Fun With Romance Titles

I’m willing to go a few rounds with anyone who criticizes romance novels. Usually they haven’t read any, and have no basis for their criticism that they’re all the same, or they’re female porn, or – well, whatever. But sometimes I have to admit that certain titles invite a snicker or two. When someone asks you what you’re reading, do you really want to answer “Guarding the Notorious Lady?” That particular title is easy to pick on because a) I just read it b) It wasn’t very good and c) as another reader pointed out, the lady in question was not at all notorious. I told Scarlett (my daughter and fellow reviewer) that the title was probably from the Random Romance Title Generator.  “Is there such a thing?,” she asked. “If not, there should be.”

Actually, I think we did do one before, but time and conventions have marched on, so we’re probably due for another one.  Choose one part from each list, mix and match, and let the titling begin!

Part 1:

  • Bewitching the
  • Lessons from a
  • Seducing the
  • Marrying a
  • Courting the
  • Pleasuring the
  • To Tempt a

Part 2:

  • Wicked
  • Sinful
  • Dangerous
  • Notorious
  • Scandalous
  • Desperate
  • Bold
  • Noble
  • Purple (okay, I threw this one in for fun)

Part 3:

  • Earl
  • Spy
  • Lady
  • Duke
  • Lord
  • Gentleman
  • Rake
  • Woman
  • Spinster
  • Courtesan
  • Footman (we’ll never see that one)

Courting the Scandalous Lady! Lessons from a Wicked Duke! Pleasuring the Purple Footman! Coming soon to a bookstore near you (well, maybe not that last one). I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to read the first few pages of a generically-titled book to figure out whether I’ve read it before.  What do you think? And what clichéd words and phrases did I leave out? What words and phrases should we see that we rarely do?

- Blythe Barnhill

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35 Responses to “Fun With Romance Titles”

  1. Barb says:

    Actually, I might be tempted by “The Fraudulent Footman.” Or even “The False-Hearted Footman.”

    So never say never!

  2. Ell says:

    Ha! Funny stuff. And I agree with Barb. I’d have to stop and have a look at any title with “Footman” in it.

    Just recently read Jade Lee’s “Wicked Seduction”, and although I really did like the book, both the cover and the title made me cringe. I’m always telling people that the genre includes books that are as well written as anything, anywhere, but as long as too many titles and too many covers are just embarrassing, every argument I have in its favor is undercut. I wish there was something we could do about it.

    • Lori says:

      Ell: Just recently read Jade Lee’s “Wicked Seduction”, and although I really did like the book, both the cover and the title made me cringe. I’m always telling people that the genre includes books that are as well written as anything, anywhere, but as long as too many titles and too many covers are just embarrassing, every argument I have in its favor is undercut. I wish there was something we could do about it.

      This is why e-readers are so popular!

  3. Magdalen says:

    Hoyden, Widow (and, to be even-handed, Widower), Marquis, Viscount, Countess, Duchess, Viscountess (but NOT Marchioness — it looks weird and we don’t know how to pronounce it: MAR-shun-ess), Stranger, Highwayman…

    But otherwise, I’d say you’ve nailed it!

  4. RobinB says:

    Lori and Ell: When I bought my Nook last year, the number one reason why I decided to plunge into e-reading was to avoid the embarassing titles and/or covers that so many romance novels these days have! I totally agree with both of you about the cringe factor and the fact that so much romance fiction has this baggage (the aforementioned titles and covers!).

  5. Karen HC says:

    You forgot ‘Part 4′: Bitten, Bite, Blood, Burn, Burnt, Dark, Darkness, Dead, Demon, Devil, Eternal, Eternity, Fever, Grave, Hunger, Immortal, Moon, Night and Undead

  6. AARPatH says:

    I once interviewed a mystery author who had been a staff writer for a popular women’s magazine in the 1940s. She said she had a long list of adjectives and phrases for the fabulously wealthy and/or notorious hanging hear her typewriter and then went down the list over and over again as writing about the parties she attended. I’ve been imagining lately that editors who title romances are just the same these days. I think your lists would fit right in, Blythe and Karen.

  7. AARPatH says:

    Hmmm…make that “hanging near her typewriter,” not “hear.” It’s early CA time and obviously I haven’t had enough tea.

  8. Victoria S says:

    OK, I was gonna add in my two cents, but your replies have already nailed it in the title department! I had a few minutes of silliness, putting titles together, and you have got to be right, there truly must be a Random Romance Title Generator all the publishers use. It wouldn’t be so bad, if the darn goofy titles actually represented the content of the book. I mean talking about the wrapping not fitting the box!

    I have noticed that Nora Roberts titles and covers , for the main part, fit her books. Does she do them herself, or does she have that much clout that her publishers don’t dare saddle her stuff with goofy titles and covers?

