IWSG 49: Using Word Association For Naming A Book

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group where we share our encouragement or insecurities on the first Wednesday of the month, to join the group or find out more click here.




Beverly Stowe McClure | Tyrean Martinson

Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor

IWSG Question: What’s harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?

I have fun with choosing names for both.

Here’s what I do for book titles.

I go in thinking it is a working title and try not stress about it. Let’s face it if my publisher or agent suggested something better I’ll take it. I’m a writer not a marketer. I’m sure that’s obvious.

I use word association just like a therapist. I choose words that capture the essence of the overall project. Sometimes I’m thinking mystery which often leads to murder, suspects, sleuths, motive, unfinished business, and in one occasion ghosts.

And White Light was born. I chose it because many claim to see a white light when they are brought back from death. And the idea of a white room where a spirit was trapped seemed to grow out of that tiny idea.

With one of my dragon stories I played on the words  cat’s eye, moon, and a mother leaving her child too soon.

Dragon Eye  was based on a different kind of guardian angel.

And with my latest WIP Symbiotic Slip, I wanted my title to hint at two planets relying on each other’s resources and being knocked out of sync.  ‘Nough said there I think. 😉


My process for picking character’s names is very simple. I use the name generator I found in Scrivener. But there are tons of generators out there…. Google it and you’ll see what I mean.

What did you do to title your latest WIP? Any hints for us?


103 responses to “IWSG 49: Using Word Association For Naming A Book

  1. I like to look up definitions or similar terms related to my character(s) personality, profession, state of mind, etc. For example, my latest romance WIP collection, the titles are related to their particular psychic gift. Have another ya fantasy I’d like to get started on. It’s temporary title, Hellsgate, is in referenced to an actual gate/doorway unearthed by curious scientists and global warming. Which opened big can of magic and demon worms. But the story takes place years after that aftermath, during a reconsrtuction. And centered around a Robinhood-esque crew led by a girl. Hence I need a new title.

  2. spunkonastick

    My last book was named after the two seminars it’s based on, so that was pretty easy.

  3. I’ve used name generators before. They can be quite helpful.

  4. Hi, Anna,
    Sounds like you have a system that works very well for you. Mostly I just pick names that I think fit in my contemporary stories. For my Fantasy stories, I use a generator for fantasy names. Works well.

  5. Sandra Ulbrich Almazan

    For some of the short stories I’ve been working on, I’ve chosen names that tie into the anthologies where I’ve submitted them. Alliteration also assists.

  6. I use name generators too. Titles are much more of a struggle for me to get right.

  7. I love naming my characters though. Sometimes they come with names, sometimes I get to name them and it’s fun for me when I get to do that.

    Titles…I try to go for basic ones. I suck at titling things.

  8. I said the same thing about titles in my post! Don’t sweat it! Agents, editors, etc. are going to be there to help!! I used to use Scrivener’s name generator, too, but I got nailed by someone for picking names that, while they sounded nice, had historical and cultural context and baggage that tainted the reader’s experience. Oops. Anyway, thanks for the post, and happy writing to you. 🙂

  9. Hi,
    I have to admit I didn’t do anything special. The title was there. Maybe I’ll have to change it, depending on the publisher but right now the title is solidly planted in my heart.

    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  10. I try and come up with titles that hold more than one meaning – it says one thing to readers before they start and maybe something different/creepier/more meaningful, etc when they’re finished. 🙂

  11. Angela Wooldridge

    I’ve never even looked at the name generator in scrivener, I feel the urge to peek now…

  12. We are like-minded. Scrivener for names, and working title for ms. Some stick, some don’t.

  13. Loni Townsend

    My series titles are made up of made-up words. My current WIP, Isto, has a double application. Isto is a type of monster in my books, and they’re loose and attacking the population. Then the other application is that one of the POV characters is slowly turning into one. MWAHAHAHAHA!

  14. I like using the Social Security register of popular names from the year my character is born. I’ve never tried a name generator, so off to Google that little gem!

    • Social Security is a great idea. It reminds me of the credits at the end of movies. Before my son was born I’d read them looking for something I liked. How times have changed. hehehe

  15. Hi, I loved your book titles, Dragon’s Eye is cool, so is White Light and Symbiotic Slip!
    I had never heard of the name generator in Scrivener!

  16. Titles for me are all about the grab you factor. If it’s not going to get attention, it’s no good. Characters…I could never leave to a name generator. I feel there’s so much to a character that I better have a name matching their past, their essence, their setting, and my tastes. What can I say? I’m a name snob. 😉

  17. I have a title for my WIP, but we’ll see if it stands the test of time.My first tries were attempt to explain what the book was about, but eventually I came up with a title that was more unusual and eye-catching. At least I think it it. We’ll see. If only writing the books were as easy as coming up with titles.

    • I bet your title is great. And you’re right, if we fuss over titles and characters names, it’s no wonder it takes time to get all words right in a project. 🙂

  18. I really like how you discover your titles through word association! Symbiotic Slip is great! Wow.
    Happy June Writing!

  19. I’ve tried word association for coming up with titles. I’m not very good at it as I’m usually still stumped by the end. LOL

  20. Word association is a fun way to come up with book titles. 🙂

  21. You always know so many fascinating things, Anna. I love your titles. I actually started researching historical people who could be relatives of my characters. I get last names that way. Sometimes Middle Names. Now titles, hm…. I have been scanning my work for trigger words. Titles are really tricky 🙂

  22. I love the word association idea. Interesting!! And I had no idea there was a name generator in Scrivener! I feel like I never really figured out how to use that properly and need to try again with it.

