By September 27, 2017 1 Comments Read More →

Attack of the Title Change: U. K. Books for U. S. Audiences

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone/Sorcerer's Stone JK RowlingI was eight years old when I read my first Harry Potter book, so when my nephew turned eight, I was more excited about finally being able to share Harry Potter with him than anything else.

As I was living in England at the time, I decided to buy the first book in the series from an American online retailer and have it sent to my nephew in America to save on shipping costs, however, my search results for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone kept giving me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Same book, different title. Once I got over the shock that someone had dared to tamper with my precious Harry Potter, I decided to investigate. Cue Google.

It’s hard to imagine now, but back when J. K. Rowling was a nobody and Hogwarts but a figment of her imagination, taking on this new author with her fantasy debut was a risk. U. S. publishers wanted to make sure the book would be appealing to children and decided sorcerer was a much more exciting and accessible word than philosopher. Problem is, the Philosopher’s Stone is an object of western alchemy, appearing in European mythology, believed to hold the power of transforming base metals into precious metals and to contain the Elixir of Life. The Sorcerer’s Stone is not. In retrospect, J. K. Rowling has said she wishes she’d fought harder to keep philosopher in the U. S. title. Instead, the actors in the movie were forced to film every scene mentioning the stone twice: calling it the ‘philosopher’s stone’ for U. K. audiences and ‘the sorcerer’s stone’ for U. S.

But Harry Potter was not the first book to undergo a title change for transatlantic audiences, and of course not the last.

Northern Lights/The Golden Compass Philip PullmanThe first book of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman was published as Northern Lights in the U. K. and The Golden Compass in the U. S., but the publisher wasn’t entirely to blame this time. Originally, the series was going to be called “The Golden Compasses” in reference to a line from Milton’s Paradise Lost that served as inspiration for the series. During the editorial process, the first book in the series was referred to as The Golden Compass so, although the name changed (at Pullman’s request) for its U. K. publication, it did not for U. S. audiences or its U. S. publisher, who had grown accustomed to that name. The film, of course, was given the U. S. title of The Golden Compass, but the less said about the film, the better.

Murder on the orient Express/ Murder in the Calais Coach Agatha ChristieMany P. G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie novels have gone through title changes, including Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which was published as Murder in the Calais Coach in the U. S.—not to eliminate the racial slur, but because Graham Greene’s novel Stamboul Train (U. K. title) was called Orient Express in the U. S., and publishers didn’t want buyers to confuse the two.

So, although having a different title for the same book across the Atlantic is not an unusual phenomenon and sometimes necessary for a book’s cultural relevancy, I’m still mad about the replacement of “philosopher” for “sorcerer.” Needless to say, I bought my nephew a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and shipped it to him the old-fashioned way.

Here are some other contemporary books (among many) that have undergone title changes across the Atlantic:

U. K.

Where Rainbows End


Down Under

Moving Target

The Painted Man

Slave Girl

U. S.

Rosie Dunne, by Cecelia Ahern

Consumed, by Kate Cann

In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson

Marque and Reprisal, by Elizabeth Moon

The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett

Rover, by Jackie French



About the Author:

Enobong Essien is Booklist's first international intern, coming all the way from across the pond. Her favorite 'procrastinate from studying' activities include: reading, writing, crocheting and taking note of all the ways Americans are different than Brits.

1 Comment on "Attack of the Title Change: U. K. Books for U. S. Audiences"

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  1. Carol S. says:

    What about Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie? Same situation there? I’ve always wondered…

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