WHAT’S IN A NAME? A BRIEF CONSIDERATION OF FILM TITLES

WHAT’S IN A NAME? A BRIEF CONSIDERATION OF FILM TITLES

While reviewing the entertaining HBO show Barry, it struck me that I have an irrational dislike of film and TV programmes which resort to using people’s singular names in the title. Why, though? Let’s be honest: it’s not a big deal. So, why does it bother me? To answer this question I decided to a hold a brief whimsical exploration of such titles.

Titles are important. They create the first contact for the audience. They pull you in or push you away before you even know who made the film or who stars in it. I mean, who doesn’t want to watch a film called: Jaws (1975) or Alien (1979) or The Terminator (1984)? Conversely, who wants to watch a film called The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2 (2008)?

Obviously, big decisions are made at the title-naming stage of any works. Or are they? I think naming a film after a single name, on the surface, just seems a tad lazy. But, on reflection, using single names for the titles of a film or TV show can be impactful and to the point.

It’s weird, because I don’t mind place name titles at all. In fact, Fargo (1996), is one of my favourite films. The singular title just works. Similarly, so does Chinatown (1974). Fargo, especially, names both a place and the two syllables within the place — ‘far’ and ‘go’ — suggest the actions of the characters in the story. Chinatown, on the other hand, is more poetic; naming a place but also hinting at something exotic and mysterious. Either that or a cultural area where you can visit and perhaps get a certain kind of food.

I also don’t object to personal names being part of the title. For example, Rosemary’s Baby (1968), is such a great title because it’s better than just plain old ‘Rosemary’. What does the singular Rosemary tell us? Very little. But add the ‘baby’ element and you conjure up suspense and a desire to know what will happen to Rosemary and her child. Similarly, When Harry Met Sally (1986), is a simple yet delightful title which tells you the character names, events and we’re most likely to witness some form of romance.

It may be that the film is an adaptation and just named after the original source material. Rebecca (1940), by Daphne Du Maurier is a good example of this. Rebecca works for me though as the name has a haunting feel; and this is certainly confirmed once you read the book or watch the film. On the other hand, the film Carol (2015), feels benign in comparison. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s literary classic, it’s a sumptuous and touching romance, however, the title did not draw me in. It was only when I saw the cast and that it was directed by Todd Haynes, I decided to watch it.

The best singular name film is Rocky (1975). Here is a classic underdog story of a boxer who is Rocky by name and rocky by nature. He’s streetwise but lacking intellect and seems to have literal rocks in his head. He’s scrabbling around trying to make ends meet with a head as hard as rock too. But, because of this he can take the blows and punches and still come back for more. We love the character because he never gives in; he literally rocks!

In conclusion, like everything, there are good and bad examples of film titles. Some singular named titles work way better than others. Titles like: Barry (2018), Dave (1993) and even a fine film like Carol, seem weak to me. Meanwhile, a title like Rocky just works perfectly. Anyway, here are eleven singular named film titles which also fly against my pet annoyance and mostly work really well.

Top Eleven “Single Name” Films

  1. Rocky (1975)
  2. Carrie (1976)
  3. Jezebel (1938)
  4. Lolita (1962)
  5. Amelie (2001)
  6. Tarzan (1932 etc.)
  7. Rebecca (1940)
  8. Leon (1994)
  9. Matilda (1996)
  10. Marty (1955)
  11. Nell (1994)

8 thoughts on “WHAT’S IN A NAME? A BRIEF CONSIDERATION OF FILM TITLES”

  1. Fun post, Paul. I happen to agree with you. Titles are very important and your reasonings for the one name title is appealing. I can’t help but add Vertigo (who? why? Mental illness?) and Casablanca (like Chinatown, it sounds exotic and it’s a fun word to say) and Gladiator. for the same reasons. It instantly sweeps up the history buffs out there, too.

    1. Hey Cindy, thanks for responding and reading. Interestingly, I do not have a problem with one WORD titles; in fact I love them. It’s the one named titles based on a person’s first name, specifically. As you mention place names are cool too! Perhaps, as you suggest a follow up article with the best one word titles might be cool; Vertigo would definitely be on there 😊

  2. Funny! And let me add Christine to your list, I always found the title very effective (and the movie amazing)! :–)

    On the other hand, a couple of examples of good movies with extremely long titles could be Rosencrants And Guildestern Are Dead and Bad Times At El Royale!

    1. Oh yes, Christine! In fact, there are two films of the same name. Did you mean the Stephen King horror film? Or the tragic one about the journalist?

      Good suggestions re: longer titles too. I may follow up with a similar article although I know this has been done before on other blogs 🙂

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