Why Did the First Harry Potter Book Get a Title Change in the U.S.?
by Simon Brew
One of the ongoing anomalies of the Harry Potter series is the differing title of the first adventure. In America, the first outing of J.K. Rowling's most famous creation is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, but pretty much everywhere else on the planet, it's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
So why did the name change?
It dates back to when the rights were sold for the first book: Scholastic Corporation bought the U.S. publishing rights for what was then known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, forking out a comparably high $105,000 for the privilege. Arthur A. Levine, who headed the Scholastic children's imprint that would publish the book, knew he had a winner on his hands—he just had some reservations about the title.
In Philip W. Errington's biography on Rowling, he wrote that Levine wanted “a title that said ‘magic’ more overtly to American readers." Levine was concerned that Philosopher's Stone would feel "arcane," so one of the proposed alternatives was Harry Potter and the School of Magic, which Rowling shot down. Eventually, the author suggested Sorcerer's Stone, and that's how the book is known in the U.S. market where Scholastic had the rights.
Rowling later admitted in a web chat for BBC Red Nose Day in 2001 that she regretted the decision. When asked if it bothered her that the name of the book had been changed in the U.S., she wrote that "they changed the first title, but with my consent. To be honest, I wish I hadn't agreed now, but it was my first book, and I was so grateful that anyone was publishing me I wanted to keep them happy ..."
The change in title would also be reflected in the first film when it came out in 2001. However, the inconsistencies ended there as the remaining six books all had uniform names.