Why do so many books have the same title?

Posted February 2, 2015 by Lory in discussions / 37 Comments

All right, not exactly the same title. But there are some current titling trends that have proliferated to such an extent that many books start to sound the same to me. And I really wonder: what are the publishers and authors thinking? Don’t they have any concern that this may be a wee bit confusing for their audience? Is jumping on the title bandwagon more important to them than making their book stand out from the crowd?

X of Y and Z
Here’s an example of what I mean. There were once just a few titles with this pattern: Days of Wine and Roses, or Heir of Sea and Fire. One could keep them straight with little difficulty. But in the past few years we have seen:

  • Days of Bread and Roses 1996
  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns 2011
  • House of Sand and Fog 2011
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone 2011
  • (sequel) Days of Blood and Starlight 2012
  • (sequel) Night of Cakes and Puppets 2013
  • (sequel) Dreams of Gods and Monsters 2014
  • Gates of Thread and Stone 2014
  • Prisoner of Night and Fog 2014
  • (sequel) Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke 2015 
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses 2015
  • Dreams of Shreds and Tatters 2015
  • Land of Love and Drowning 2015
It’s not just that the patterns are similar, but so are the elements (fog, smoke, thorns, blood) and the general angst-ridden mood. Does no one else find this strange? Can this trend be attributed to the success of the TV version of A Game of Thrones (which originated in a series of books called A Song of Ice and Fire)? It did launch in 2011.Just to make it clear, I have nothing against the contents of these books, most of which I have not read, and which may all be quite different from one another between the covers. Based on these phrases alone, though, I have a hard time distinguishing between them, and I don’t think that’s what you want from a title.

The Blank’s Wife
Then there’s the trend of titling books The (Fill-in-the-blank)’s Wife, also very popular in the last few years, as in:

  • The Kitchen God’s Wife 1991
  • The Rector’s Wife 1991
  • The Shape-Changer’s Wife 1995
  • The Pilot’s Wife 1998
  • The Astronaut’s Wife 1999
  • Mozart’s Wife 2001
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife 2003
  • The Doctor’s Wife 2004
  • Shakespeare’s Wife 2007
  • The Zookeeper’s Wife 2007
  • The Diplomat’s Wife 2008
  • The Senator’s Wife 2008
  • The Heretic’s Wife 2010
  • The Sea Captain’s Wife 2010
  • The Tiger’s Wife 2010
  • The Baker’s Wife 2011
  • The Soldier’s Wife 2011
  • The Anatomist’s Wife 2012
  • The Shoemaker’s Wife 2012
  • The Sultan’s Wife 2012
  • The Aviator’s Wife 2013
  • The Vicar’s Wife 2013
  • The Headmaster’s Wife 2014

Again, I couldn’t find much of anything before the 1990s, and the trend seems to have really taken off with the success of The Time Traveler’s Wife in 2003. But after that, whoa!

As well as being confusing these titles are irritatingly gender-biased. Why do women always have to be labeled as someone’s wife? Why do their husbands get to be exciting things (astronauts, sultans, diplomats, tigers, Shakespeare) while they have no identity other than to be married to them? Perhaps this reflects a reality of our world, but again, I don’t understand why so many authors and publishers are choosing to embrace it so wholeheartedly at this time.

A hunt for similarly-titled books about husbands turned up just two with this pattern: The Hurlyburly’s Husband and The Widow’s Husband. Hm. There are lots of books about The/A/An (insert adjective here) Husband, though: Accidental, Fake, Counterfeit, Unwilling, Unexpected, Phantom, Temporary, Invisible, Instant, Inconvenient. . . You get the idea.

What’s going on here? Any insights are appreciated. Plus, if you have any more titles to add to these lists, let me know.

Posted for the 2015 Book Blog Discussion Challenge, hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts at Midnight.  

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37 responses to “Why do so many books have the same title?

  1. You are so right ; I've noticed it too. I'd add X's Daughter to the list too, though. Bonesetters and firework makers and so on have daughters. Are there nieces and sisters too?? Boys don't seem to be defined by their relations that way. It's weird.

    Katherine Paterson wrote a non -Gothic historical novel called Days of Bread and Rose s a few years ago. It's about teen girl mill workers.

    • Oh, yes, the daughters too — I haven't started collecting them but there might be even more of those. It seems Paterson's book is actually called "Bread and Roses, Too," but there is a book called "Days of Bread and Roses." Good one!

  2. Great observation! It feels like once someone has a title pattern that works, everyone wants to follow that same formula. I find them confusing too and can never remember which word comes first in the series of __ and __.

  3. Interesting observations, especially about being labelled as someone's wife. I got a letter last week from my mortgage provider and it was titled to Mrs Thomas (surname). I can't stand that!

    • I think I would hate even more losing my name altogether and just being called "The plumber's wife" or something.

  4. For the wife title trend, I think that there's a real rise in that kind of story – the wife/daughter/sister in the shadow of a man. I guess it's a feminist thing maybe? You're right though, there's a lot of them … Very interesting post!

    • One would think we were past that, but apparently not. I know a lot of these books are historical and that may play into it, but still, they could be more imaginative in the title department.