    Two of my favorite books are “Broken Wing” by Judith James and “Not Quite A Husband” by Sherry Thomas. These two were of a handful that actually made sense and fit the stories perfectly. Whoever did those two titles should franchise out their services to all romance land…they’d make a fortune!

  9. AAR Heather B says:

    I like Pleasuring the Scandalous Gentleman because of the irony. Yes, most of these are the reason I wanted my Kindle so badly.

    On the other hand titles that are so similar by one author also annoy me as well because I have to read into each book to actually figure out which one it is. Brockmann’s Over the Edge, Gone too Far, and Out of Control are like that for me. I can’t remember which is which most of the time.

  10. Carrie says:

    I Kinda like “Lessons from a Desperate Spinster.” ;-)

    You left out: virgin, mistress, bride, pirate, secret, lost, forbidden, scarlet, “Desiring a..”, “In Love with…”, “Captive of a…”, secret, “Ravished by a…”, “Escaping the…”.

    Ravished by a Lost Lord
    Seducing the Scandalous Mistress
    Desiring the Forbidden Virgin
    In Love with a Scarlet Lady
    Escaping the Notorious Pirate

  11. Em says:

    Heather wrote:

    On the other hand titles that are so similar by one author also annoy me as well because I have to read into each book to actually figure out which one it is. Brockmann’s Over the Edge, Gone too Far, and Out of Control are like that for me. I can’t remember which is which most of the time.

    Boy, did you ace it with this comment! I don’t know if it is due to getting older or not, but I have come to feel total irritation with titles that all sound the same–i.e. the Sookie Stackhouse series, the Eve Dallas books, and all the generic titles mentioned in this thread. I suppose the authors/ editors thought this sort of thing is clever, but it drives me nuts as it makes it almost impossible to remember which book is about what. Creative use of titles can be done–just look at Georgette Heyer!

  12. Blythe says:

    I can’t believe I left out “To Love a…” and “Pirate”. I kept thinking of more after I went to bed.

    I also agree that Not Quite a Husband is a good title. And I loved Meredith Duran’s Wicked Becomes You (as a book and a title). I suppose I should have asked who did it right.

    @Victoria S – Nora Roberts does have control over titles and covers. Years ago I had her sign an ARC, and she mentioned that the final cover was different because she didn’t like one aspect of the cover (wind chimes or something. It’s been awhile). When you’re Nora Roberts, you can say “Lose those wind chimes” and people will listen.

  13. xina says:

    I find most titles and covers of romance novels completely ridiculous. There are some lovely titles like, Beauty Like The Night and My False Heart by Liz Carlyle. However, for the most part they are silly, and I would never shout out most romance titles to anyone other than a fellow romance reader, although I’d be very proud to admit I was reading, Seducing The Purple Gentleman. Who wouldn’t??

  14. LinnieGayl says:

    What fun! I’d add in “pregnant” for the second section. And I too would definitely take a look at something with “footman” in the title.

  15. Karenmc says:

    I’m pretty sure Meredith Duran came up with Wicked Becomes You herself. Likewise Bound by Your Touch and Written on Your Skin. Her upcoming release is A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal, which is nicely alliterative, but also a lot more generic.

    Yes, Carlyle’s My False Heart is a wonderful title for a wonderful book.

    As for books in a series that sound alike, I was recommending Lorraine Heath’s Devil series to someone; all I could come up with was “Devil series”, and I can’t remember which book was the best.

    And if there are books about footman, what about a shout out to under-butlers?

  16. OMG classic! My one worry is that people will actually use this to generate titles! I read Guarding the Notorious Lady for review, too, and I kept waiting for the notorious lady to appear. She never did.
    I suck at creating titles, and I always try to get help. Ellora’s Cave has a sekrit list that authors can access of the words they don’t want to see used in titles any more. They won’t ban them, but you have to justify them if you want them. Overdone words that don’t have an impact with readers any more.
    There’s also a list of hero’s names that they would prefer we don’t use. Headed by Lucian/Luke/Lucius and versions of the same. There were a flood of them a few years back. Also angel’s names, Gabriel, Rafe/Raphael, all those. Very handy, I wish more publishers did it!

    • SusiB says:

      There’s also a list of hero’s names that they would prefer we don’t use. Headed by Lucian/Luke/Lucius and versions of the same. There were a flood of them a few years back. Also angel’s names, Gabriel, Rafe/Raphael, all those. Very handy, I wish more publishers did it!

      Exactly. You can’t imagine how astonished I was when I recently read a romantic suspense whose villain was named Rafe. All through the book I thought, come on, you can’t fool me. I know he will turn out to be the hero in the next book of the series. But he didn’t! The hero of this book just killed him!

