Anglo-American Title Changes
Interior Translation in English

  

Essay by
Robert W. Franson
& Jennifer M. Franson

 

April 2010

  
Titles dissolve in the Atlantic

Quite a few readers on both sides of the Atlantic noticed when J. K. Rowling's fantasy novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was retitled for the American market, dumbed down as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. This is only an unusually prominent example of a phenomenon we've long been musing upon: the occasional variance in titles between the British and American editions of books.

It's understandable that publishers may wish to locally normalize some terms so as not to confuse the reader: the American automobile terms hood and trunk correspond to the British bonnet and boot, for instance; or flashlight versus electric torch. But in context these are more decipherable than titles may be.
  

British education, or British respect?

We note some characteristic tendencies of British versus American book titles.

British publishers presume a higher level of education among their likely readership. Not necessarily in years of school attended, or an Oxbridge degree, but in general cultural knowledge. Remember that publishers are selling books, not defending British education in Parliament: it is specifically their potential customers whom they are evaluating when choosing titles.

American publishers perhaps may insist upon more product branding than their British counterparts feel necessary. This holds true even for famous writers, whose specialities or genre affinities are as recognizable in America as in Britain.

Despite the usual respect for their audience, noted above, normally sober British title-selectors sometimes seem afflicted with euphoria, or even a fit of the giggles.

Presumably any author likes best his own choice of title, but the first appearance of an author's work may not have that title; the author may have more control over a subsequent edition, or perhaps better influence with a publisher in his own country. American titles seem to be treated more respectfully in British editions than are British titles in American editions.
  

Parameters for our short list of titles

This is only a sampling, a tiny fraction. There are too many fish in this sea. Keep in mind our constraints, below. So what is not here, by way of completeness?

  • Individual authors: where a single author has multiple title changes crossing the Atlantic, we present only a few variants.
  • Translations: we don't show variant translations from the original non-English-language title, unless they are interestingly divergent.
  • Science fiction: we wonder if the protean nature of the field increases the percentage of alternate titles. Again, we give only a sampling. In 1965, Donald L. Franson (with Michael Viggiano) compiled a pamphlet solely of Science Fiction Title Changes with 1600 entries — mostly from magazine to hardcover to paperback.
  • Books we have not read: all of the books listed below are to some degree informative or entertaining. Perhaps this list may save you from buying a second copy of some book under an alternate title: a type of mispurchase we have stumbled into, more than once. Or save you the hunt for another book by a favorite author when the enticing strange title represents merely a doppelganger.

For convenience, British titles are listed in the first title column, American titles in the second title column, regardless of temporal precedence.

The dates below, for British and American editions, reflect our best knowledge but certainly not exhaustive research.

  


Author British title(s) American title(s)

Christie, Agatha Five Little Pigs  (1942) Murder in Retrospect  (1942)

Why the change? Surely, even as early as 1942, nobody thought Christie was branching out into agriculture, or writing a treatise on nursery rhymes. Oink.

In fact, Agatha Christie’s titles were so frequently changed for U.S. publication that one begins to suspect a conspiracy to sell each book twice to the same readers. At least seven of these changes were made to incorporate the word "murder", while another four added "death" or "fatal" — useful for identifying mysteries when the author is unknown, but hardly necessary, one would think, for works by the Queen of Crime. In one case, "murder" was dropped and "death" added, for a net change of zero.


Christie, Agatha Dumb Witness  (1937) Poirot Loses a Client  (1937)

The original British title refers to a dog: somewhat appropriate although unhelpful to a prospective customer. The American title is appropriate and lets the informed reader know that this is a mystery novel featuring Christie's detective Hercule Poirot.


Christie, Agatha Murder on the Orient Express  (1934) Murder in the Calais Coach  (1934)
Murder on the Orient Express

Presumably American mystery fans commute so regularly on the Orient Express that it's of overriding interest in which specific railroad car the mystery is set. Or perhaps the American publisher believed the Orient Express crossed the ocean bridge from Japan to China, or worried that potential customers would be somehow disoriented. But to Americans, coach is more likely to evoke stagecoach; the Orient Express is a train famous everywhere, surely one of the most magical names in transportation ever. Later American editions standardized on the more poetic British title.


Fraser, Antonia Cromwell: Our Chief of Men  (1973) Cromwell: The Lord Protector  (1973)

Both subtitles for this major biography are historically accurate as well as informative. To an American thinking about historical figures, Chief almost certainly first evokes Indian chiefs, whereas The Lord Protector points back to Britain.


Gogol, Nikolai

Originally, in Russian: Chichikov's Adventures, or Dead Souls  (1842)

Home Life in Russia,
  by a Russian Noble
  (1854)
Dead Souls  (1893)
Tchitchikoff's Journeys;
  or, Dead Souls
  (1886)
Dead Souls  (1936)
Chichkov's Journeys;
  or, Home Life in Old Russia
  (1944)
Dead Souls:
  Chichikov's Journeys;
  or, Home Life in Old Russia
  (1972)

The original Russian title page, designed by Gogol himself, placed the innocuous Chichikov's Adventures first, but emphasized Dead Souls. Absent the aftereffects of Tsarist censorship, we seem finally to have settled on the poetic and perfect Dead Souls.


Gordon, Rex No Man Friday  (1956) First on Mars  (1957)

The British title alludes to Robinson Crusoe: it accurately suggests a lone castaway, but still, it's an allusion to another novel. The American title also is accurate, if unadorned, and helpfully tells you that this is a science fiction novel taking place on Mars.


