The Bonesetter's Daughter (A. Tan, 2003)
The Alchemist's Daughter (K. McMahon, 2006)
The Tailor's Daughter (J. Graham, 2007)
The Pirate's Daughter (M. Cezair-Thompson, 2008)
The Heretic's Daughter (K. Kent, 2008)
The Virgin Queen's Daughter (E. Chase, 2008)
The pattern may vary. Sometimes the parent's name appears, as in Rashi's Daughters (M. Anton, 2007); other times the syntax is reversed, as in Daughter of York (A.E. Smith, 2008) and Daughter of Fortune (I. Allende, 2006). What is it about Daughter titles that make them such a popular device for naming historical fiction?
The first reason has to do with marketing. Like headless women covers, a Daughter title signals to the bookstore browser that the book is first of all women's fiction and most likely an historical novel. (Daughter titles do appear on books from other genres, such as the contemporary novel The Memory Keeper's Daughter (K. Edwards, 2006) and the memoir The Mistress's Daughter (A. Homes, 2008), but the majority of Daughter titles grace historical fiction.) The title announces that the main character of the novel is a woman and that the story is, to a great degree, hers. It is the story of her plight, of her struggle to define herself within, or escape from, her circumstances.
This is the second reason Daughter titles work so well for historical fiction. Women, in the past, were defined by their dependent roles as daughter and wife. In a sense, they had no need of first names, at least in a social context. Townsfolk could refer to "Frank the baker's wife" or "Otto the cobbler's daughter" and everyone knew whom they were talking about. Not only were the women defined by their familial roles, but the socio-economic position of their husband's or father's occupation delineated their existence. If you look carefully, the daughter in the titles above is the daughter of a practitioner of a specific trade or activity, be it alchemy, bonesetting, or heresy. Each trade comes with its particular status and set of duties and expectations. The daughter in question finds herself defined by the givens of her father's occupation and must either come to terms with these givens or seek to recreate herself by rebelling against them. (This dynamic works even when the parent in the title is the mother, as in The Heretic's Daughter and The Virgin Queen's Daughter: the nameless daughter here struggles under the double onus of social status and her mother's anonymity.) The use of the possessive case objectifies the daughter: she is a possession, an extension of the father, useful for her knowledge of the trade, a mere cog in the family business. Definitely not an individual in her own right--that development is what unfolds on the three hundred pages between the covers.
Daughter titles, then, are significant markers of genre that, although static (they include no verb) set up the fundamental parameters of the book. Three simple words sketch the novel's principal character, primary setting and underlying conflict. Economy of scale at its best. They sound catchy, too.
Seeing the popularity of such titles, I used to jokingly refer to The Measure of Silence as The Draper's Daughter (my husband used to call it Death by Poem, but we won't go there). Ironically, one of the titles I'm considering for Book 2 has daughter in it. I found a quotation about art that captures the theme of the book perfectly; I'd love to feature it on the first page and borrow part of it as the title, but I'm hesitant to jump on the Daughter bandwagon. What do you think? I could always lop off a syllable or two to mirror the figure on the cover.