Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Changing titles

Reading Boel Westin's biography of Tove Jansson, I'm struck by the significance (and flexibility) of titles - especially for a much-translated author.  It's interesting to see how Jansson's choices of titles were changed by her publishers, and then changed again for reprints and translations and the like.  It's a bit haphazard, and sometimes misleading... in Jansson's case it seems to be quite a lot of the publishers being keen to get 'Moomin' somewhere in the title. Understandable.

I love publishers - not just the one I work for at the moment! - but there have been a few name-changing culprits along the years.  Here are some of the examples I've come across; I'd love to know ones you've heard about...


  • Agatha Christie's American publishers had a bit of a field day I think.  We're not talking the necessary retitling to And Then There Were None, but retitling where they want to make the theme more prominent... so Hickory Dickory Dock became the oh-so-subtle Hickory Dickory Death.  I love that...
  • Whoever reprinted Noel Streatfeild's children's books was really keen to capitalise on the success of Ballet Shoes. I was reading her Wikipedia page the other day, and saw that The Circus is Coming became Circus Shoes; Curtain Up became Theater Shoes; Party Frock became Party Shoes, The Painted Garden became Movie Shoes, The Bell Family became Family Shoes (ugh); Wintle's Wonders became Dancing Shoes; Apple Bough became Traveling Shoes.  Even White Boots wasn't considered on-message enough, and became Skating Shoes.
  • The one that makes me crossest... E.M. Delafield's Straw Without Bricks: I Visit Soviet Russia hasn't appeared under that title for a while... Someone decided at some point that it would be a good idea to call it The Provincial Lady in Russia, which is incredibly misleading because (1) it doesn't feature the Provincial Lady, and (2) it's a very different sort of book.  It's quite funny, but it's not a comic book - it's not even a fictional one.  Tut tut, somebody, tut tut.

Over to you, as usual!  Come across any retitling horrors?

26 comments:

  1. Hickory Dickory Death? That's awful. The laziest and most upsetting renaming for me is A.A.M.'s autobiography: rather than use its excellent UK title (It's Too Late Now), in America it was published as Autobiography. Points for clarity but not much else.

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    1. A very good example! Also makes hunting for it online tricky.

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  2. Lots of Agatha Christie titles have been changed (What Mrs McGillycuddy Saw, Murder is Easy, A Murder for Christmas, 13 at Dinner, Poirot Loses a Client... lots more) but the worst two are Parker Pyne: Detective (originally Parker Pyne Investigates) and Murder with Mirrors (originally They Do It With Mirrors). The first is bad because Parker Pyne says on about page two that he's not a detective; the second because there are no mirrors in the book.

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    1. I remember you mentioning the Parker Pyne thing - awful! I suppose the Mirrors title in English is pretty poor too, as the figurative sense isn't very clear. Hmm. But not as tenuous as The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side.

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  3. I think the one that bothers me the most was the change of Poppy Adams' The Behavior of Moths to The Sister for the US. I mean, could there be a bigger swing from an interesting (and pertinent) title to one that says absolutely nothing about the story and is drab as all get out?

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    1. I didn't realise that! What a rubbish change of title, I agree. Not my favourite book (and put my hometown in the wrong county!) but a great title in the original.

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  4. The Runaways by Elizabeth Goudge is entitled Linnets and Valerians in the US. I have no idea why.

    Simon, did Rachel deliver that bio to you which I sent her home with last summer? If not, you guys will have to have a meet up.

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    1. I *believe* The Runaways was actually originally published under the Linnets and Valerians title - the Linnets are the runaway children of the title but I haven't yet found out what the Valerians refers to (I'm currently reading this!!)

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    2. She did, thank you Ellen! I'm looking forward to reading it - and I thought I'd emailed you, so sorry that I clearly didn't.

      I think Karen might be right, that the titles went the other way around, but I only think that because the most recent edition arrived in the post the other day.

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  5. I can't believe the mad shoe theming of Streatfeild. I mean, honestly, is her name on a book not good enough reason to pick it up and devour it?

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    1. I know!! They definitely went rather overboard...

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  6. When did Zozo the Monkey become Curious George? A change of species (to chimp) as well as of title.

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    1. I hadn't realised Curious George had been anything else! Well, I've only come across CG through the sitcom Friends; I don't think he exists in the UK.

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  7. In Swedish the Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is called "Men Who Hate Women". I think detective novels are particularly prone to this. Publishers are looking to make money on them, more so probably than with literary fiction, so they're probably going for the least common denominator. It does always seem that US publishers dumb things down.

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    1. Which of the Larsson titles do you prefer? I actually like the UK/US version.

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  8. Speaking of dumbing down, one of the most appalling retitling crimes in recent years is changing Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, because the US publishers seem to have assumed

    a) sorcerers are cool, philosophers are dorky
    b) the ancient history of alchemy should be completely rewritten
    c) American readers need all the help they can get

    sigh....

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    1. Yes! Yes! I almost mentioned this one, and couldn't express why I disliked the change - but you pinpoint it brilliantly!

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  9. Oh, here's another. US publisher (coincidence?) retitled Nevil Shute's A Town Like Alice to The Legacy. Granted, a legacy plays a major role in the tale, but it's so, well, ordinary. Generic. A Town Like Alice? Hey, you've got to want to at least investigate a title like that.

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    1. Oh, didn't know that! Another example of a brilliantly original title being made much worse. Tut tut.

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  10. Speaking of The Painted Garden/Movie Shoes, to my mind worse than the retitling is the cutting out of something like a quarter of the text. When I acquired an English copy recently I was delighted to find so many entire scenes about the family that I'd never read before - like finding "new" material, scenes that shed light on the characters and showed interesting incidents. But I was also horrified that they cut the book so drastically. It couldn't have been for space reasons, it's not a long book, and the cuts made no sense in terms of "simplifying" for an American audience either. Very strange!

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    1. Ok, THAT is much less forgiveable. What were they thinking??

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  11. I dislike title changes, especially between British & American editions -- it makes it SO HARD when trying to order books for the library. You have to always double check to make sure you don't already have the book under another title, and it doesn't always work -- so the poor readers tell us once they've figured it out...WHY?? Oh, the agony.

    That said, I never realized the shoe fetish running through Noel Streatfeild's titles. That is quite something all written out at once!

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    1. A very good point! And I've sometimes got excited about adding to my collection of an author I love, only to discover that it's simply a question of retitling.

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  12. A good change ... are they allowed here? ... was from First Impressions to Pride and Prejudice. And I think what happened was that, under its first title and submitted by Austen's father, it was rejected. Then, when Sense and Sensibility became something of a hit the publishers asked for other work - by then Austen had reworked First Impressions - and suggested she capitalise on the two-noun title idea ... .

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    1. Very good example, Angela! P&P is certainly the better title, I agree.

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  13. I really don't like the changed Shoes titles at all, and while there are lots of examples of silly American changes here, I've come across one where the UK publishers have changed the American titles from ones that are distinct and sometimes interesting to ones that are just confusing. The crime fiction series is by S J Rozan and features Lydia Chin and Bill Smith:

    The Shanghai Moon - Trail of Blood
    Winter and Night - Blood Ties
    Stone Quarry - Bad Blood
    Reflecting the Sky - Blood Rites
    On the Line - Out for Blood

    They're totally confusing and dull, I think.

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