Keller, Werner

Original German: Ost minus West = Null. Der Aufbau Russlands durch den Westen  (1960)

Are the Russians Ten Feet Tall?  (1961) East Minus West = Zero:
  Russia's Debt to the Western World
  862-1962
  (1962)

Just what was the British publisher visualizing?


Kuttner, Henry The Proud Robot   (1983) Robots Have No Tails  (1952)

The American editions, like the 1940s magazine stories, are bylined as by Lewis Padgett. "The Proud Robot" is the best-known and thematic lead story of this collection. The American title always has been an unfortunate embarrassment for a very funny science fiction book.


Mitford, Jessica Hons and Rebels  (1960) Daughters and Rebels:
  The Autobiography of Jessica Mitford
  (1960)

"Hons", a Mitford family coinage, was also used by elder sister Nancy in her novel The Pursuit of Love. Its use by Jessica involves a play on words more accessible to a British reader than to an American; as daughters of Baron Redesdale, both Nancy and Jessica were entitled to be styled "the Honourable" — generally abbreviated to "The Hon" when written. To an American, hon is more likely to evoke the shortened form of honey — a familiar address commonly heard in the South and Midwest.


Nietzsche, Friedrich

Original German, 1st edition: Die fröhliche Wissenschaft  (1882)
Original German, 2nd edition: Die fröhliche Wissenschaft ("la gaya scienza"),
    Neue Ausgabe mit einem Anhange: Lieder des Prinzen Vogelfrei
  (1887)

Joyful Wisdom  (1910)
The Gay Science:
  With a Prelude in German Rhymes
  and an Appendix of Songs
  (2001)
Joyful Wisdom  (1910)
The Gay Science:
  With a Prelude in Rhymes
  and an Appendix of Songs
  (1974)
The Gay Science (The Joyful Wisdom)  (1910)
The Gay Science  

The 1974 translation is by Walter Kaufmann, eminently capable of sensing and conveying the troubadour as well as the philosopher, or "that unity of singer, knight, and free spirit" as Nietzsche says. Prelude in German Rhymes is not part of the German book title; it is the section subtitle for the 2nd edition's opening of "Joke, Cunning, and Revenge" — itself from the title of a libretto by Goethe. Kaufmann's edition provides the poetry in both languages. Shun any earlier translations of this book.


Norwich, John Julius The Normans in the South, 1016-1130  (1967) The Other Conquest  (1967)

A history of the Normans' successful war to take Sicily from Saracen rule after two centuries of Moslem domination. Perhaps the American publisher confronted with promoting this book couldn't think of any important conquests in world history other than the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, and met his Waterloo.


Rowling, J. K Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone  (1997) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone  (1998)

The American publisher seems to have felt that the heavy word philosopher would be off-putting for the first novel of this young-people's fantasy series. Philosophy is abstruse — like quantum physics (or whatever is your favorite example of abstruseness). Further, perhaps the phrase philosopher's stone brings no image or concept to mind for too many potential customers, whether young readers or their parents.

We note that philosopher's stone is listed in the Appendix, "What Literate Americans Know", in E. D. Hirsch, Jr.'s Cultural Literacy (1987).

In earlier generations, millions of American children pored over "The Fabulous Philosopher's Stone", an illustrated story by Carl Barks that was first published in Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge in 1955, and reprinted multiple times. This full-color 24-page story is one of the memorable greats among the Disney Duck stories. The Ducks' adventures in search of the philosopher's stone, and what possessing such a transformative force might entail, is a superb story blending history and geography, Classical myth and science. Certainly no one who reads it would ever after be baffled by the nature or possible ramifications of finding a true philosopher's stone.

Donald Duck:

Now, what's on your mind, Uncle Scrooge?

Scrooge McDuck:

The philosopher's stone! I think I know where to find it! ... Here in these ancient books are clues to its location.

Donald:

... The philosopher's stone was something that the ancient alchemists thought would turn base metal into gold.

Carl Barks
"The Fabulous Philosopher's Stone"
Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge #10, June 1955
The Carl Barks Library of
Uncle Scrooge Adventures
#10


Russell, Eric Frank Next of Kin  (1967) The Space Willies  (1958)
Next of Kin  (1986)

The shorter magazine version of this science fiction novel was "Plus X" in 1956, expanded for the American paperback, and then again for the definitive British hardcover. It has since found its way back west across the Atlantic under Russell's final title, Next of Kin. It is a famously hilarious story, and oddly enough, all three titles are quite appropriate.


Sikorski, Radek The Polish House:
  An Intimate History of Poland
  (1997)
Full Circle:
  A Homecoming to Free Poland
  (1997)

If you didn't know that these titles referred to a single book, it wouldn't occur to you that there is only one text. The British title emphasizes homeyness; the American implies liberation.


Thomas, Donald Charge! Hurrah! Hurrah!:
  A Life of Cardigan of Balaclava
  (1974)
Cardigan:
  The Hero of Balaclava
  (1975)
Cardigan:
  A Life of Lord Cardigan of Balaclava
  (1987)

A solid biography of Lord Cardigan (1797-1868), perpetrator and hero of the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War. His heroism is unexceptionable, but it is his military acumen that makes his enduring reputation.


Upfield, Arthur W. Cake in the Hat Box  (1955) Sinister Stones  (1954)

Neither title is evocative of Upfield's series hero Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, the mystery plot, or its setting in the Australian Outback. At least ten of the Bony novels have appeared under more than one title.


  

© 2010 Robert W. Franson
& Jennifer M. Franson


  
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