FADE IN: HOW I LEARNED WHAT'S IN A NAME
I was watching an episode of a recent Trek series recently and a character said "Names mean everything."
Which couldn't be more true.
The Star Trek Franchise itself has an interesting history of titles and names of its movies and episodes.
I saw these memes in a Facebook Star Trek
Group, and they had me thinking of the different names that Star Trek writers have given episodes have had over the years. With 882 episodes and counting, there have been numerous naming schemes, patterns, and references.
But what makes a fitting title?
Is it something long and poetic?
Or short and sweet?
Or oddly specific?
What goes into naming an episode? Is there any pattern at all?
Remember writers, that titles are one of, if not the first, interaction the audience will have with your stories. The right name can bring an audience in.
Crafting the perfect title is important because it is part of the way your story will be immortalized for years to come.
Trek Fans, let's do an exercise, if you will.
Picture it. We've all been there. It's the early 2000's (or 1990's, or 1980's. Or even 1960's). The fanfare of the intro theme to the newest Star Trek show has died down. If you're like me, you can't help but hum or whistle along to the music. Or if you are like some friends of mine, you are using the main credits to finish grabbing your food so you can sit down and watch the latest Star Trek.
In any era, it's a great moment of anticipation. The main show comes back on and you see it - the episode title. A clue into what the next hour of your life brings. Maybe it's your favorite episode. Or one with a funny title. But the font comes up and for a brief moment, you wonder what's next.
Now step outside of which ever incarnation you are thinking of, and consider that the title you are picturing could differ widely than another person. Especially if they are thinking of a different show.
Names are everything. And how things are named depend on a multitude of reasons. Could be the writer. Or the contents of the episode. Sometimes, the titles are changed by producers or studios.
I took a look at different episode titles across the now 11 shows across the franchise, and explored different ways writers invited us into the episodes. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just an exploratory one.
1) POETIC TITLES
Prominent in: TOS, DIS, SNW
These titles are esoteric sounding or give a poetic feeling. For the original series, these types of titles were popular in the pulp science fiction which Roddenberry read and codified his stories after. These episodes were thus serious science fiction stories among those, and the title served to cement that comparison. What does this long phrase mean, and how many emotions can be conveyed in a single title? It evokes a mystery. Or something that is impossible to understand until it is experienced.
2) LITERARY TITLES
Prominent in: TOS, TAS, TNG, DS9
These writers used titles from songs, movies, literature, poems, or previous works (especially Shakespeare). Like the above, these evoke a poetic nature, and reinforce themes that have recurred in stories for decades if not centuries. They also lend a fancier air to the episode.
Prominent in: VOY, ENT, DIS PIC, SNW
Latin is a big favorite, with 17 episodes and counting in the franchise named after Latin phrases. A root to many languages spoken today, Latin gives an older feel to a title. And can lend a greater meaning of depth. Latin is also used in mottos, medicine, law, etc., and continue a tradition of passing down meaning and information.
4) THE GUEST STAR/MAJOR CHARACTER OR PLACE
Prominent in: ALL OF THEM
"An idea that seemed to stick was that Picard's life, like so many contemporary lives today, could be cluttered. He's become consumed with so many details that he's lost touch with the things he truly cares about. It would be a journey of f hat to call the movie...
Prominent In: TNG, DS9, VOY
Okay, I put this one as kind of a joke and bridge between the major guest character trope and puns and wordplay. But love or hate them, you knew what kind of episode it was when you saw a Q pun in the name.
5) PUNS AND WORDPLAY
Main Perpetrators: DS9, LDS, PRO
These titles were for more fun episodes, and the writers let themselves play a bit more. They were pun filled or referenced previous trek works, other things from media, songs. You knew you were in for something fun or different with these titles.
6) THE SHORT AND SWEET
Prominent in: TNG, DS9, VOY, ENT
Like the main character trope, this title convention centers around the main event of the episode. Sometimes this would be the "inciting incident", which is an event in a film or television episode that sets the plot or characters into motion. These are more plain, and help center the expectations around what is happening in the episode.
Prominent in: ALL OF THEM
Some titles are just plain metaphors, or the writers chose to choose a word(s) that somehow vaguely describe the episode. In fact some titles in this category don't do much justice to an episode, and tell you as little as possible so as not to distinguish it in any way.
That last one especially, is quite an apt title for a Star Trek film.
