Monday, January 17, 2011

What's In A Name?

Last fall, I was chatting with Tracy from Addicted to Books about Harry Potter.  The topic arose about the name from the British version of the first in the series (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) and that used here in the States (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone).  Why was the name changed, particularly when the original name has greater meaning, particularly in its influences, than the latter?


According to Wikipedia on this very question, the American publisher (Scholastic) felt that it would be easier to market Sorcerer!  Who would want to read about a Philosopher's stone?!?  Despite the fact that Rowling was not keen on this idea, the decision was still made and sales soared.  We will never know if the series would be as much of a success if they had stuck with the original title or not.  At this point in time, I also have to wonder if it matters.  It's like playing the "what-if" game!  The fact still remains, however, that the original title was there for a reason . . . one that I discovered even more so this past year while hosting Fairy Tale Fridays, particularly the week we examined The Philosopher's Stone!

However, it does get me to thinking . . . how often is a name changed for marketing purposes?  We all are aware of the controversies surrounding cover art for the purposes of marketing, but what about titles as well, especially those that may have more of an underlying meaning?

Do any other titles come to mind you are aware that have been changed based on publication location?  What are your thoughts on a name change?


  1. Changing the name of books in different countries is one of my pet peeves! It really is. There are so many examples of it happening with authors that I enjoy reading. What makes it more confusing is that often it isn't clear anywhere that it is the same book and so you may find yourself suddenly owning two copies of the same book by mistake!

    There is one series I read where I think all of the books have had different titles for the US/UK. Just crazy!

  2. Marg . . . I don't think I realized how common name changes really were. I understand that we come from different cultures, but the story doesn't change. Is it all for marketing purposes? I don't know. I just don't completely understand it!

  3. One that really stood out to me was Diana Gabaldon's Outlander which had the original UK title Cross Stitch. At first I thought they were entirely different works! Personally I think Outlander is a better title for it, but I never did discover why the name was changed!

  4. Who would want to read about a Philosopher's stone?!?
    But the Philosopher's Stone has an ancient alchemical history, whereas the Sorcerer's Stone is meaningless. HP has a huge amount of alchemical and mythological symbolism, and changing the name negates all of that, it's just dumbing down of the worst kind.
    And the movie must have really confused American kids, because Hermione refers to the Philosopher's Stone, not the Sorcerer's Stone.

    I know of two books that have different names in this country to the USA - Little Bee by Chris Cleave in the USA is The Other Hand here. Dead Seas by Taras Grescoe in the UK is called Bottomfeeders in the USA! (Think I prefer Dead Seas!) If a title in one language translated as something obscene/really weird in another language, then fair enough - but do we really need to 'translate' UK English to USA English? (yes, I know you're all allergic to 'U's and insist on using 'z' instead of 's' in some words, but still

  5. lisa :) . . . I haven't heard that one before! In fact, I haven't even read it, but I want to!

    Tracy . . . I totally hear ya about the Philosopher's Stone! There is so much history and meaning to that title that Sorcerer's Stone really has no meaning! I think this is the one that makes me the most surprised at the name change because of all this history and connections that you mentioned! My question is why do they think that American kids won't get the connection?!? And, good point about the translation between UK vs US English!!!

  6. Why? It'll just have been someone in Marketing who didn't think about why the title was chosen in the first place, all they saw was the word 'philosopher' and thought no child would know what a philosopher is (which isn't the point, the Philosopher's Stone is a specific concept).

    In the USA, was the movie called Sorcerer's Stone or Philosopher's Stone?

  7. I think the real reason is because, let's face it, American kids wouldn't have a clue what the term "philosopher's stone" meant. I think that's also part of the reason they changed the name of Pullman's Northern Lights to The Golden Compass.

    The film was Sorcerer's Stone, too.

  8. I think they changed Diana Gabaldon's title because of the meaning of outlander in the UK. I do own a copy of both because my mom thought Cross Stitch was a book I didn't own yet.

  9. Tracy & Kristin . . . As Kristin said, it was called Sorcerer's Stone. And, it brings up a good point . . . do we give our kids enough credit? Would US kids not get the philosopher's stone? Is the story or concept more well known in the UK, or does that say something about the emphasis on our education system? I'm not sure if I really want the answers to these questions, but it is an interesting concept to ponder!

    Jill . . . What does outlander mean in the UK? I'm not sure if I actually know!

  10. Tif, I think part of it is that a lot of our kids are sheltered for religious reasons. Not all, of course, but a good portion of them are. When you have states that put stickers on their science textbooks stating, "Warning! This book teaches evolution", there's no way they're going to know what the Philosopher's Stone is. They simply haven't been exposed to a classical education. And I don't see that changing anytime soon.

    Also, the PS is part of European history, which we don't really teach anymore. Anything that isn't related to the United States is irrelevant. (And some states are trying to revise that, too. Like Texas teaching that Thomas Jefferson wasn't a founding father.)

    And alchemy. Oh, boy. If ever there's a taboo subject among the fundamentalists, that's right up at the top of the list. It's magic, pure and simple. And yet they let their kids watch Disney movies without even understanding what's going on in them. Go figure. When I was in school, we did talk a little about alchemy in Chem I from a historical standpoint, and how it really was the forerunner of chemistry and physics. But you can't explain to those people that alchemy was, for the most part, conducted by monks and the priesthood.

    Anyway, do we give our kids enough credit? No, I don't think we do. They're more than capable of handling the word "Philosopher's Stone", and although "Sorcerer's Stone" sounds more exciting, it might just encourage them to want to find out more about it.

  11. To be honest I doubt British kids were much more familiar with the concept of the Philosopher's Stone than American kids, depending on their age.

    But the difference is that the British publishers would have been familiar with it, and would not have lightly dismissed the significance of it as being of no importance, let's change the name. Names and titles in books are usually chosen for a good reason.

    Kristin, I agree, kids of whatever nationality are more than capable of doing some research on the meaning.

  12. I am loving this conversation!!

    Kristin . . . VERY good points! But as I was reading your thoughts, it also brought up the point that it is even possible that adults would not get the references to the Philosopher's Stone either! If the adults don't get it, how will the kids?!? And, about the US vs world history . . . this is so true! I work at a university and it is shocking the response I get when I tell my students that they have to take a world history course. Their response . . . You mean my US History credit won't count?!? My response . . . Well, it really is more than just about us! (I tend to be a bit sarcastic!)

    Tracy . . . As I said about to Kristin, I have begun wondering how many adults would get the reference! If adults don't get it, how will our children?!? We need to give our kids more credit, but what will we do about the adults?!?


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