I don’t have many bookish pet peeves, but I’ve made it clear that “The X’s Wife/Daughter” title is one of them. That’s not to say that the actual books with titles like that aren’t good; I’ve heard only good things about The Madman’s Daughter, and even though I personally didn’t like it, I know many of my bookish friends love The Time Travel’s Wife. You can’t always judge a book by it’s title.
The reason I hate this title trend, however, is that it identifies the (female) main characters by their male associations. Who is the main character in these stories? The wife, the daughter, the cat(who knows–it’s only a matter of time before this one happens). Not the astronaut, the doctor, or the scientist. They are periphary characters that are necessary to the story, but NOT the focus of the story. YET, they get the prime title spot. They’re known by their profession or their ability, while the main character is reduced to the status of just “wife” or “daughter”.
Who are the main characters in these novels? (Well, supposedly main characters. I think you could argue that Henry is the real MC of The Time Traveler’s Wife). The Wife or Daughter. They are the focus of the story. They have to live with the effects of the actions of their husbands or fathers, but they’re still the protagonists. They have a free angency, and more important, they have names. Instead, they’re identified on the cover of the book as the Male’s Female Association Either Through Marriage or Birth.
Now, I understand that we can’t just use the names of the character and expect to sell books the majority of the time. Jane Eyre might work as a title for such a classic novel, but on the whole, we expect our titles to be catchy. Which is great, and it can make reading more fun, but can’t we be more creative than “The X’s Wife/Daughter?”
Whenever I write any discussion post, I like to do a Google search for the topic I’m writing on to: a)Make sure I’m not just saying something that has already been said better and sooner by someone else, b) because I like to read blogs, and most importantly c) because I like referencing others when applicable. That’s the beauty of blogs: these posts don’t exist in a vacuum, and we can all build open each other’s thoughts. Surprisingly, when I searched for blog post about this topic, very very few came up, but I did find some really in-depth statistics.
Shauna at Overthinking It did some pretty in-depth researched and statistical gathering to compile a really well-put together post that you should check out. (There are charts, which if you’re like me, make you really excited), but the most interesting thing to me was that out of all the “X’s Relation Here”, Daughter was the most popular. This post also has a few more interesting statistics on the subject. I find it interesting that “Daughter” is more popular than “Wife”: even though I dislike both titles, “wife” implies an inherent choice the majority of the time. Most people choose their spouses, whereas a girl cannot choose her father. In this sense, the main character is being defined in the title by a relation she really has no choice in.
While I think my criticism of this trend can stand on its own, I admit I have a personal reaction to it as well. My family has been in my hometown for my entire life. I was born in the local hospital, went to school K-12 there, and my dad is a police officer. The town is small enough that most people know my Dad, so the normal reaction when someone met me was, “Oh, so you’re Officer X’s Daughter.” By high school, this began to really annoy me. I understand why that’s the immediate reaction. People needed to connect me to someone they knew, and that would have been fine. Annoying, but tolerable. But the thing about titles like that is they tend to get passed down. The next time that person introduced me to someone, I would be “Stormy, the officer’s daughter”. Just a label I could never get away from that was attached to my own name.
I know we’re talking about fictional characters here, but still, I have to add: If someone was to write a story about my life, they would have to keep many of the things that make me an officer’s daughter for a good, complete story to make sense. They just would. But that is not the sum of who I am, and I wouldn’t want the book of my life to be labelled as such.
Have you noticed this title trend in books? What’s your take on it? If you’re from a small town, like me, and female, do you ever often get labelled with so-and-so’s wife/daughter?