  23. Great method. I like short catch titles :0

  24. I like your word-association games. My current WIP is entitled Doug and Laurel’s story. Yeah, some work to do there. Happy writing in June!

  25. Yes, yes, yes with regard to not stressing over titles. Every mentor I’ve had in my master’s program has told me and my fellow students that authors rarely end up with the title they came up with. Scrivener’s name generator is amazing, isn’t it? As a fantasy writer, though, I always try to tweak names to make them less… real. Thanks for the post. Have a great day of writing. 🙂

  26. I’ve played around with name generators before, but I’ve never ended up (so far) naming any of my characters based on the results. What I have realized lately that renaming a character is much harder than picking out the name the first time. I’ve had to do this twice in the last few months for my MMCs. One is still unnamed as I haven’t found a suitable replacement.

    • I pick abbreviations and make a note. Then do a Find & Replace when I think I’ve found the one I want. I catch the errors on revision. Not easy, but I’ve done worse. hehehe

  27. I’m considering changing the title of my current ms. I am going to try the brainstorm method and see what I might come up with! I have used the online generators to help with fantasy type names before.

  28. Oh I’m definitely going to have to google a name generator. Thanks for the tip!

  29. I’ve never thought about using a name generator. That’s darned clever, and very obvious. Thanks for mentioning it here today.

  30. I love the word association idea! Thanks for the tip

  31. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog. I like your methods for coming up with titles and names. I may try those sometimes.

  32. I never thought about word association for a title. Very clever. I’m going to try that for my next story.

  33. Titles are SO HARD but I do have fun with creating character names 🙂

  34. I love reading about your process for picking your titles. I also use name generators, mainly for place names.

  35. Word association is an interesting way to get there! A lot of my characters come with names, but when they don’t I like to play around with census records and baby name books.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

  36. I tell you, Anna, I’m having a hard time coming up with a title for my WIP. I like your titles. I think I’m waiting until I finish the book to see if something better than what I’ve already come up with dawns on me. I asked this question on Litsy a couple of months ago, and one responder’s answer has stuck with me. She likes it when the title holds a clue to the resolution that she doesn’t figure out until the end. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do this, but it’s stuck in my mind! Happy IWSG day!

  37. mlouisebarbourfundyblue

    Hi, Anna! I love the premise of “Symbiotic Slip.” Also your word association idea for titles. Usually for me a title will surface as I write, and it’s often a phrase in my piece that resonates with me. I’d happily take any advice from an editor! Have a good one!

  38. I think Symbiotic Slip is a great name. It really captured the essence of your manuscript.

  39. Name generators are so much fun! Symbiotic Slip is a fantastic name. Titles are difficult for me, but I think I’ll try your trick for the next one.

  40. Excellent titles! The one currently on the worktable has been unusually difficult. I had the name picked that fit perfectly, was sure no one else would have used it. Wrong.

  41. Word association to come up with a title is a good approach. I’ve tried it, but usually end up going with a scene or phrase in the book that captures a turning point or a vital part of the story. My current work in progress has the unknowing protagonists finding something at a cemetery along the edge of a river which brings them into an unsolved murder, hence the title, “At the River’s Edge.”

  42. Glad you have a system for this, I’m so bad at names for just about anything I would be stuck at the very beginning just trying to name my characters if I was a writer! 😛

  43. Symbiotic Slip is such a sharp title…it really grabs you… a wonderful play on words.
    I think I’m going to try out the word association game. 🙂

  44. I like your word association approach to title selecting. I think I’ll adopt a similar one for myself. “Symbiotic Slip” is a great title.

  45. I love to engage my readers by getting them to come up with the title. I give prizes for the best suggestions. Otherwise, when it’s left to me, I usually find it fairly difficult. (Oddly enough, choosing titles for the GhostWriters series has been easy.)

  46. I also use a working title knowing it will more than likely be changed. Then I look for a sentence in the story that might be an accurate title. But all in all, I can’t create titles that I like. Character names come easy. Good Advice Emaginette.

    • A few commenters said the same thing about looking for something within the work to use as a title. It explains why I find titles inside some of my favorite reads.

  47. I like your method and your titles. Perhaps I will try it out when the time comes. Right now, I just slap a one-word working title on my projects and hope that inspiration strikes when I start querying.
    P.S. Sorry for being late on my IWSG comment, got sick on Wednesday and finally out of zombie-mode.

  48. I love how you go about with your book titles, Anna. You’re very creative! I use a work title as well, “Floating About – A Life Less Ordinary” for my current memoir, because it mostly takes place on the oceans and my entire life has been quite extraordinary.

    Yet, I never counted on actually using this title for the final manuscript. So, in the meantime, I’m brainstorming for a better book name and coming up with 100 versions. It’s hard to pick the winning title, before having the book published and knowing whether it works. But, beta readers can come in handy here as well! 🙂

  49. Victoria Marie Lees

    I agree, Anna. I like “Floating About” for Liesbet, too. For character names, I use contemporary names. If I’m working on a story about a particular culture, I may go to a website about the culture and check out the names of those in charge and maybe use one of their first names. It’s so cool that there actually is a “name generator.” You have a great system to generate titles. Bravo!

    Sorry it’s taken me so long to visit. My mom’s been ill.

  50. You’ve taught me something new. I’d never heard of name generator before. Cool! I find names and titles really hard!

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