The Nail Polish Method

September 28, 2007 | 3 2 min read

When the Virginia Quarterly Review recently posted the ten most common story titles submitted to the magazine in the last year, I was relieved that none of my own titles stared back at me from the list. Then again, if I were to name a story “Butterfly” or “Revelation,” perhaps I shouldn’t be writing it to begin with.

I’ve been thinking about titles a lot lately, probably because I can’t seem to find a good one for my latest story. In my search for the perfect title, I’ve begun to look to nail polish for inspiration. That’s right, nail polish. This summer I was into shades of red and pink, and at my local beauty salon, where they use the OPI brand, my two favorites were “Moscow Nights” and “I’m Not Really a Waitress,” both of which bring to my mind the sex trade. In a good way. Now, there are also some less successful titles, from the poorly punned, “Quarter of a Cent-Cherry,” to the mysteriously punned, “Chocolate Moose,” to the downright enigmatic “Redipus Oedipus.” (That last one, I must add, wasn’t OPI’s doing, and came in a scarily antiquated bottle.) But even these names caught my attention. What is the secret, I wondered?

Judy Stonefield, the Senior Marketing Manager at OPI Products, was kind enough to help out a hapless fiction writer like myself. She explained that their collections are geographically themed, and that the people on their “Naming Committee” are chosen for their “creative, witty minds.” She goes on to say:

When the collection theme is determined, we each begin brainstorming privately to come up with a list of ideas. We think of cities, towns, or other geographical names that are in the region of the theme — Midnight in Moscow, St. Petersburgundy. We also consider “icons” of the region or things that have to do with the culture as well — food, clothing, language, industry — and work them into a name that applies to color, nails, polish, etc.

When it’s time to meet, we compile a master list and get together in a conference room. We decorate the room with images of the region, we serve food associated with region as well for inspiration — like cranberry juice spritzers when we named the shades for our New England collection, and biscotti and cappuccino for the Italian Collection. We read through the entire list aloud (and the list could have literally hundreds of names). We mark the ones that we like and then we see which names work best for the colors of the collection. It takes a couple of hours to do this, and is one of the highlights of year.

I also asked Judy and her OPI Naming Committee to help me out with my current title conundrum. I told her the story include a dog kidnapped by a coyote, a dead boyfriend, and eyebrow waxing. Here were their suggestions:

  • “A Doggone Tale”
  • “Wax On, Wax Off”
  • “If Not For Bad Luck…”
  • “The Bad Coyote”
  • “A Date With Fate”
  • “Dogless, Loveless, Browless”
  • “The Big Oww”

I like the last one the best, I think.

is a staff writer and contributing editor for The Millions. She is the author of the novella If You're Not Yet Like Me, the New York Times bestselling novel, California, and Woman No. 17. Learn more about her writing classes at writingworkshopsla.com.

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