The Importance of Titles

If judging a book by a cover is bad, then judging a book by its title must surely be worse. After all, covers are pictures, pictures are worth a thousand words, and titles are usually a mere phrase.

But it’s not that simple. Titles name a book, and names are important. A good name can make or break you.

Take, for example, the case of Ziz. Poor sad Ziz, of whom you have NEVER heard.

You see, there was once this trio of awesome creatures. All three were in the Bible [oops, see the update below], rocking out with special dispensations from Yahweh and generally kicking young earth ass. Three unbeatable giant beasties, one of the water, one of the land, and one of the air . . .

Leviathan, Behemoth, and, um, Ziz.

ziz

How bad is it to have a lame name? Well, thousands of years after their cameos in the Bible, Leviathan and Behemoth are still both famous. Their names are words in modern English, both meaning, “stuff that is big and awesome and/or scary.”

The word “Leviathan” appears in Moby-Dick, is the title of a famous work of philosophy and a movie, not to mention a record company and a comic strip.

“Behemoth” is equally culture-spanning, including this delightful Polish metal band. (Warning: high-volume flash intro Not Safe For School.)

But Ziz? Ziz has a crappy name, so the creature itself wound up fading into obscurity.

So if names are this important, surely titles are too.

Titles bring the reader into the world of the book. They set them up for what’s coming: comedy, tragedy, farce, or all three. They create inevitabilities (Death of a Salesman) and anticipations (The Year of Living Dangerously), or intensify the poetry of a key phrase (Dude, Where’s My Car?).

Even punctuation can be key. I mean, what if James Kelman’s classic novel How Late It Was, How Late, had been titled “How Late? It Was How Late?”

Totally different story, man.

Which brings us to my next trilogy, the first two books of which are called Leviathan and Behemoth. But seriously, can I call the third book, um, Ziz?

What do you guys think?

Update:
As CosmicDog points out in the delicious and insightful comments below, Ziz is not actually in the Bible, but is a part of Jewish folklore. Behemoth and Leviathan are both in the Book of Job (and Leviathan other places), so that part’s right. I got confused because they are frequently pictured together.

Does this mean my point fails? Or does this mean that Ziz has been double-dissed! First by being left out of the Bible, then by being generally forgotten!

116 thoughts on “The Importance of Titles

  1. Well you could always use the names given by other cultures. Like you could go the Persian route and call the book “Simurgh”, or the Asian route with either “Garuda” or “Roc”. There’s even an Iranian alternative with “Shahrokh”. They’re essentially the same creatures, being winged mythical beings, and if you have to warp them just a bit, then so be it. It’s not like you see witches, vampires, werewolves, etc. represented the same way throughout literature. Personally, I like Garuda, but Shahrokh sounds cool as well.

  2. There are a few alternate names that still are Hebrew in origin. Bar Juchne or Bar-Yuchnei could do, but both names are likely to be mispronounced. It seems that an alternate name from a different culture could do because these monsters are archetypes. Good luck on the search for a good book title! Mary at comment 51 had some pretty good suggestions.

  3. i personally think ziz is a wonderful name for a book it is fun sounding and would catch my attention.

  4. The story about Ziz in Jewish Folklore is one of my favorites! Plus, if you’ve already read the first two books – when the third comes out you’ll be dying to read it, no matter what the title. I’ll even make sure to tell all of my friends about it.

  5. People keep saying that Ziz would be fine as the title for the third book just because readers will be hooked after the first two and wouldn’t care what the third one was called. True, people who read the first two woould be hooked, but what about the people who have never heard of the series and happen to see the third book with its strange title on the new release shelf? They might be turned off by the title ad not even bother to look for the first two books, no matter what they’ve heard about the author or how cool the cover looks. You could be losing a lot of readers.

  6. OMG OMG OMG OMG Taly and Zane u r geniouse scott-la you could name it THE FORGOTEN ONE that is REALLLLLLY catchy. But if you wanted to make it incorperate the name Ziz you could call it ZIZ, THE FORGOTEN ONE. πŸ™‚ that is soo cool im just geting excited thinking about the new series. And people on wester blog please coment because i love the name how about you. (and not because i made it lol)

  7. PRETTY-SLANG TIME!

    Ziz: Ò€œlameÒ€ and fun-missing.Pretty bogus.

    I’m gonna use this tomorrow! Garn,yeah!

