Why are UK and US titles different for the same book?

This may be a silly question, but I wonder why American and British titles to the same book are often different. After reading In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson, I decided to visit Australia. Browsing a bookstore there I noticed another Bill Bryson book Down Under – or so I thought. It turned out to be same book but with a different title and published in the UK.

Other than to gull people into buying the same book twice, why would publishers make two different titles for the same book? If they were in different languages, then I would understand. But, if they are in the same language, then publishing a book with two titles would only invite lawsuits I would think.

Perhaps making sense of the publishing industry is futile.

For this particular one, I couldn’t tell you. It’s all up to marketing. Maybe they thought Australians would take offense at calling their country sunburned.

It’s a lot more common with films, for example Harold and Kumar go to White Castle was called Harold and Kumar get the Munchies in the UK and Harold et Kumar chassent le burger (hunt the burger) in French Canada, due to the lack of White Castle restaurants in those areas.

Ben Stiller’s Meet the Fockers was given a much different title in France due to impossibility of translating the wordplay (Mon Beau-Père, Mes Parents Et Moi - my father-in-law, my parents and me).

Sometimes they think Americans are culturally illiterate, and won’t understand the original UK title.

I don’t get it either. The second Harry Potter novel was H.P. and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK and H.P. and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the U.S. Some have said it might have been due to worries that American readers wouldn’t know what the Philosopher’s Stone was in alchemy, but so what? Probably most British kids don’t know it either and it really makes little if any difference to the story.

Several P.G. Wodehouse novels appeared under different titles on either side of the Atlantic. Again, I just don’t get it. We speak the same language, and apart from a few well known exceptions, it’s like every word in American…means the exact same thing in English.

It was the first Harry Potter book, and I’m not so quick to judge them on it. They didn’t know it would be a smash and that people would buy it regardless of the title.

It’s actually a reference to a patriotric song/poem My Country:

Maybe it was too cliched, or something?

As I understand it, it’s common for the publisher to have the final say on a book’s title, and for a book to have different publishers in different countries.

But I agree, it’s stupid for the very same book (in the same language) to have two different titles.

I’d read Agatha Christie’s *Murder on the Orient Express * and was looking for another mystery while in the English language section of a bookstore in Athens (Greece, not Georgia). I bought Murder in the Calais Coach and found that they were the same book, different title.

I later read that the latter was the original title. Good name change decision!

Titles are put on books to sell books and for no other reason. Very, very few authors have the clout to have any say in book titles.

Editors think they know what kind of titles will sell in their country. They don’t, of course, but they think they do. If they think that a title isn’t good enough or right enough or doesn’t conform to some arcane secret of the publishing business, they will change it in a second.

This practice is changing somewhat because of the Internet making information international and instantaneous. But the number of books whose titles have been changed over the years must be in the tens of thousands. An amazingly high percentage of classic mysteries have different titles in the US and UK because of the way the two cultures saw book marketing differently. (Have you ever read Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Niggers, e.g.?)

This extends to all arts, including movies and records. Remember that the US versions of early Beatles albums actually left off songs because it was standard practice to have 14 on an LP in Britain and only 12 in America. Sgt. Pepper’s ended that, but the attitude never really went away.

And who is going to sue and why? It is illegal to sell US books in the UK and vice versa. All contracts have exclusively clauses built into them. So there’s no legal chance to get the books mixed up in the customers’ minds. I know you’re going to object and tell me that books are sold all the time across borders. Mail order is not the same as the bookstores in one country putting out unlicensed books from another territory.

That’s the first book.

And the title change for the US was completely idiotic. Really, we could have figured it out anyway.

Speaking of the Harry Potter name change, I found this in the latest, Harry Potter issue of Entertainment Weekly:

Not that that really explains why the title had to change at all…

Still, I’d heard of a sorcerer’s stone as a child, or at least a teenager, but I’d not heard of a philosopher’s stone until I was an adult. The change may have been a bit silly, but I wouldn’t say idiotic.

I don’t think knowledge of White Castle is all that universal across the United States. The only reason I knew what it was before the movie was because it’s infamous on the internet. People who spend less time on the internet and who have never been to the east coast probably have never heard of White Castle – a group much larger than French Canada :slight_smile: This reminds me of when I went on a road trip with a few friends of mine and we stopped for some coffee and I noted “Wow, I can’t believe I’m stepping foot in an actual Tim Hortons”. The reply I got was "What, was this place in a book or something? :confused: "

I don’t imagine it was the term “philosopher’s stone” that they were concerned about, just the word “philosopher”. Philosophy is not a subject that means anything to your average eight-year-old. You can imagine a child scanning a store bookshelf, seeing some book about philosophers, and skipping right past it. But sorcery? Now that’s cool.

Oddly enough, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle was released in Australia under its US name, despite the complete lack of White Castle restaurants here- I doubt anyone in this part of the world had even heard of the chain before the film came out.

Why would people buy the same book twice? The only people who’d have the opportunity would be those who travel from the US to the UK (and vice versa) and who pick up the book without bothering to read the cover blurb (which makes things clear).

I always thought the Down Under name change was because that term didn’t have currency in the United States. Down Under the USA is China?

Nope. “Down Under” = Australia in the USA. Never China or anything else.


I’d certainly heard of the Philosopher’s Stone when I was young, but anything called the Sorcerer’s Stone? Never. Put me down as someone who hates the name change.

I had the same experience. Incidentally, there were a lot of other changes. I just reread Potter I, Canadian edition which is identical to the British, and they talked a lot about “revising” (that is, studying) for an exam. They changed the spelling of course. But what is interesting is that the Canadian edition had a huge printing, much more that the usual 10% of US, which suggests that a lot of Americans are buying the Canadian edition. I know my daughter is going to read Potter VII from the NY Public library (which has ordered something like 1200 copies) but is waiting for us to bring a copy of the Canadian version for her permanent collection.

I saw Bill Bailey saying on TV that when they show “Black Books” in Sweden, it’s called “The Crazy Shop”.

I’m not sure it’s possible to get something more wrong than that.