10 Books That Changed Their Original Titles

I previously wrote in one of my posts that F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted to title his novel The Great Gatsby as Trimalchio in West Egg and that Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was originally titled First Impressions. In this post I look at ten other books that changed their original titles.

I. 1984 by George Orwell

Original Title: The Last Man in Europe

George Orwell titled his most famous book The Last Man in Europe before his publisher intervened and suggested 1984. Allegedly, the author also tweaked with the title for Animal Farm [1945].

II. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Original Title: Catch-11 or Catch-18

Heller seriously considered calling his satirical book either Catch-11 or Catch-18. However, because, in 1961, at the moment of the publication, there was already something titled Ocean’s 11 (the original heist film with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin), as well Leon Uris’ novel Mila 18 [1961], Heller and his publisher finally settled for Catch-22. The reasoning was that, after all, 22 is simply 11 doubled.

III. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Original Title: The Sea Cook

Reading Stevenson’s novel, it becomes clear why the author wanted to title it The Sea Cook. However, Treasure Island is definitely a much more appealing and exciting title.

IV. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Original Title: All’s Well That Ends Well

This Russian classic had real danger of being titled All’s Well That Ends Well. Perhaps Tolstoy thought along the Shakespearean play, but people say there was another reason. Allegedly, Tolstoy wanted to write a novel about the deportation of Decembrists and titled it All’s Well That Ends Well. However, that got him into thinking deeply about the causes of the deportation and other related issues, including the broader situation in the country. As his novel changed and became more “global” in its outlook, the title changed with it to reflect broader themes and became War and Peace.

V. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Original Title: Tomorrow is Another Day

Margaret Mitchell originally titled her book Tomorrow is Another Day (previous drafts also contained such titles as Not in Our Stars, Bugles Sang True, Pansy and Tote the Weary Load). The phrase “gone with the end” is taken from the 1894 poem by Ernest Dowson that has the following lines: “I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind / Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng / Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind…” 

VI. Dracula by Bram Stoker

Original Title: The Dead Un-Dead

Bram Stoker’s gothic horror novel was originally titled The Dead Un-Dead. The author also thought that the main character should be called Count Wampyr. That was before he found the story of Vlad The Impaler and the surname of his descendants – Dracul. He was intrigued by that name and the rest is history.

VII. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Original Title: The Mute

McCullers’ debut book is about John Singer (and his pal Spiros Antonapoulos), people who are both deaf and mute and who live in a small town in Georgia, US. Given this, title The Mute is very logical . However, it is also rather unimaginative. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a title that is poetic and reflects the novel’s main themes: loneliness and the desire to be understood and accepted.

VIII. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Original Title: Prometheus Unchained

Mary Shelley seriously considered giving a title to her novel of just that – Prometheus Unchained, after a myth about Prometheus. In one of the mythical tales, this god decided to build the world in such a way as to make men “superior”. The full title of Shelley’s novel is Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus, and her husband’s (Percy Shelley) lyrical drama of 1820 is titled Prometheus Unbound.

IX. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Original Title: Offred

Naming a book by its central character makes perfect sense, and, truthfully, I like the title Offred. It is an unusual name and it is also a name that tells its own horrifying story – being a patronymic from the male name Fred, symbolically “robbing” a woman that has this name from her own identity.

X. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Original Title: The Fireman

This entry is a bit of a cheat because Ray Bradbury did publish a short story called The Fireman and that story was later expanded to become Fahrenheit 451.

23 thoughts on “10 Books That Changed Their Original Titles

  1. Sweet listing.

    Urban Waite’s book, The Carrion Birds was first published in the UK as Dead if I Don’t. In my interview with Waite, (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/560690895) he explained. “The title change was a decision I made after it was pointed out to me that all of the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris start off with ‘Dead.’ So, since my book was quite a bit different from those I wanted something different for a title. The Carrion Birds title was the pick that I went with here in the US.”

    In writing reviews, I have seen a handful of books with titles that diverge from one English-speaking shore to another, but do not really know how common this might be. I expect that, as with Waite, and the classics you listed, marketing concerns drive most such changes, usually toward the more memorable. Personally, I much prefer Waite’s much more evocative US title to the original.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s an interesting example you mention and I also prefer The Carrion Birds. And, yes, definitely, I think the changes has to do with marketing. A title should sell a book, and being memorable is part of selling it. Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is much more evocative and memorable (therefore sellable) than simple Mute, and Gone with the Wind sounds like something different and poetic than just boring Tomorrow Is Another Day.

      Actually, I also reviewed a book by a Dutch writer that changed its title when being presented in another country. Gerbrand Bakker’s The Detour became Ten White Geese in the US. I think changing book titles to suit different audiences follows a more or less decent and respectable route, but when they try to market films by changing their titles that’s when things sometimes really do get crazy.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. What a lovely post! Thank you! ‘Tomorrow is another Day’ is literally the last sentence of Gone with the Wind. I agree with you about “ Offred”. I recently read A Tale of Two Cities and apparently Dickens had considered “ Recalled to Life” as a title. It ended up being the title to one of the books of the novel.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I gather another possible title for Tolstoy’s novel was The Year 1805. I also understood from somewhere that one version of Russian title translates as Peace and War but as I can find no corroboration for this I guess this may have been mischief making. Also, 1984 happens to have the last two digits of 1948, the year Orwell completed his novel, published the year after, and another year before his premature death.

    Novels which have titles taken from poetry or the Bible also seems to have a greater weight than more prosaic ones, but I suppose that’s hard to gauge after the event. Would I have read The Sea Cook or The Dead Undead or, more to the point, would they have achieved as great a degree of fame as under their eventual titles? Can we ever tell?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I haven’t heard about Peace and War, but I know there was some speculation whether Tolstoy actually meant “War and the World” because the Russian word for “peace” also translates as “world” or “society” (the latter especially so in Tolstoy’s times). Even though there are some arguments in support of that, I don’t think Tolstoy did, because he himself translated the title to French as “La guerre et la paix”.

      It’s interesting to consider whether this or that book gained popularity given another title. I think it all depends, and, I agree, it is difficult to speculate now and be impartial when we already know the outcome. “Catch-22” may sound very “catchy” to us now, but that may also be because we are so used to hearing it over the years.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Diana! This is a great list. I just wanted to point out that the poem that inspired the title of Gone with the Wind (“Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae sub Regno Cynarae”) was actually written by Ernest Dowson (not Edward) & was published in 1891. He wasn’t born until 1867 so couldn’t possibly have published it in 1849 as you state. (Citation.) Cheers. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi! Thanks for this great comment and pointing out the mistake. I have now corrected the list. I should be checking my references more carefully.

      Like

  5. Fascinating list! I think most of the second titles are significantly better. The ones that took a risk using their original character (Frankenstein) instead of the inspiration character (Prometheus or Trimalchio) probably felt a bit uncertain at the time, but they’ve aged well. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The worst of these to me is “All’s Well that Ends Well”. Hard to imagine that the exact same story would have had as much success and/or staying power as “War and Peace”.

    Liked by 1 person

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