  8. TOTALLY CALL IT ZIZ!! Here are my five reasons why:

    1. Ziz is totally cool! (‘Have you read Ziz yet?’ ‘Ziz is a totally righteous book!’)
    2. No one (ever) uses ‘z’ a lot. Seriously.
    3. Ziz is like is just more ‘z’ sounding
    4. Ziz is already an underdog, as You’ve pointed out so obviously it is your DUTY as a human BEING to not let poor little Ziz fall behind.
    5. Ziz would fit nicely on a shirt, centered under the other two. (Making shirts=fun)

    kirkintilloch: I like your list of words to change it to. Because, Dear Scott-la, if you do change it you gotta at least keep ziz in there somehow. (RE:above)

    Kit-la: Welcome! And sometimes, you can only express win in math language.

    Ziz, the forgotten one Sounds good, but wouldn’t fit on a shirt well. Still good…
    *ponders*
    Good Luck!

  9. i think you should call it Ziz. Apparently you knowenough about it to have blogged about it, plus i think itd be pretty awesome. Your first two books being namedafter awesome creatures and the last a strange name would be pretty hilaious πŸ™‚ whether it would help you or not, who knos??

  10. I think Ziz might be my new favorite name. My best friend is expecting. Maybe I can convince her to name the baby Ziz. (It can be a girls name, right?)

  11. I think that precisely because Ziz is the underdog, you simply have to use it. Pretty please, for the sake of underdogs everywhere?! πŸ™

  12. Your “Ziz” book can just be called “Really, Really Huge.” I like it. Or “Big Foot.” That’s a good one, right there. πŸ˜‰

    I looked up big in my dictionary, and this is all I got:

    Brobdingnagian

    Exciting.

  13. Go ahead and call it Ziz! Nobody knows what it is supposed to mean. It could make a huge comeback! Besides a Z-name is a good way to end a trilogy since Z is last in the alphabet.

  14. I’m so glad you posted this! I was wondering about the word Leviathan and was in church one day and it was in one of the psalms that we sang and so I looked it up and found out more about it. Very cool title indeed!!!

    I was so excited that I looked it up in church! And I brought the print out home for later musings…

    So, here’s the reference from Psalm 104 vs. 27 (not sure which version, sorry):

    “There move the ships,
    and there is that Leviathan,
    which you have made for the sport of it.”

  15. Scott~la i realy like the name Ziz but it souds like a childrens book and im gessing there is alot of acton in the book so could call it Ziz, the forgoten one. Lol thats raly catchy…… wat do u guys and gals think loooooooool!!

  16. While Ziz doesn’t exactly have that certain je-ne-sais-pas factor, it is quite fun to say a few times fast, while if you try to say the others a few times fast, you’re likely to get your tongue in a not…. Plus, if the series is a big hit, no one will care too much WHAT you call it.

  17. Zane: ‘Brobdingnagian’ how exactly do you say that lol

    Eva Shea: Juggernaut? *chuckles* what does it mean?

    I’m sticking with Ziz. If I saw it, I’d be all over it.

    ALSO for those of you not following Scott-la on Twitter:

    Scott Westerfeld Spoiler Alert! An odd sentence from my Scrivener corkboard for Behemoth: “Ch 24. The barnacles are delivered, but things go pear-shaped.”
    hehehe
    πŸ˜€

  18. You can totally name it Ziz. I mean any other name would just be a shame to your first two names. Plus poor Ziz. if you dont, you would just be another jerk.

  19. Saw the excerpt of Leviathan in my Extras book. Haven’t read it yet. I must admit i did judge the book by it’s cover. Not the title the title actually makes it sound interesting. So i guess you decided on Leviathan. Ziz is cool too.

  20. I’m totally second guessing myself. I’m a melodramatic mess. Oh well, Ziz, well what does it tell you? Z names usually go with fantasy books. Ziz is a name that reminds me of fizz which reminds me of soda. Good or what?

  21. I agree with Livi-la! Ziz isn’t really that bad! In fact it’s really fun to say!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:)

  22. Ziz !!!!!! i loove it!!! it adds texture to the book,it may be short and weird but it adds POP to the book!! its soo different, you shall NOT change it!!

  23. ziz…. well, i say it shouldn’t be used. it just doesn’t have that extra something. maybe, like i think someone has said, you should make a referral to it. something like ‘the forgotten one’ or ‘the unknown’ πŸ™‚ but no matter what it is, i’ll love the book anyway

    i’d agree that names are important. but for a third in a series by a loved author, i don’t thing it is as important as a new writers first book title. just think, if j.k. Rowling had of called the last of the Harry Potter books something like well hello there bob, everyone would still read it because they’ve already got such a big name for themselves.

  24. Scott: You should name the third book Goliath. It’s still biblical, and it also can mean “big.” Also, it’s got the whole Castle in the Sky thing going for it (the huge military ship is called Goliath…)

  25. Name the last one Bahamut. No seriously. Gigantic flying dragon. It would be spectacular.

  26. Ziz… Ziz is not associated with Leviathan and Behemoth as often as the two, Lev&Beh, are associated with each other… but Scott-la, honestly… you’re a brilliant and hooking writer so I wouldn’t worry about it. Use it if you want.