Even Gene Roddenberry gave his first Trek film a moniker: The Motion Picture. (More like the Motionless picture, am I right?)
As any Trek Producer or Hollywood executive will tell you, the thinking behind film titles is different than episode titles. Shows have a built in fanbase, and a chance at a new title/episode each week.
Films need to make money to recoup their budget, and thus bring in the most audience that they can. And while a title doesn't usually make or break a movie, you want something that fits the film without making it seem inaccessible.
An outside Trek example would be Paramount's SMILE, a hit horror film that grossed 217 Million US dollars. The original title was SOMETHING'S WRONG WITH ROSE, until executives realized that test audiences (who loved the film) were tripping over the title.
They decided to go with something simpler, that still conveyed the creepy image they wanted to stick in the audience's mind.
Similarly, Trek film titles, for the most part, are more of a "does what it says on the tin can" type of naming system. Something that will let the mass audience (who may or may not be diehard Trek fans) know what they are seeing, but will also be more appropriate for the story itself.
And that is key. The title still has to pertain to the story, otherwise it is confusing for moviegoers.
STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN is about Khan's wrath against Kirk. And STAR TREK: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK was about (you guessed it) a search for Spock.
STAR TREK: THE VOYAGE HOME and STAR TREK: THE FINAL FRONTIER are also more on the nose, with the former being about a trip to Earth (just back in time) and the latter seeing the Enterprise face the afterlife (sort of?) at the center of the galaxy.
And STAR TREK: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY takes us back to a Trek naming classic: Pulling from Shakespeare.
Trek loves a good literary reference.
The Kelvin Trek movies (as I indicated previously) tend to be more metaphorical or more generic than most. STAR TREK, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS and STAR TREK BEYOND, do not tend to evoke much in the films themselves. More "buzzy" sounding than anything.
And I guess they couldn't call STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS - THE WRATH OF KHAN...AGAIN...
The TNG films also differ wildly. STAR TREK: GENERATIONS is symbolic of the passing of the torch from the Original Crew to The Next Generation while STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT is about the first contact between the Vulcans and rock music.
STAR TREK: NEMESIS is just generic enough to be ominous without giving away anything.
But STAR TREK: INSURRECTION? That one has perhaps the most specific title out of the bunch of them.
Michael Piller, who wrote the screenplay or the film as well as the book on writing the film "FADE IN: The Making of Star Trek Insurrection - A Textbook on Screenwriting from Within the Star Trek Universe" said he had absolutely no idea what to call the movie.
The film through much of its development and filming was just titled with the placeholder STAR TREK IX.
And writers, remember there is nothing wrong with a placeholder title to begin with. Even a "UNTITLED STAR TREK FILM" will at least give it a designation.
He wanted something that would fit the journey of the film. Of Picard dealing with his youth and vitality amongst the clutter of his current life while grappling with turning against the Federation for the Federation's own ideals.
During the development process Piller and the Trek team considered a multitude of titles. "Star Dust", "Prime Directive", "High Treason", "Sacred Honor." are but a fraction of the ones he mentions. (Piller, 237)
"An idea that seemed to stick was that Picard's life, like so many contemporary lives today, could be cluttered. He's become consumed with so many detauls that he's lost touch with the things he truly cares about. It woudl be a journey of regeneration. In fact, if not for STAR TREK: GENERATIONS, this movie would probably have been called STAR TREK: REGENERATION" (Piller, 229)
Finally, the marketing department wanted to call the film "STAR TREK: REVOLUTION", But Rick Berman shot it down. Despite being a catchy title, it didn't fit with the film.
It's an interesting tale of how they decided on "Insurrection." You can read all about it in Michael's book "FADE IN", which is available on this site and on Amazon!
Writers, don't be afraid to fight for the title you think is right, but don't be closed off to asking for feedback and help from friends. Writing can be a solitary venture, but feature films and television shows are not.
Think about all the different kinds of sources you can use for a title, and what can draw an audience's eye while fitting the story you are writing.
And most importantly, have fun with it.
One of my favorite episodes is "IN THE PALE MOONLIGHT" from STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, and its title comes from the film BATMAN.
There. Are. No. Rules.
=/\= =/\= =/\= Let me know what your favorite Trek Episode Titles are below! For more on the film, check out FADE IN: THE MAKING OF STAR TREK: INSURRECTION by Michael Piller. You can purchase it directly on this site! Until next time... LLAP! - Braxton