The name game

As I take part in judging our Annual Competition, something that often snags my attention is the title of the artwork. This might be a good thing—such as a title that adds meaning to a piece—or a bad thing, such as a really awful pun.

When I was in art classes in high school and college, coming up with titles was my favorite thing to do. I usually opted for intentionally vague, overly pretentious kinds of names. But another thing I loved to do was take a phrase and run it through the Internet Anagram Server. This great tool finds all the possible combinations for the words you enter. You can limit the output (such as limiting the results to only two words, or to words of at least three letters) by using the advanced search, which I highly recommend.

For a letterpress class I took in college, we had an assignment to play with the letters of our names. I used the search to come up with some great anagrams of my name, including:

• Brocade Hugs
• Badgers, Ouch!
• Bodega Crush
• Obscured Hag

I went with Bodega Crush for the assignment. To me, it invokes this feeling of being young and infatuated at a corner store in the Upper East Side, sipping a lime agua fresca.

I think you could use the anagram search even to come up with prompts for painting or writing. For example, entering The Artist’s Magazine into the search comes up with Amaranth Zeitgeist and
Metastasizing Earth. What great words!

So, blog readers, I’m really curious—how do you title your works? Maybe you have certain rituals, or maybe you absolutely hate doing it! Post a comment and let me know.

You may also like these articles:

4 thoughts on “The name game

  1. Michael Chesley Johnson

    Alas! Even with an advanced degree in English Literature, I still have trouble naming my paintings. These days, I’m afraid, I’m limited to such uninspired but descriptive titles such as "Sunset with Low Clouds." I create a lot of paintings, and it’s just hard to give every painting a poetic title. Once in awhile, though, something strikes my fancy!

  2. Cara Bevan


    I love making names for my work! I’m a wildlife artist and I try to make my titles a play on words. It helps attract attention to the piece, even if the title has nothing to do with the animal. For example, I painted a writing spider and called it "The Beauty of Writing." Playing with words and meanings makes title making all the more fun (and frustrating at times.) If my painting is dedicated to a particular animal, I use the animal’s name as the title. Why over think things when the best titles just happen?

  3. Lorena Bowser

    Hi, This post caught my eye because I actually enjoy finding names for my artworks as much as I do creating the works themselves. I love words! I’m a poet and a creative soul altogether, so whether it be words or art (or a lot of my daily activities and challenges), finding names is just one more great challenge. I usually have an idea for a title before or during the painting process – it comes out of the content, colors and anything that the art brings to mind. For example, I did a watercolor of various elements "collaged" – a bridge over deep water, high,lofty mountains with light wispy clouds, a portion of a tall skyscraper reflecting distorted shapes from some building (unseen) in front, and in the foreground, a glass carafe reflecting from the glass tray on which is stands. Spanish architect Gaudi came immediately to mind – the distorted architectural forms reflected from the windows, and the whole idea of bringing diverse elements into a creative "whole". I call the painting "Reflections on Gaudi". That’s a lot of talk, but an example. My friends often call me and ask me to title one of their works when they get stuck. I love it! Lorena Bowser

  4. Teresa

    I don’t have any rituals or rules for titling pieces. Generally, I go with an overall feel – a kind of gestalt sense. I’d say it’s a rather unscientific, Zen thing. 😉

    I am a writer, so I am not usually at a loss for words. I do, however, tend to edit about a million times. I can’t decide if it’s more difficult to settle on titles for painted versus printed works.