By Mordechai Schmutter
I have very exciting news for you. But first, a story.
The other week I got a call from a friend of mine. He told me that he’d just had his fourth daughter, and that he’s totally out of girls’ names, the poor guy. “What do I name her?” he asked me. “My wife and I can’t decide.”
So I told him that he should have thought of that before he gave his twin daughters double names. “You used up four names in one day,” I told him. “And that was after you gave your oldest daughter a double name too. And then you went and named your son Simcha, which, if you were strapped, you could have used as a girl’s name as well.”
See, people never ask me these questions until it’s too late. And now he had only two days to come up with a girl’s name. Or, knowing him, two girls’ names.
He said, “You’ve written articles about names, right?”
And I had. I wrote one a year ago when I was naming my youngest son, and I also wrote an article asking readers to help name one of my books, which ended up being called A Clever Title Goes Here. And then another, which ended up being called This Side Up. (My first book, Don’t Yell “Challah!” in a Crowded Matzah Bakery, didn’t come with a naming contest. Not because I was able to actually think of a title, but because it happened to be the line of the book that my friend was reading when I mentioned to him that I was looking for a title, and he responded by reading it aloud.)
“What do you want me to do?” I asked. “Write a column asking people to come up with girls’ names?”
“Maybe,” he said. “What’s your lead time?”
“Four to six weeks.”
So no, that’s not what this column is about.
I did try to help him brainstorm, though. My idea was to use a name from one of the nearby parshiyos. Over the course of the conversation, I came up with Bilhah, Osnas, Hagar, Eishes Potifar, and Busmass, who was one of Eisav’s wives.
“Actually,” I said, “don’t name her Busmass. Busmass sounds like someone with a thick accent and a really deep voice who can lift a car over her head.”
“You’re not really being helpful,” he informed me.
“What did you expect?” I said. “Ooh! Osnas Busmass!”
Everyone has a talent, and coming up with names is not mine. Look at my kids—none of them have original names. They’re all named after relatives. People come over to me all the time to tell me that they like my articles, but not once has someone come over and said, “I like your titles.” And I’m okay with that.
Although it’s not like anyone is complaining about the titles, either. “Really? You called your article on names, ‘Naming Names?’ How ever did you think of that?”
No, my titles kind of go unnoticed, even when they’re really bad. But I still need to have titles, so you know where to start reading. And in fact it wasn’t until a while after I started writing articles that I realized that even though the title appears before the article, I’m supposed to come up with it after I write the article, once I know what’s actually going to be in the article. So my strategy is usually to take the one joke that wasn’t quite good enough to make it into the article and use that as my title.
But that doesn’t quite cut it with a book. A book title has to jump off the store shelf at the reader, preferably making him shriek and drop all his other books, and it has to still make sense sitting on his bookshelf years later, jumping out at his houseguests. It’s like naming a child, sort of, in that you want to come up with something that suits the baby now, but also won’t make the kid resent you when he gets older. And you have to come up with it on a deadline.
On the other hand, naming a book is nothing like naming your kids. For example, you can’t just name it after somebody. You can’t just call your book Chaim.
“It’s after my grandfather.”
That said, I am pleased to present my third-ever Official Book-Naming Contest. Iy’H, this coming May (Jewish time), I am coming out with a fourth book, which will pretty much collect a lot of my columns from 2009 (about 50 columns or so), as well as feature some new material that I have yet to think of or write. Basically, it will be a lot like This Side Up, except with different columns, and, hopefully, printed right-side up.
That’s where you come in. There has to be someone out there who is good at coming up with titles but can’t write an article to save his life, and I’m hoping that you are that person. If you can think of a title, please send it in, preferably sometime before the end of December (I have a 4–6 month lead time), and the publishers and I will consider it for publication. This should come as good news if you, like many of my readers, wrote to me after my previous book hit the stores, asking if it was too late to suggest a title. (To be fair, the title implied that it wasn’t.) v
GUIDELINES: 1. Participants can send in as many title ideas as they want. 2. They can even send in titles from 2009 articles that they can remember offhand and that they think would work as a title for the entire book. 3. If we use your title, you can’t come over to us after you write a book of your own and ask for it back. 4. But if we don’t use it, you can use it for future projects. Make sure you keep a copy of the title, though, because we’re not going to mail it back. 5. If we don’t use your title, don’t call us up repeatedly to ask why not. 6. Really, we mean it. We can only pick one title. It in no way means that we think yours isn’t good. 7. If you’re really going to get offended if we don’t use your title, then look at the contest this way instead: Rather than sending in ideas for a title, you’re sending in a guess as to what title we’re going to come up with, on our own, possibly based on outside stimuli, such as your guess. If you get it right, you win! 8. If you’re playing it that way, any guesses received after we announce the title are disqualified. 9. Please don’t try to name our book Chaim or Shlomo or Osnas Busmass. 10. The titles you sent in for the last book will still be considered, so you don’t have to send them again. 11. If you send them again, we might consider them twice, because our memory is like a rusty bear trap, but it won’t increase your chances of winning. It’s not like we’re picking it out of a hat. 12. If you have any name ideas for my friend’s daughter, don’t bother sending them in. There is no prize, and, like I said, she was born a month ago. 13. If you made it through this, you don’t need glasses.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of three books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.