Book titles are important: along with the cover, they’re one of the first things we notice when we pick up a novel. We’ve grown so used to some famous book titles that we barely think about them anymore. Of course The Great Gatsby is called The Great Gatsby; why wouldn’t it be?
But the truth is, it almost wasn’t. And F. Scott Fitzgerald isn’t the only literary figure who switched up a famous title at the last minute. Here are 10 incredible examples of famous book titles that were almost completely different.
Which number followed the “Catch-” in Catch-22 was debated by Heller and his publisher for a while. Heller considered 11 and 18 first, but they were discarded to avoid confusion with the film Ocean’s Eleven (the original 1960 version) and Leon Uris’ Mila 18, respectively. 22 was eventually picked simply because it was 11 (Heller’s original choice) doubled.
We gave this one away in the introduction, but how crazy is it that Fitzgerald’s greatest work was almost called something else? In fact, Fitzgerald was considering several different titles, including Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires; Gold-Hatted Gatsby; On the Road to West Egg; Trimalchio in West Egg; Under the Red, White, and Blue; and our personal favorite, The High-Bouncing Lover.
Rowling’s debut already had a title in the United Kingdom, of course, where it was known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. But her publisher, convinced that an American audience wouldn’t know what the Philosopher’s Stone was, wanted to change the title to something more accessible. According to Philip W. Errington’s book on Rowling’s work, the publisher wanted Harry Potter and the School of Magic. That was lame, and Rowling knew it: she insisted on something more specific, and the “Sorcerer’s Stone” was born.
Harper Lee made a lot of changes as she worked on her famous novel (the recently published Go Set a Watchman is essentially a very early permutation of the work.) At some point, her working title was Atticus. It changed to To Kill a Mockingbird as Lee expanded the novel and made it less about Atticus Finch.
John Steinbeck wasn’t originally going to call his brief classic Of Mice and Men. Instead, he was going to go with Something That Happened. Maybe he thought the original title gave away too much of the plot?
Orwell’s original title was The Last Man in Europe, but his publisher thought 1984 was catchier. Orwell was a serial title changer: he also dropped the subtitle from his classic Animal Farm, which was originally going to be Animal Farm: A Fairy Story. He also considered A Satire and A Contemporary Satire as titles for Animal Farm, both of which seem rather obvious.
Jane Austen’s original title for Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions. Not bad, but it doesn’t quite have the melodic ring that the famous chosen title has. Plus, it doesn’t pair nearly as neatly with Sense and Sensibility.
Have you read Twilight? No, not that Twilight. We’re talking about William Faulkner’s greatest novel, The Sound and the Fury, which was originally supposed to be called Twilight. Really!
Hemingway’s original title for The Sun Also Rises was Fiesta. That would certainly have given the cover a bit of a different tone! We can see why Fiesta would have been appropriate, but we think everyone’s glad that Hemingway stepped it up a bit in the title department.
Tolstoy’s magnum opus is a powerful volume, but we don’t think it would have been quite as powerful if Tolstoy had gone with the original idea for the title. Tolstoy’s original title translated to “All’s Well That Ends Well,” which doesn’t quite do justice to his epic novel. The chosen title, War and Peace, was a real upgrade.