are we perhaps seeing a pattern?

I'm not sure whether this is something authors are unconsciously doing (due to their constant absorption of contemporary fiction), something agents and publishers are purposely doing because it's the new "[Insert Adjective Here] Wife," or both, but it's an interesting trend and I'd like to get your take on it. Have you noticed this before, or with other title "templates"? Do you think it's a sign of homogenization within the industry?

Have at it!


  1. Thanks for mentioning this; it's been bothering me. It's sexist. The female protag is being identified by a male relative.

  2. The trend that always annoys me is VERBING SOMEONE.

  3. Anon: I'm just guessing-- but I don't think the concubine is a male relative. Could be the others aren't all male either. Maybe that's naive of me...

  4. Ah, for the days when you could just name a book for the protag. Anna Karenina...Jane Eyre...Nicholas Nickelby.

  5. Laura should've named her blog, 'The Pimp My Novel's Daughter.'

  6. WIP: The Daughter's Daughter.

    Considered shortening it to The Granddaughter, but that would get confusing with my other WIP, The Grand Daughter which is about a special daughter, not a second generation child.

    Are you saying that this is a bad idea?

  7. Fantasy is full of them. They often use cycles like seasons, phases of the moon, and time of day. Weiss and Hickman's Dragonlance Chronicles actually combined two: Dragons of Autumn Twiglight, Dragons of Winter Night, Dragons of Spring Dawning.

  8. 'The Arsonist's Daughter'

    That was the name of Tripp's amazing first novel in WONDER BOYS, and when was that written? So obviously this pattern has been about for a while.

  9. I was thinking like the anonymous poster up there-- this is sexist! And then Amailia set me straight. Of course, it's an assumption to think that these are all male. *sigh* I'm showing my age.

    I love the name Amailia, by the way. She was the queen of Fado... if I had a daughter that's what I would name her.

  10. The [something]'s [Daughter/Wife/Sister] pattern, I believe, comes from folk tales and fairy tales; the reason for that title is that the female character doesn't have a name. And because she's female, she doesn't have a place in society--only a relationship to someone else; thus it doesn't need to be a male someone to be sexist. It's an indication that she has a lack of identity and importance.

    I don't think that's being consciously mimicked (the sexist portion) but the titles still irritate me. They do imply that the character is most important in the context of whatever relationship is in the title, and that she's defined by it. Plus, it's just freaking repetitive.

  11. I assumed the daughter thing is about appealing to female readers. I am one and I have two, so daughter books speak to me. (Apparently, since I've read five of those on the list.)

    There is also a lot of Chasing going on in titles. Vermeer. Harry Winston. Daylight. Fireflies. The Rabbit. Lincoln's Killer.

  12. Anxiety level just went up 5,000% reading this post.

    SMP releasing my debut novel in January: THE MURDERER'S DAUGHTERS. Previous titles: Adopting Adults, then Tricks Against Crying.

    Oh well, it is a novel about sisters witnessing their mother's murder by their father, so at least there is truth in advertising.

  13. Rick - funny. In defense of those books, they tend to be really good - we're reading The Heretic's Daughter for our next book club and the 'heretic' is a female so it's not a male relation thing.

  14. I assumed it was a marketing tool, hoping to bank on the success of whichever book was the first Daughter/Wife title.

    It's lazy, but maybe effective? I don't mind it, because it signals to me that it's a book I probably won't enjoy. Except for Randy's, that sounds pretty good.

  15. Randy: No worries--now you KNOW your book will be a bestseller, too. Plus you have two daughters, not just the one...

  16. This is so timely. I'm dissatisfied with my WIP title- "PULSE", and threw "Lilith's Daughter" out to the crit group. It was shot down.
    Were they right or wrong? And is "Lilith's Daughter" more sexist or less? LOL

  17. Anon--crap, you're so right, I should have done The Pimp my Novel's daughter. Maybe I can change it to "Combreviations: A Pimp my Novel Production"?


    This is why I should outsource my thinking.

  18. Don't forget "Jesus' Son" . . . I'm way more concerned with cover art showing a partial view of a woman's bare neck and/or back.