    I’ve used Dundayin as a setting in my tril… “…called Behemoth, which holds his chest in an invisible desert whose name is Dundayin…” You could turn it into something…

    Or does Ziz translate into anything? Or is it anything dif in French or Latin or Italian… or any other language…

  27. Depending on the plot of the book, lenghthen it accordingly. Like
    Ziz the Forgotten, Ziz Ends it All, Ziz and the Fantastic Finale, Ziz
    and the Flying Carpet. I’m kidding on the last one, but just Ziz seems to short the final book. Maybe for an earlier book, but not for the end.

  28. ok so i no im kinda sorta late hehe but IIIIIIII personally LOVE the name Ziz!!! i mean, my theory is that a big part of WHY it was totally forgotten was only because it WASNT in the bible! do you have any idea how influential the bible is? well of course you do. i mean its THE BIBLE!!!

    so anyways. Scott-la, if you named your third book ZIZ, i’d probably fall in love all over again. hehehehehe! even though i no you PROBABLY wont end up using it for your title. because you ARE the totally awesome author and i AM the totally random fangirl who im sure doesnt have as much influence on you as the bible. hehe but ive put in my opinion.

    ZIZ is awesome. Z is my favorite letter of the alphabet. because its just so pointy and futury and it makes a funny noise. hehehe. so when theres TWO of them, i gotta love the word/’totally awesome title rite? hehehe does ANYBODY agree with me?!

    -Lizzy-wa OUT! πŸ˜•

  29. I can honestly say I’ve never heard of Ziz. I feel a bit bad for the poor guy.

    But I say, Scott, why not bring back Ziz? Name your third book that. Give it some pizaz. Or, piziz. Or just Ziz. Whatever.

    I think it’d be bold and, quite frankly, if you’ve kept your readers through the first two books, the third one’s title would be borderline irrelevant.

  30. In Hebrew “Leviathan” means whale and “Behemoth” mean cows, and sheep and thing like that
    Never heard of Ziz. Ziz in Hebrew means a part of a rock that sticks out. So yeah..

  31. I personally have no opinion on whether or not ziz is a good title for a book. I would like to add that i agree that titles are super important. The reason i read uglies in the first place was because i saw it at barnes and noble and said “wow, thats kind of a rude name for a book.” On that note, I would most likely pick up a book called ziz if i saw it at barnes and noble even if it was not in the scott westerfeld section.

  32. Ziz shouldn’t be longer. I like it how it is. It would be kinda random, but still in a way that makes it cool. And people would see it and want to see what it’s about. Plus if it is in the bible, it’s good enough for God. He didn’t think the name should be longer.

  33. I think Ziz could be a cool title.
    Possibly “Ziz: (insert something about Air and Space and possibly birds in less then four words here)”

    But if the first two are just “Leviathan” and “Behometh” you wouldn’t want the third to seem off with the colan

    (I really would not change it to Ziziocious or create some other random ending, its just tacky)

    As someone said before, its the third in the trilogy and typically a person does not start out by reading the last book – it’s built up too by the first two. Most fans will already want to read it regardless of the title length.

    In my case, I would read it simply because it was written by you (/end brown nosing/) =P

    Anyway, I think Ziz could be interestingly different and compelling to read.

  34. *laughs at darkness’r’us’ comment*
    harry potter and well… hello there bob!

    ahahaha…

  35. yeah, really big letters that are shiny. I will make people laugh, and then want to read it, just because it’s so, i don’t know, intriguing that way. everyone will want to know what ZIZ is.
    lol. πŸ™‚

  36. I like Ziz. Er. . . It doesn’t exactly fit with the other two names, I’ll agree with that, but something about it is so you, and I mean that in the best way possible. xD Two epic, blow-your-mind names and then. . . Ziz. It’s perfect. Besides, if you did lengthen it, those three people who have actually heard the name would have no idea how it related!

  37. Ah! Doing what Zane did earlier, I looked Ziz up in my dictionary, but it only had ‘zizz’, which is to take a nap in England! Again, perfect!

  38. I think you should name the third book “Ziz”. It would be kinda shocking (if you don’t read your blog) to see the title. In a good way, of course.

  39. But think, some YA reader in their local bookstore/ library, walking past all these epic – but when you tink about it – kitsch titles, “Ziz” will come as a relief. It’ll make them stop. They go, “ugh, ugh, ugh – huh? What’s this?” And we all know that the time it takes to pick up a S. Westerfeld book is the time is takes to create a fan!

    Ziz stays. No question.

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