As we know, the challenge for writers is to satisfy the promise made to the reader but to do so in an unexpected way. The title of a story is the very beginning of the promise that the writer makes to the reader.
When I think about what to call a work I think about what promise I am making to the reader and how I intend to deliver on it.
To do this I go first to theme or controlling idea. The controlling idea describes how and why life changes in the story; it is a single sentence that identifies a change in value and the reason it has changed. Using a film as an example, the controlling idea of The Matrix could be phrased as - humanity triumphs when people fight for their rights.
The controlling idea is the one that you hope that your readers will take away and use to make sense of their own lives.
Next I look for the repeated elements in my story. This is called a motif. It is any recurring fragment, theme or pattern that has symbolic significance. It should be more than a frequently used setting or piece of dialogue. Look in your story at setting, characters, dialogue, actions, responses, and thoughts for repeating elements. Repetition is not a bad thing; it reinforces your story arc with a reader and helps them to experience the story at different levels. Again using a movie, this time an old one - A Streetcar Named Desire. Desire is a repeated element in the film. In the opening scene the streetcar is referred to as being named Desire, later you see the name written on the actual streetcar, even later you hear the sounds of the streetcar as part of the sound effects in the movie, Blanche is only seen in soft flattering half-light creating a desirable woman, a lot of the dialogue between the sisters is about desire, you witness the carnal desire between Stella and Stanley, and many more examples.
As storytellers we repeat the messages that we give our readers in many creative ways to give out stories depth. Some writers do this quite unconsciously but it is worth taking a forensic look at your work and looking for your motif.
I use the controlling idea and the motif to generate ideas for a title. In this way I can be sure that the title is about the story that I have written and that I am making good on the promise that the title makes to the reader.
I suggest that you don't use plot for ideas for a title; it can lend itself to revealing plot twists or endings which then lessens the element of surprise for the reader. You want the reader on the journey of discovery with you until the very last page.
Writers don't get the final say on the title and WINK has spoken about how some titles 'dumb down' what are very good stories.
That leads me to the next point on titles which is marketing. The title is an important part of positioning the book in the market so that the people looking for that type of book are attracted by the title. Some authors have build awareness through the titles. John Grisham's works begin with 'the' as in The Firm, The Chamber, The Client. Susan Elizabeth Phillips has used song titles.
'To title is to name. An effective title points to something solid that is actually in the story - character, setting, theme, or genre. The best titles often name two or all elements at once.' This is the advice given by Robert McKee, author of Story, one of the most influential craft books that I have read.
My favourite title? Cat On A Hot Tin Roof - it perfectly creates the expectation for the uneasy relationships that unfold.
Of course the main objective for the title .... is that it is smaller than your own name on the cover of your book!