What's in a Name: Brooklyn is So Over Anyway…


Last week, The New York Observer reported that Joanna Smith Rakoff was asked by her publisher, Scribner, to change the title of her debut novel, as it turned out to be the very same title another Scribner author, Colm Toíbín. This news seems to have drawn some minor ire around the web:

“Would the young debut novelist mind getting out of the way?” [NY Observer]

“Listen, baby, I totally think you’re the shit, but, see, this other guy has WAY more profile than you, and he wants to title his book the same thing you do… so even though you’ve been working on this for years, I’d like you to come up with something else for the midlist catalo—er, I mean, publicists to use.” [Bookninja]

“Rakoff had just completed revisions of her novel… which she’d been working on for six years, when her editor took her out to dinner to tell her, eh, another writer, Colm Tóibín, whose middle name is “has been short-listed for the Booker Prize twice,” wanted to call his next novel [the same thing], and, er, well …” [MobyLives]

Let’s just agree that it’s utterly outrageous and unfair for Scribner to cater to a hitmaker, who, in these dark literary times, could probably single-handedly keep the book publishing industry afloat, and discuss the embattled title itself: Brooklyn.

Could a title possibly be more generic? There is so much stuff in Brooklyn, so much history, so many different cultures, neighborhoods, residents, with which the name of New York City’s most populous borough might be associated as to render it totally devoid of meaning. On top of that, there are ten other places in this country alone that share the name. Borough president, Marty Markowitz, points out in the Observer article that “‘Brooklyn’ is now one of the most popular baby names in America” (really? guess the Beckhams have more influence than we thought) and makes the totally reasonable argument that “we probably could have handled two ‘Brooklyn’ books on the market at once.” Especially since one is about a bunch of art majors who arrive in the city to pursue love and success in the 1990’s (Rakoff’s) and the other is about an Irish girl who emigrates to the borough after World War II (Tóibín’s).

Fortunately (pun intended), Ms. Rakoff seems to have grasped the opportunity presented by her editor’s request, and re-titled her book A Fortunate Age, due out next month. She told the Guardian, “I wanted a perfect title. I didn’t want a compromised title. And I don’t feel I got that… I much prefer this title, it’s so much more appropriate.”