More goes in to settling on a title for a book than you might think. Even if you haven't read them, the names of these 10 classic tales are instantly recognizable. If the authors hadn't changed their minds, however, these novels may not have received the attention they deserved. (And check out 10 more here.)
1. Valley of the Dolls
Would you have read a book called They Don't Build Statues to Businessmen? Me neither. It's a good thing Jacqueline Susann chose a snappier title.
Thanks to Nabokov, the word “lolita” has entered common vernacular—but that wouldn’t have happened had he named his book Kingdom By the Sea, as he wrote to a friend. The name was an homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee,” because in the novel, Humbert nicknamed his first teenage love after Poe's heroine. The poem goes, “It was many and many a year ago / In a kingdom by the sea, / That a maiden there lived whom you may know / By the name of Annabel Lee.”
3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
J.K. Rowling says that her working title for the fourth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament, leaked before the book was ready. She also kicked around Harry Potter and the Triwizard Tournament, but decided on Goblet of Fire because, she said, “it’s got that kind of ‘cup of destiny’ feel about it.”
4. Goodnight Moon
It’s a subtle difference, but Margaret Wise’s classic board book was originally called Goodnight Room. Goodnight Moon feels much more like a child getting ready to drift off into dreamland, doesn’t it?
5. James and the Giant Peach
Had Roald Dahl stuck with his original plan, the tome would have been titled James and the Giant Cherry instead. A peach is “prettier, bigger and squishier,” Dahl decided.
6. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Believing that a caterpillar was more appealing than a worm, Eric Carle’s editor, Ann Benaduce, suggested that he make a slight change to the book. It worked out well—Carle didn’t have a clear ending in mind for A Week With Willie Worm, and switching allowed the story to arrive at the natural conclusion of his titular caterpillar transforming into a butterfly.
7. The Fountainhead
The first title of this novel by Ayn Rand was Second-Hand Lives, which explains her words on the dedication page of the manuscript: “To Frank O’Connor, who is less guilty of secondhandedness than anyone I have ever met.”
8. Lord of the Flies
William Golding’s disturbing dystopian tale about murderous children stranded on an island was first titled Strangers From Within. That may have had something to do with why it was rejected six times.
9. Of Mice and Men
Steinbeck’s original title, Something That Happened, was supposed to show that, for better or worse, sometimes things happen, and that’s just how life is.
10. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Carson McCullers got straight to the point with the working title of her debut novel, simply calling it The Mute. She changed it at the suggestion of Houghton Mifflin’s sales manager.