A Good Title

Kole here.

I think I put more time and effort into picking episode titles than I ought to.

Think about what purpose they serve. Most of our listeners already subscribe to our shows. They won't see a name like "Second Person Shooter" on The Level and think "Dang, I gotta get up on that." A great title isn't likely to entice a new listener. We talk about so much stuff in any given episode of The Level or Those Damn Ross Kids that it's impossible to make the title an effective billboard. On the other side, "Episode 86" is perfectly serviceable, but says nothing about the contents.

Instead, each title is a short little phraselet that serves two purposes: To amuse us, and to remind me of my favorite bit from a particular episode.

Let's look at the Title Greats. "You Look Nice Today" is the god king of podcast titles. "Nary a Dude" and "Sacks-Minelli Disease" are phrases that bring a smile to my face, prima facie. Looking to something more contemporary, Video Games Hot Dog does great titles too. "Coffee Frogs" and "A Balloon and Some Grease" can't be beat.

The 5by5 network makes a whole game out of picking the titles of their episodes. There's a website where people listen live while the hosts record the show, and vote on titles that pop up in conversation. "Scared of Your Own Life" and "Chigger Bites on the Bus Driver" work great. Same thing with Roderick on the Line, which gave us such greats as "Supertrain" and "Then There Was Pump Chili."

I could sit here and name great titles all day, but I think you catch my drift.

The actual process of naming an episode is so simple that I feel goofy describing it. I listen intently while we record, and whenever I hear some accidental poetry, I write it down. A good title should be.

  1. Something we actually say on an episode, preferably verbatim.
  2. Roughly nonsensical at first glance, but it should make more sense after you listen to the episode.
  3. Memorable.
  4. Steer away from profanity (since iTunes censors that).
  5. Short, unless it's so long that it's funny.

I personally enjoy turning a phrase, or saying things in purposefully oblique or diagonal ways. It's fun to stretch the meaning of an idea into something barely recognizable, but still meaningful. I don't just do this on the shows, I do it in real life... but on the shows, I can preserve the best bits as titles.

If there's more than one good candidate for a title, I'll bounce it off of the co-hosts and see what they want. But most of the time, the winner is so clear that it'd be a waste to ask.

Naming things is hard. I've always been very bad at it. Just look at my first podcast, "Stand Under the Don't Tree and Riddle Me This", a nonsense phrase that I clung to specifically because of title block. Every episode of that show had a single-word title, like "Turtle", "Pogo", "Mensch", and "End". I liked that rigid structure and it served its purpose, but this new way lets us have a lot more fun.

Do you have any favorite titles? I'd like to hear them if you do.