What’s in a name?

Author: Wendy Tuxworth

This is a topic that I have been thinking about a lot – that is, the titles of books, particularly the titles of books about mental health.

I’ve worked in publishing a little bit, so I know that titles of books can change. What the author of the book originally titled it might not end up on the front cover. There’s loads of reasons for that. Sometimes authors just don’t come up with great titles! And sometimes titles are chosen for other reasons. A title needs to succinctly sum up what the book is going to be about, or to pique the reader’s interest. When it comes to mental health specifically, I think there are certain types of words that do this.

Some of the titles I’ve noticed recently are: Mad Girl, A Beginner’s Guide to Being Mental, and I Don’t Want to Be Crazy. These are all great books, and I would really recommend them. And obviously there are words that are often associated with mental health, such as ‘mad’, ‘mental’ and ‘crazy’.

I personally am not sure how to feel about this. I’m not a huge fan of some of these words, particularly ‘mad’ and ‘crazy’. I feel like a lot of these words have been used against people with mental health conditions. And if these words are being used just for marketing purposes? While this may pretty clearly show the reader that the book is about mental health, there might be better ways to do that from the title alone.

However, all three of these books are by people who have lived experiences of mental health. While I personally wouldn’t reclaim these words, I respect that other people do. I think perhaps using some of these words will also challenge people who do use them in a derogatory way. By reclaiming them, there is the potential to take the power away from the people who wish to bring you down or label you as lesser.

I do wonder if there are better ways to do this, though. Some of the titles of books that I really like include Brave Face, It’s All In Your Head and Haldol and Hyacinths.

With It’s All In Your Head and Haldol and Hyacinths in particular, it’s really clear that these are books about mental health. This is especially because they have subtitles – ‘a guide to getting your shit together’ and ‘a bipolar life’. This is despite the fact that they don’t use terms such as ‘mad’. And while Brave Face might not immediately tell you that it’s a memoir that talks about mental health, I think it is intriguing enough that someone might pick it up and read the blurb on the back cover.

What is your opinion? Do you like it when titles use words such as ‘mad’? Do you reclaim words like these yourself? I’ve got another post on titles planned that will talk about the use of words such as ‘tragic’, ‘danger’, and ‘cut’.

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