  19. Well, I'm ROFL because my book The Devil's Daughter comes out in July! Umm . . . should we have renamed it? Yikes.

  20. I should have read all the comments first.

    The Devil's Daughter was chosen for my book, because that is how the girl, Desi (short for Desolation) sees herself. She feels she is unable to make choices for herself, that her path is chosen for her, because of WHAT she is as opposed to WHO she is.

    She is powerless in the face of Satan, so what hope does she have to BE herself? To be anything OTHER than the devil's daughter?

    So that's my rationale on the title. Didn't realize there would be so many strong opinions AGAINST it. Hmm.

  21. Yes, I started noticing it after the Memory Keeper's Daughter. Makes you wonder what "Rebecca" would've been called, considering the protagonist is never named and Rebecca is the main dude's dead ex-wife. Maybe something like, "Pompous English Gentleman's New Wife."

  22. And I have The Imposter's Daughter in my to-read pile. It is a memoir.

  23. an obvious appeal to every Mom reader out there or anyone who has a mom or wants to be a mom...women buy more books than anyone!

  24. This always bugged me because it seemed like the main character of the books (the daughter) wouldn't be the most interesting character—the other person in the title is. (the Bonesetter, the Concubine). So we're centering our book on the boring one? The one who has to deal with (react to) the consequences of the other's actions (the proactive one)?

    Admittedly, I haven't read any of these yet.

  25. It is annoying, but the last novel I bought was THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER, so I guess it sucked me in...it's better than the gerund title, my least favorite kind in books and movies (Becoming Jane etc).

  26. Randy, I have to tell you that I never thought of your novel as being line with this trend, even though I noticed the trend long before this post! (Did anyone mention The Abortionist's Daughter yet?)

    Partly it's because you have TWO daughters, and partly because they are BOTH on your novel's cover, so it just has a more concrete feel to it, IMHO. You're just trendy enough, yet it still feels organic, not contrived.

  27. I think it's a terrific construction though "daughter" could use a little more imagination. Does anyone remember the granddaddy of them all--"The French Lieutenant's Woman?" Not just a regular female--but a nasty woman. Not just a military guy--a lieutenant. Not just any lieutenant--the guy is French. That, my friends, is the gold standard.

  28. How about, "The Lesbian-Vampire-Angel's, Fat Chick Lit Goddaughter"?

    Now there's a trend and a half.

  29. I am writing a novel for nanowrimo and was about to name it...well, let's just say it's up in your list! Thank god, I changed it. Gravedigger's Daughter just popped into my head and I think that's proof right there that it's definitely becoming a trend...or disease. I like Home Sweet Necropolis much better.

  30. Combreviations: The Pimp's Daughter

    Unless your parents read the blog.

  31. Oh, and if nobody has dibs on 'The Farmer's Daughter ...'

  32. Not to mention these recent titles (all in the past two years):


    and so on...

  33. Although I'm agreeing with the posts above discussing how this naming convention came about in fairy tales and the like where the female protagonist wasn't even granted a name (which is sexist, whether or not the interesting parent of the title is male or female), I think it's become so ingrained in our culture that the authors of these works didn't think about it when choosing their titles. Like Jordan said, the parent's title always makes them seem like the interesting one, and I imagine the authors are trying to make their titles evocative by referencing them (as well as hinting at what type of life the child of such a person would live by being related).

    I'm straining my brain now trying to think if there are any titles along the same vein with a male child: The ______'s Son. I can only think of a few, including:

    So there are a few.

    There are also recent books such as THE QUEEN'S BASTARD, which could have easily been called THE QUEEN'S DAUGHTER but wouldn't have conveyed tone. I know the term applies to both sexes, but the stereotypical view I hold of the term "bastard" is a male child, so that was an interesting title for me.

    Speaking of templates, in fantasy especially we get lots of THE ____ OF THE ____ titles, such as:
    THE LORD OF THE RINGS (OK, that's the name for the overarching trilogy, but still...)
    THE SHADOW OF THE TORTURER, THE CLAW OF THE CONCILIATOR (and a good deal of Gene Wolfe's other books, especially in The Book of the New Sun series <--and there's another example right there).

