What’s In A Name?

That which we call – well, anything, really…

Moab Is My Washpot paperback coverWhen Stephen Fry was asked why he had called his autobiography Moab is My Washpot, he replied that people didn’t remember ISBNs.
Things need names; preferably memorable names (not necessarily metaphors from the Book of Psalms) but do they need to be tied to the content?

I got into a discussion about this a long time ago with folk singer Andrew Cronshaw.  He had an album  (yes, I’m back to the days of vinyl again) called Earthed in Cloud Valley.  That title sounds like some form of mysticism unless you know that it’s a line from a Cheshire hunting song.  (The Cloud in question is Bosley Cloud, a hill on the Cheshire-Staffordshire border – and the point of the line Earthed in Cloud Valley - Andrew Cronshaw album cover“earthed in Cloud Valley” is that the fox had gone to ground and evaded the hunters.)  The song itself was not part of Cronshaw’s repertoire; he took the view that his collection of songs needed a title, but it didn’t need to be – and indeed he preferred that it was not – a title that had anything to do with the songs.

Geoff Bamber has form in this respect.  The title of his farce for adults, How Does Your Garden Grow has, arguably, nothing to do with the content.  More recently, I challenged Geoff about the title of one of his new youth theatre plays.  He had called it The Prince’s Tale, and a prince was integral to the plot, but his role was accomplished without ever setting foot on the stage; he was talked about, but neither seen nor heard.  Geoff’s response was that his original conception was along the lines of a Canterbury Tale, but that idea got ditched somewhere in the development process, and the plot mutated into something completely different (about a rather petulant princess).  Retaining the original title was, in this case, an oversight.  I gave him a list of suggestions, of which my favourite was The Old Sulk Road, but in the end he chose a title of his own.  Thus whilst we reviewed and edited The Prince’s Tale, we published Courting Aurora.

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