Different book titles (or film titles) in one language depending on the country
I posted a quiz with paraphrased book titles: <a href="https://www.italki.com/discussion/243601" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">https://www.italki.com/discussion/243601</a>;. There I came across something interesting: Some books have different titles in one language, depending on the region where they are published. Here are to examples:

The worker of clay and the alchemical artifact: "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" by J.K.Rowling. This is the American title. The original British title "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" <s>wouldn't work with this quiz</s>. As I learnt from Kai E the correct term for the alchemical artifact is Philosopher's Stone, so the quiz doesn't work so well with the American title.

The naval instrument made out of precious metal: Golden Compass by Philip Pullmann. Again, the original British title "Northern Lights" wouldn't come up when solving this quiz.

Why do these books have different titles in England and the US? Were there also changes made within the books (e.g. spelling, choice of words)? Do you know other examples in English or other languages (for instance European Spanish vs Latinamerican Spanish), where a book or film has a different title to appeal to readers/viewers of a different variant of the language?
Jun 22, 2020 12:15 PM
Comments · 11
<em>Why make the titles different? </em>At least in the case of US publishers of British books, because they assume the US public is too uncultured to understand the references (or more charitably, they know the references will mean something different to most Americans).

In the case of <em>Harry Potter, </em>there’s a specific cultural history of alchemy blending into “natural <em>philosophy” </em>and then into modern science that the <em>British English </em>term “philosopher’s stone” invokes for British readers, and which (spoiler alert) is relevant to the first novel’s plot. To Americans, <em>philosopher </em>just brings to mind Aristotle, Plato, et al. The connotation of <em>alchemy/magic </em>is communicated better to a US audience with “sorcerer”.
June 22, 2020
"@Dan Smith: Well, nuts, I just happen to have Penguin UK editions of Steinbeck, Capote, Fitzgerald, Nabokov...now I have no idea whether I'm reading the authentic texts or not!"

Amazon "Look Inside the Book" on the UK site is not showing the ludicrous "gallon a petrol."

But what is an "authentic text?"

For example, modern editions of even the most classic works are often "brought into conformity with modern usage."

There is a story by Jack London whose title is <em>always</em> rendered as "All Gold Canyon." But when it was published in 1906, originally in a magazine, the title was "All Gold Cañon."

And the question of textual accuracy is always a puzzle. Often the first appearance of a work contains errors, or changes made that the writer didn't authorize. So, should later editions reproduce the first published form, or not?

A story by Stephen Crane, "An Experiment in Misery," which is a story contained within a short framing narrative. Two men, talking, wonder how it feels to be a tramp. So one of them dresses up in shabby clothes and goes out to live like one for a night. The next paragraph begins with the man's experience: "It was late at night, and a fine rain was swirling softly down..." At the end of this narrative, we return to the two men: "Well," said the friend, "did you discover his point of view?" "I don't know that I did," replied the young man; "but at any rate I think mine own has undergone a considerable alteration."

Believe it or not, about half the time the story is reproduced completely, and about half the time the framing narrative simply lopped and the first words are "It was late at night..."

The logical Lewis Carroll insisted on using two apostrophes in <em>ca'n't</em> and <em>wo'n't</em> on the grounds that there were two places where letters had been left out, and his publisher agreed. Some editions reproduce his punctuation, some don't. But that is unfaithful to Carroll, because his innovative punctuation was obviously important to him.

June 22, 2020
@Dan Smith: I totally get the "fixing" of spelling and such, but why would one make the titles different if there's none of the aforementioned discrepancies?

E.g. looking at the German children's book by Werner Holzwart "Vom kleinen Maulwurf, der wissen wollte, wer ihm auf den Kopf gemacht hat" (lit.: "About the little mole who wanted to know who "did/made" (pooped) on his head") ...

There's a UK version "The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business" and a US version "The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit" =}
June 22, 2020
@Miriam: 'Philosopher' comes from Greek, meaning 'lover of wisdom'. So, in a way, 'philosopher's stone' is almost a direct translation of the German 'Stein der Weisen'.

@Dan Smith: Well, nuts, I just happen to have Penguin UK editions of Steinbeck, Capote, Fitzgerald, Nabokov...now I have no idea whether I'm reading the authentic texts or not!
June 22, 2020
I don't know the reason. I think it is because until the multinationals took over everything, publishers in different countries were independent companies. The choice of title is often something publishers have a hand in and it plays a role in marketing since it is the first thing a reader sees, just like the jacket artwork. The Harry Potter series was published by Bloomsbury in the UK and Scholastic in the US, and I assume Scholastic--for sound or for egotistical reasons--decided they wanted a different title.

This isn't unique to English-language books. J. D. Salinger's <em>The Catcher in the Rye</em> was published in Spanish-speaking countries under three different titles:

El guardián entre el centeno ("The Guardian in the Rye")
El guardián en el trigal ("The Guardian in the Wheat")
El cazador oculto ("The Hidden Hunter")

"The Hidden Hunter?" I may have even asked about this in the forum, because it makes <em>no sense at all</em> as a translation. Of course the title is hard to translate because it is a <em>misquoted</em> phrase from a poem by Robert Burns.

I am not sure what current practice is, but certainly from the 1950s through the 1990s it was customary for publishers to copy-edit books for vocabulary issues--to "translate," as it were, US words for UK readers and vice-versa. Thus, if a mother put "diapers" on a baby in a US novel, in the UK edition she would use "nappies." If someone in a British novel put their "luggage" in the "boot" of a car, in the US edition they would put their "baggage" in the "trunk."

The publishers did not always use sound judgement. I once laughed out loud reading a British Penguin edition of John Steinbeck's <em>The Grapes of Wrath.</em> Within direct, quoted dialog, the characters in the US edition refer to "a gallon a gas."* In the British edition, we have Okies speaking colloquial US English of the 1930s, talking about "a gallon a petrol!"
June 22, 2020
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Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), French, German
Learning Language
Chinese (Mandarin)