Titles are important

I hope the title of this post interested you. I hope you wondered why I think titles are important. Maybe you wondered what kind of titles I’m talking about.

I’m not talking about job titles. I can’t say I’ve never cared about job titles, because there was one time when I was an Accounting Systems Coordinator, and I wanted a job title that made it clear that I worked with computers, not accounting. (At the time, my position of computer operator/training/troubleshooter/programmer/etc. belonged to the accounting department because at one time that’s all the computer was used for.) I was much happier as a Computer Operations Specialist, even if my job duties didn’t change any.

I’m also not talking about hereditary titles, academic titles, or social titles. At one time I cared very much about earning my Master of Arts degree, but the accomplishment seemed much less after I had achieved it (like many other things in life). I also was pleased when I went from being Miss Hart to Mrs. Evans, not because I cared much about the Miss or Mrs. in front of my name, but because the change in my last name represented becoming part of my husband’s family.

The kind of titles I’m thinking about are the ones that get you to read a book or go to a movie. Or read a blog post. I spend a fair amount of time thinking up titles for some of my blog posts. (The easy ones are when I review books or movies and just indicate what it is I read or saw.) I don’t know how often the title actually influences whether someone reads a post or not, but I have to assume it has some effect.

A good title gives some hint as to the content, but mostly serves to pique the reader’s interest. If it tells too much, someone may think “I already know all that” or “that wouldn’t interest me.” By just hinting at the topic, I hope to make the reader get far enough to decide whether to continue based on the actual content.

I got thinking about this because of the title of today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, Lightning Eclipse from the Planet of the Goats. I like a few of the APOD pictures, but I skip most of them, based on nothing more than the title. Some photos of galaxies and nebulae are pretty amazing, but most of the time I prefer the photos that show a scene a bit closer to home. Galaxies come in three main types: elliptical, spiral, and irregular. One spiral galaxy doesn’t really look all that much different from another, to me. Some of the nebulae have interesting shapes, but so do stains on my carpets.

The Planet of the Goats, though – what on earth could that be? Or, more likely, what off earth could that be? I know astronomers have located planets in other star systems, but the photos are more exciting for their scientific significance than their looks. Galaxies and nebulae get interesting names, and I wouldn’t be surprised for one to be named for a goat, but it wouldn’t make much sense to call one a planet.

It turns out, though, that the Planet of the Goats is on earth after all, according to the explanation that goes with the photo. It refers to an area of the Greek island of Ikaria, near the settlement of Pezi, and is called that “because of the rough terrain and strange looking rocks.” Intrigued, I Googled the term, but could find no references to the phrase that were not also references to this photograph. One of these was someone speculating that the photographer or someone he knows had made up the name.

I suppose that’s possible, but I also learned that Pezi has all of about twenty inhabitants. A name commonly used among the villagers could easily be unknown to most of the outside world, but learned by a photographer visiting the area. It also is quite plausible that “planet of the goats” is but one possible translation from Greek to English, and not the most likely. If you’re submitting a photo to Astronomy Picture of the Day, however, wouldn’t it make sense to opt for the translation that will catch the attention of your intended audience?

Of the 959 blog posts I have written prior to this one, “Toddler star flares up” is one of the most frequently viewed. Since the search terms “solar flares” and “solar flare wallpaper” are among those that most often bring people to my site, it could be that the title has nothing to do with this. But I would like to think that the intentional ambiguity of the title (is it a very young actor having a temper tantrum?) causes some people to check out that post, among the many other hits returned by their search terms.

One post that I felt I had given a rather unimaginative title was “Thinking about the Pledge of Allegiance.” Since I wanted to attract readers with different opinions on the topic, however, I didn’t want my title to suggest anything about my own views. When I gave my speech on the topic at Toastmasters, I hadn’t thought to come up with a title ahead of time, and when asked for one, I used the same title as for my blog post. How uninteresting, I thought.

Much to my surprise, the title was the first thing mentioned by the person who evaluated my speech (which ended up being the visiting District Governor, in the absence of the person who was scheduled to be my evaluator). He complimented me on a title that hinted at the topic but didn’t give much away, leaving the listener wanting to know more. I must be doing something right, I thought, when I can come up with a good title without even knowing it.

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