  17. First of all, I would sooo read ‘Pleasuring the Purple Footman;’ I think that title has more potential than anything I’ve seen in months.
    Secondly, speaking only from my own experience with Pocket Books, this kind of title generator is almost too close to the truth to be funny. I was always asked to submit a list of possible titles to the big giant heads who did marketing, and they never liked anything that had anything at all to do with the actual story or that didn’t sound like the title of at least three other novels currently on the shelves. They always picked the one I made the most generically ‘sexy.’

  18. PatF says:

    Have you ever noticed how many titles have the word highlander or a version thereof ?

  19. Susan/DC says:

    How could you forget millionaire/billionaire, sheikh, Italian, and Greek? And what about innocent? Or are you only using the Random Title Generator for single titles and not category romances?

  20. Keira says:

    To Tempt a Wicked Spinster… Lessons from the Bold Footman! This is fun. :D

  21. Blythe says:

    @Susan/DC – oh, the HP title generator is a whole separate beast. ;)

    I also think I left out “Banging the…” Would someone please write “Banging the Scandalous Footman?”

  22. xina says:

    I like….Seducing The Wicked Spy and Footman. The more the merrier….am I right???? :)

  23. Carrie says:

    Did anyone add “rogue”? and what about “surrender”?

    “Surrendering to the Rogue Footman”?

    BTW- I think SEP and Jennifer Crusie both have great titles. And I can think of several sci-fi and sci-fi rom authors with interesting titles, like Linnea Sinclair and Catherine Asaro. then again, there are the really bad ones, like Susan Grant’s “Star” books. (Star King, etc.) They’re actually decent futuristic romance, but I almost didn’t read them because of the titles. ;-)

  24. xina says:

    The Footman is getting a ton of interest. I think an author should take notice. :) hint, hint for our footman please.

  25. Sandy C. says:

    http://facstaff.unca.edu/pbahls/TitleGenerator.html

    I know it’s snarky, but the titles are pretty funny on the above “Random Romance Novel Title Generator”. :)

    I’m happy to say that the Harlequin Presents titles are getting better, but in the defense of their “titling department” or area, can you imagine trying to find a unique title for the 3,500th book?! That can’t be easy!

    I’d like to add a phrase to Part 1: “At the Mercy of”, i.e. “At the Mercy of the Desperate Footman”. (Yup, there’s that footman again!)

  26. Trace says:

    And the footman should stay a footman, not a ‘Duke in Disguise’ or an ‘Earl on a mission for the King’, just your typical, run of the mill, gorgeous footman ;)

  27. Lynne, that list of hero names a publisher would prefer not to see sounds useful. Do they have a list of heroine names as well?

  28. elaine mueller says:

    several years ago i was a coupla friends in n’orleans and we’d had a few drinks. laughing over the titles given to books coming from a particular publisher that produced a lot of romances set in the american west, we began making up our own to fit the theme of native american tribe + occupation.

    i think cherokee cowboy was an actual title, but we thought that was too tame and common. how ’bout

    arapaho accountant!
    ute urologist!
    dakota doorman!
    pawnee process-server!
    comanche cook!

    but most laughable title ever, imho, ana leigh’s “Proud Pillars Rising.’ i kid you not.

    elaine

  29. Re the list of names. I can’t remember any female names, but there is a similar list of words not to be used in titles. Of course, with EC producing BDSM books, you have to be careful with words like “bondage” and “tied,” but there are others that have just been overused and don’t have the same impact they used to. I don’t think the list is public. just for the use of EC authors, I’m afraid. But I’m sure they’d love to hear of any names you think have been overused.

  30. Carly M. says:

    To those requesting a footman hero, I would recommend Emily Bryans novella in the anthology ” A Christmas Ball”. A romance between the stable master and a bastard-daughter-of-the-Earl maid, it’s really delightful and full of hijinks.

  31. Ann Stephens says:

    Thank you so much for this article! It gave me a good laugh to start my work week. Hmmmm, ‘To Tempt a Purple Spinster’…there’s an image.

  32. hapax says:

    All righty, I just have to give a shout out to Elizabeth Mansfield’s THE COUNTERFEIT HUSBAND, which might easily have been titled TO TEMPT A DESPERATE FOOTMAN, or something of the sort.

    I admit that it’s Old Skool and terribly implausible, but the hero *is* a real live footman and not a duke in disguise or anything like that, so points for trying!

  33. Diane Farr says:

    Hilarious! Book titles are always the last, desperate battle an author wages before relinquishing control forever. One normally has lots of control over the book’s content, a smidgen of control over the title, and no control whatsoever over the cover art. Authors’ working titles are routinely discarded, and then you are asked to come up with a string of alternates for your editor to choose from. But, looking at your list, I wonder if this system has lately been turned on its head? Looks like the marketing dept. generates a series of titles, and the author is forced to choose the least awful from among them!