What do I call the series?

I am about to self-publish the first book in a five-book series. The second one is already drafted, and I have some notes on the final three. I say this to show that this is not merely a book with an open ending, but that for once I actually have a plan for how the rest of it will go.

So, I’m thinking it terms of branding the series with a common look for the covers, similarly structured titles, common font choices… everything that you expect to see in a series, and one of those things is that little splash of text on the cover beneath the title, proclaiming it to be Book One of the Impressive Series Name.

But just what do I call the series? Sometimes these are named for the protagonist like “The Dresden Files” or “The Honor Harrington Series”. Other times it’s the setting, like “The Hollows” or “Chronicles of Narnia”. And then there are enigmatic elements from the tale itself, “A Song of Fire and Ice” or “His Dark Materials”.

How do I pick one? I’m asking both for some general guidance, and I’m also going to try out a few on you and see what you think.

These books are space opera, and they deal with a 17-year-old boy growing into adulthood after the death of his adopted father. Part of the deal with that, though, is that he didn’t find out about the adoption until after that death, so there are all kinds of father-son issues going on here. The first book is titled Ships of My Fathers, and all the rest will be similarly titled, i.e. [Nouns] of My Fathers.

Common elements across all five books include the protagonist, the ship he inherited from his adopted father, and a shadowy villain who is tied up in both his past and his future. My instinct is to name it after one of those elements.

For the character, it would be: Book One of the Michael Fletcher Saga
For the ship it would be: Tales from _Sophie’s Grace_, Book One
For the villain it would be: Book One of the Father Chessman Saga

I’m not particularly married to the “Tales from…” or “Saga” aspects. It’s the other words that I’m struggling with. Naming it after the rather plain-named Michael Fletcher seems boring. I like the ship one better, though that particular ship is actually sidelined for most of the first book. And that leaves me with my current favorite, “the Father Chessman Saga” since it sounds all impressive, but I feel weird naming the series after the villain. It would be a bit like calling the Harry Potter series the Lord Voldemort series.

So… reactions? Advice? Mockery?


A common question for new writers is where do you get your character names? You wouldn’t think that was much of a problem, but a lot of stories are populated by the all-too-common John’s and Mary’s. Jumping to the other extreme, we run into some tales filled with Xg’hanpl and Krnozj and other disemvoweled words. Where do you find that balance of uncommon but pronounceable?

For human names, I’ve got a few easy sources that should be in every writer’s toolkit. The first is a baby name book, segmented by ethnicity. That lets me choose a Polynesian name for the traveler from afar while sticking with German names for the locals.

whitepagesThe second reference is the phone book. This is mostly useful for last names, as I’d like to avoid Mr. Smith as well as Mrs. Gnorpthrk. However, it’s sometimes tricky to pick out an ethnically appropriate last name from the phone book, but some googling for “Polynesian surnames” or the likes will get you a lot.

A third resource I have used on occasion is the name of a journalist or famous celebrity that I happen to find in a newspaper or online article. No, I haven’t had a Walter Cronkite or a Brad Pitt in any of my stories, but I could easily use a Walter Pitt or a Brad Cronkite.

For alien or fantasy names, it’s a bit trickier, even though it need not be. There are certain names that are common across cultures here on earth simply because they are straightforward combinations of common phonemes. John is a common name for a reason. It’s easy to say. However, we usually see John dressed up differently in each culture. For some, it’s Jonathan. For others, it’s Ionakana or Joanico.

If you want to go more alien, just play around with slight variations like Johen or Jorn. Then you can completely divorce yourself from even the J-O-N form of John and start dropping in other sounds, like Sohn, Boen, Johl, or even Kaem. You can do the same to longer names too. Karen becomes Bashel. Walter becomes Salken. Even Catherine becomes Toshiline. They all look unusual, but they’re still phonetically plain enough to be easy to pronounce.

twistedtongueAnd why should it matter that they’re pronounceable? After all, aren’t some alien mouths capable of making sounds we can’t even strangle out? Well yes, they can, but that’s not the point. The point is the readers have to care about these characters, and it makes it that much easier if their names can ring in the readers’ ears. Otherwise, the tragic love story of Xgrthum and Nzkla becomes that sappy tale about that X-dude and the N-chick on the distant world of I-don’t-give-a-crap.

How about the rest of you? What alien name has really stuck with you?