Why I Hate “The X’s Wife/Daughter” Titles

Posted February 27, 2013 by Stormy in Blogging, Books / 14 Comments

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?


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14 responses to “Why I Hate “The X’s Wife/Daughter” Titles

  1. Rob

    Yours was the first post I found on the topic. My thoughts but not my conclusions were the same. I noticed that when we discuss families in our acquaintance at home we tend to re-her to the adult members of the family has e.g. “Johnny’s mother and father for Susie’s mom” we imply we imply no subordination of the parents but speak this way so that our daughter will know who we are talking about .

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  3. Mabel

    I’m ashamed it hadn’t occurred to me to notice this! Can you imagine a book titled “The Doctor’s Husband”, “The Corporate Executive’s Husband,” or “The Homemaker’s Husband”? What’s startling is that “The Police Officer’s Son” is less jarring, since we (I) assume it’s a book about a father-son relationship. Interesting…

    Meanwhile, I’m about to read The Aviator’s Wife. 🙂 I’m not sure I’m “offended” by the titles. For me, it more makes me question the artistry behind the title — like, is the author hoping to make it uncomfortable? Is he/she hoping the reader will subtly feel the fact that the woman is attached to the man and pull it into the story? Or is this an unconscious thing on the author’s part? A continuation of history’s placement of women.

    Good call, anyway.

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  5. I’ve certainly never thought about those titles in this light! There is an inherent displacement taking place when a book fixes the role of the main character in relation to those around her. As a woman, wife, and daughter, I actually gravitate towards those books, but I’m usually disappointed by what I find (Meg Wolitzer’s “The Wife” and Kim Edwards’ “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” – one of my first DNF’s – for example). I did like “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” and I understand why Niffenegger titled it as such since the story is supposed to be about how Claire is always left behind; however, I agree with your assertion that the novel is really Henry’s story.

    Great post – keep ’em coming!

  6. Renae @ Respiring Thoughts

    Right on with this post! Right. On. It’s so interesting how, through history, women have mainly been recognized by what men they are attached to. The titles you pointed out are perfect examples of this. They do catch readers’ attention, but what kind of subliminal message are they sending?

  7. Interesting topic. I never thought about it like that before. I’ve rarely been called “so-and-so’s daughter” ever, and when it has happened, it’s through either parent, not just one. In a small Dutch community, where everybody knows everyone or has heard of them from way back when, that’s how you’re identified. Last names don’t really work because families are so huge and everyone has the same last name anyways 😛 Other than that, I haven’t really faced this issue.

    I can’t understand a novel having that title, like the Madman’s Daughter, if it’s focussed solely on her relationship to her father, but it seems like this book’s storyline doesn’t revolve around that but on the mysteries behind his work. In the case of The Time Traveler’s Wife, it seems like this is more appropriate because it’s so focussed on their relationship and romance and both of the characters are represented as main characters.

    Great post!

    • Yeah, I agree that The Time Traveler’s Wife is a more appropriate title, which now that I’m thinking about it I probably should have made clearer in my post. It’s one of the few instances where I’m more OK with the “wife” title, but I mention it more because I think it’s a HUGE reason why these titles exist. It was such a popular book that everyone took noticed. I think the Madman’s Daughter sounds like an incredibly interesting book, but I did sigh a little when I heard the title. Still doesn’t prevent me from wanting to read it though!

  8. Natalie

    The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of the only books I can think of that I’ve read with a title like that, and I would argue that it suits the book perfectly. Henry is the one with the genetic problem, but it’s Clare the book’s title chooses to focus on. And that book also does a great job of subverting gender roles. Henry is a librarian and the primary cook of the family. Clare is the artist, and the one who comes from money, and the one who has to drive Henry everywhere. There are lots of other examples, but those are the easiest ones. And while they could be bothered by these supposed reversals, they instead build a solid relationship that shows that love isn’t limited to what is expected of us.

    • It’s been a while since I read the Time Traveler’s Wife, so I don’t remember the subverting of gender roles very clearly(I wasn’t a huge fan), but I actually agree about the title of that book. I should have made it clearer. I think “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is one of the few books where the title makes more sense, but I also think it’s been a big part of this trend and one of the main reasons these titles have taken off so much.

  9. Kelly

    I’ve never thought about this before, because it’s not something I’ve experienced often (that I’m aware of). The Madman’s Daughter is one of the only instances I can think of off the top of my head actually…

    BUT also coming from a small town, I definitely know how it feels to be “so-and-so’s daughter” or “so-and-so’s friend”; I could never just be Kelly and known for my own merits, it always had to be in relation to someone else. (Which is a part of human nature I guess; we’re always looking for connections).

    This is a really interesting discussion post! It’s going to have me thinking on it for a while…

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