  5. I absolutely love this post because I have been having a similar thought and yet never realized the "extent" of it! Especially for the 'The Blank's Wife', there is just such a looonngg list! I really like how you've identified some of the trends, in the sense of which books might have played a role in creating the trend. It is really interesting to think about why authors might have chosen those titles. I think trying to hit a certain mood, especially in the 'X of Y and Z' titles. I personally find it very confusing as well because I either think all of these books belong to one series or are probably all the same! Great post 🙂
    Juli @ Universe in Words

    • I know, I am really very curious to know what they were thinking in choosing these titles. A few here and there is not a problem, but this is ridiculous.

  6. I was going to make the same point as Jean, that it's sometimes the X's Daughter, and those books are sometimes about daughters of mothers, not just daughters of dudes. Sooo, slightly better I guess than The X's Wife? But yeah, that is a trend that has bugged me for YEARS. I would like it to be over now.

  7. Kay

    I have noticed this too and it can be frustrating. Who knows why they do this. Maybe because it is just a trend. BUT I am like you and I do get books confused because the titles are so similar. You especially have a point about the wife titles. Why does a woman have to be labeled by so and so's wife all the time?

    Great post!!

    • I was surprised that there were hardly any of the equivalent titles about husbands. I think it's partly because "husband" is an awkward, sloppy word with a weak ending, while "wife" has a nice strong sound to finish off your title with. But still, this trend has got to end (how's that for a word combo?)

  8. You raise some really good points in this post. There is of course the tendency for people to imitate one another.

    The gender issue is striking when you think about it. It really illustrates some biases out in the world that people often overlook if one does not examine things carefully enough.

    As you mention it may be a reflection of the way the world is to some extent. But I think that this sends an unfortunate message, especially to young people, that helps to perpetuate sexism and bias.

  9. I can't even tell you how annoying these issues are to me as a bookseller! The gender thing is irritating enough, but the confusion caused by all these similar titles drives me bonkers. I also have a problem with books that are named after their protagonists — seems so uninspired. I also wrote a blog post about book titles — hope this isn't too obnoxious of me, but here's the link: http://booksonthetable.com/2014/03/03/whats-in-a-name-10-favorite-book-titles/. You and I should combine both our posts and send our thoughts to the editorial staff at some book publishers!

    • Not obnoxious at all! I'm so glad to know that you share my concerns, and I love that you highlighted your favorite titles (as well as title frustrations). Maybe I'll do a discussion on that topic in the future.

  10. The first one seems to be something that happens within genres. There is a type of title that helps you to understand that the book is fantasy (which most, but not all of those are) and people go with it.

    The second one is really interesting, and I hadn't really noticed that pattern. Now that you point it out, though, you're right that it's definitely a sexist trend. Why do we have to identify these characters by who their husbands are? I want to see a rash of The ____'s Husband now! 🙂

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  11. I think the point is that they all sound alike so you DO get them mixed up and think they are the same! That way you'll pick up a book you think is similar to another one even if it isn't, resulting in more sales!

    It annoys me too though, although I find that the X of Y and Z books are usually fantasy and I like them a lot.

    • You could well be right, although it seems a rather sneaky and underhanded way to get people to read a book. Also, it could backfire — readers might think "I've already read this book" and not buy it!

  12. I think they look at what titles sell and they adjust their titles to what seems to be popular at that time? It must be very frustrating for people in that branch when someone asks about a certain title with 'smoke (or any of those words) in it.

  13. It gets so confusing when you go into a bookstore with a vague idea of what the title is. Another common trend is similar looking book covers. Once one book is a best seller every seems to copy the look and feel of that best seller.

    Terri M., the Director
    Second Run Reviews

  14. Excellent points in all of these. The similarity of titles is as bad or worse with the one-word titles, and there are TONS of those (and have been for years.) Titles like Cinder work pretty well, but Scarlet was used for two different YA books in the last three years or so alone – the sequel to Cinder (where Scarlet is a reference to Red Riding Hood and the new main character) and one where Scarlet is a female version of Will Scarlet from the Robin Hood legend. And don't get me started on all the titles like Delirium (at least 13 different books) or Scandal (9 in the first 2 pages of a Goodreads search alone.)

    For your nieces and nephews titles: The Magician's Nephew, by C.S. Lewis.

    • Using the same title as another book can be OK when they are released years apart, or are about completely different topics, but it's pretty egregious when they come thick and fast in the same genre. Makes you think someone is not doing their research.

  15. Excellent post. I've thought the same about the 'wives', both that yes, why do they have to be so-and-so's wife, and that it's very confusing for us readers. I know that a couple have been about forgotten women who had prominent husbands but were awesome for their own reasons – in those cases, 'wife' makes a certain point, but otherwise, which book is which?

    I agree this is similar to samey covers, and I've also noticed many books use the same stock photography within the same few years.

  16. Jae

    I don’t think the “X of Y and Z” trend has anything to do with A Song of Ice and Fire. The trend is in YA, not adult fantasy, and the TV adaptation has never used the ASoIaF name.

    I also think this trend started before Game of Thrones even appeared on TV. I suspect it was kicked off by The Forest of Hands and Teeth (2009).

    • There are examples in other genres than YA, though that is where it really predominates. I see this pattern everywhere now and it continues to annoy me! But you’re no doubt right and it didn’t originate with the TV series.