    It's not unique to fantasy, either:
    THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR (historical fiction)
    THE NAME OF THE ROSE (another historical fiction)

  34. It's not necessarily the title itself that gets to me as the trend of putting "a novel" as the subtitle. Wow, I found this book in the Fiction section, it's by a famous novelist, it's about (just to give a recent example) a town that wakes up one day to find it's covered by a huge transparent dome, and it's a novel? I would never have guessed! Thank goodness it's labelled clearly.

  35. Ha! My book is included in this list. This was an obvious issue when THE CALLIGRAPHER'S DAUGHTER was being bandied about. Not my first choice, but one that I believe works best considering all the issues that go into titles. What worked was how it positioned the protagonist and antagonist together as well as gave the flavor of an era and a culture. That's a lot for a title to do. It's one of the reasons why the "formula" is repeated. I also want to mention a *few* others out there:

    You had The Gravedigger's Daughter
    but you missed The Ditchdigger's Daughter
    The Florist's Daughter
    The Wedding Planner's Daughter
    The Storekeeper's Daughter
    A Doctor's Daughter
    The Apothecary's Daughter
    The Gentleman's Daughter
    The Sword-Swallower's Daughter
    The Alchemist's Daughter
    The Sea King's Daughter
    The Pirate's Daughter
    The Storyteller's Daughter
    The Frontiersman's Daughter
    The General's Daughter
    [I am not making these up I swear]

  36. and…
    The Spice Merchant's Daughter
    The Tsarina's Daughter
    and The King's Daughter
    and The Lord Protector's Daughter
    The President's Daughter
    The Pope's Daughter
    The Rector's Daughter
    The Bishop's Daughter
    and then the bishop's other daughter: The Prodigal Daughter
    and not to be outdone…The Rabbi's Daughter
    plus The Preacher's Daughter
    and his repentant The Bootlegger's Daughter and
    The Winemaker's Daughter
    and even The Devil's Daughter.
    But my all-time favorite, which made me laugh out loud, (and got good reviews), is the memoir…
    The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter

  37. Lately I'm having trouble with Chasing things and thieving (well, Thief) things. I can't keep straight which books have gotten major recognition and which ones haven't (which is probably what publishers bank on, to some extent).

  38. I don't know, I kind of think if there is a book being written about them, that's got to be a mark in the anti-sexist camp. Clearly they're defined by more than just a relationship, or the book wouldn't be written. But I'm not sensitive to that kind of stuff, I guess. It just doesn't occur to me.

    Portuguese: Thanks :)

  39. It seems like there are a lot of books with the word "Runner" in them, but maybe that's just me.

  40. Sorry to disagree with you, Kat. But I find the distinction "A Novel by..." most helpful when researching titles on-line.

  41. Has no one mentioned Harlequin romance titles here? Seems that they've been publishing "The Something-or-another's Daughter" for years. They've also got the "The Playboy Sheikh's Virgin Stable-Girl" and "The Tuscan Tycoon's Pregnant Housekeeper" marketed cornered.

    Yes, those are real titles of recent releases.

    I disagreed with the notion that such "Blah Blah's Daughter" titles were sexist, but Kate convinced me. I completely agree. I now think it's sad that I had to have it pointed out to me.

  42. A few years ago, the big thing was "Confessions of" titles, especially in young adult and chick lit, but it spilled over into more mainstream fiction. I knew of some books that came along later where the title really fit, but they changed the title before publication because every other book on the shelf started with "Confessions of."

    Hmm, I wonder how many of these "Daughter" titles were originally "Confessions of a XXX's Daughter."

  43. It could also appear the opposite of sexist: the matriarchal descent of the protag. Handmaid's Daughter, Concubine's Daughter, etc. Sexism is a dying trend, anyway. Attacks on fundamentalists are in. Boo Palin!

  44. I was thinking of pointing "thief" in my title, and there are plenty of books with "thief" in the title right now. (THE BOOK THIEF comes to mind.)

    I think Philippa Gregory must be partly responsible for the QUEEN'S _______ trend...

    Then there's the ______'S WIFE books-- THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, for example.

    Personally, I think these are the modern version of titles like JANE EYRE or ANNA KARENINA. They describe the protagonist (and indicate to female readers that there will be a strong female protagonist) but do more than just state the protagonist's name, giving us a taste of the tension in the story. I mean, I want to read THE CONCUBINE'S DAUGHTER just based on the title! I like 'em.