What’s In a Title?

After you write the book, edit the book, write the book and edit the book ad nauseum, you need a creative, eye-catching title. I agonized over choosing just the right words to capture the essence of my story.

I recall trolling the aisles of a book store, noting that wordiness in a title was to be avoided unless it was with the addition of a brief explanatory subtitle. I began developing a list, and for a while, The Traveling Diary was the winner, since the little red diary I located in my father’s dresser unlocked many of the mysteries of his story. But that title sounded too whimsical, so I eliminated it from consideration.

I have been working on this project for many years, so I forgot what other titles I contemplated and then rejected. Since I saved all my notes, I decided to look at those which I trashed to confirm that Do Svidanya Dad was the correct decision.

  • They Never Gave Up
  • They Never Stopped Trying
  • So Long New Jersey, Dasvidaniya My Family
  • So Long, Dasvidaniya
  • If Only They Had the Money
  • My Hero, My Dad
  • Deceived, Abandoned but Not Forgotten

Clearly, I was closing in on incorporating the Russian version of goodbye into my title. Too many times over the course of twenty-six years someone was leaving, so I felt it was important to use. My husband thought dasvidaniya was not well-known, but I argued that while Americans are not known for their ability to be multi-lingual, we all know at least how to say farewell in many languages: Ciao, au revoir, adios, auf wiedersehen. Why not, then, dasvidaniya? I Googled it and found it in many newspapers throughout the years, but the spellings differed.

I turned to my Russian professors and a news correspondent who was based in Moscow, which was how I decided on “do svidanya.” There were disagreements regarding “do svidanya” or “do svidaniya,” but in the end, the professor who was born in Moscow had the most credibility.

Since the book was about my father, and so many chapters began “Dear Dad,” I was drawn to “Do Svidanya Dad.” When I found several translations claiming it meant more than just “goodbye” but rather “until we meet again,” I felt confident that I had found my title. The final confirmation that I had hit the nail on the head by choosing this title was when I turned again to “Google,” as well as all the bookstores I could think of, and discovered no other book by that name. (Plus, I like alliteration.)

Not only is it my hope that Dad and I will meet again, I thought it was an appropriate farewell to his parents when he set out on his journey back to New Jersey.

My advice in choosing a title is to compile a list, and then analyze each contender for uniqueness, creativity, boldness, and the ability to summarize your story. If necessary, add a subtitle if you feel the need to elaborate, which I did with the addition of “Tracing the Story of an American Family Trapped in the USSR.” I wanted to explain the American/Soviet connection, and by using the word “tracing,” I was hoping to feed off of the genealogy craze.

That is my method, what can any writers reading this add to my method?




About kjw616

I am a genealogy detective. I have already written one book about my Irish family's journey from 19th century Ireland to the United States- a family history sprinkled with personal anecdotes. My second book was intended to be a similar story about my Russian ancestors. Instead, it turned into a tale of just my father's immediate family. It is the tale of what happens when 6 children from New Jersey are moved to the Soviet Union by their Russian-born parents during the Great Depression. It details who lives, who dies, and who is able to return to NJ during a time when leaving the USSR was not an easy endeavor, particularly during World War II and the Cold War. It is my hope that those interested in history during this time period will find this story fascinating as well as those fellow amateur family historians who will learn some of the tools such as ancestry.com, visits to the National Archives, and local libraries I used to uncover this story.
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