Although we're told not to judge a book by its cover, can we judge a book based on its name? The title of a book is the first thing you learn about it, and depending on its appeal, it can determine whether or not you read it at all. Some titles will grab your attention, stir your curiosity, or even make you laugh. Those are the titles that work, the ones that have done exactly what they're meant to do — inform and interest the reader. Titles are meant to be memorable and original, and they're meant to stand out from the millions of other spines on the shelves. As it turns out, those kinds of titles aren't so easy to come up with, even for the best authors.
Many of the classics — the books you know and love, and the ones from your required reading list that maybe you don't love so much — were almost called something else. That's right, the books that now have iconic titles were almost titled differently, and one can only wonder, would they be the classic books they are today under a different name? Because some of them were pretty bad.
Here are 17 famous books that were almost called something else entirely.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
If you were a little girl who grew up reading and rereading her copy of The Secret Garden, then you probably can't imagine it going by any other name, but Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic childhood tale was almost titled Mistress Mary. I don't know about you, but that sounds a little bit too dirty to be a kid's book to me.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Some first draft titles are truly awful, but the original name for Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions, was actually quite fitting. After all, it did teach readers a valuable lesson about not judging someone upon first meeting, because you never know who could be your true love.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
As far as best classic titles go, The Great Gatsby ranks somewhere near the top of the list. It's rich, it's memorable, and it uses alliteration — but one of the (many) original titles wasn't quite so catchy: Trimalchio in West Egg. If you're wondering what the heck Trimalchio is, he is a character from Satyricon by Petronius, a first century AD Roman work of fiction. Yeah, I like The Great Gatsby better too.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
There is a lot of controversy over Go Set a Watchman, which was less a new novel and more an earlier draft of To Kill a Mockingbird — but as it turns out, that draft wasn't the only thing that might have been different about Lee's classic. Before it was called To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee's book was called Atticus, but she changed the name to make it less character-specific — and English teachers everywhere asking students to interpret the book's title are grateful.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Would Margaret Mitchell's sweeping historical romance ever have gotten the Hollywood treatment with its original title, Mules in Horses' Harness? I would like to think so, but that's one clunky title. Other possible titles included Tomorrow Is Another Day, Bugles Sang True, and Not in Our Stars, but I think it's safe to say we're all happy she settled on Gone with the Wind.
Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
Another title that had multiple contenders, Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint was almost called The Jewboy, A Jewish Patient Begins His Analysis, or, my personal favorite, Wacking Off. Just imagine hearing your comparative literature professor saying it over and over, and you can't tell me you don't wish Roth chose that instead.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The book behind the saying almost created an entirely different saying. Catch-22 was originally titled Catch-11, and then Catch-18, but Heller settled on 22 in the end. Maybe it's because I'm so used to it, but "what a catch-11" doesn't quite have the same ring to it, right?
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway didn't live to see the publication of his memoir A Moveable Feast, but before his death, he was able to come up with many titles for the book, including Good Nails are Made of Iron and Some People and The Places. When he died, the working title was The Eye and the Ear, but his widow Mary changed it to the title as we know it.
Light in August by William Faulkner
Before his wife made a comment on the nature of light in August, which would inspire his final book title, William Faulkner originally named it Dark House. Both very visual, Light in August seems much more haunting, and much more fitting for the novel.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Dracula is the most infamous vampire name by far, but his name was originally going to be Count Wampyr. That is, until Bram Stoker came across the story of Vlad II of Wallachia and the surname of his descendants, "Dracul," while doing some research. Before he found the name Dracula and assigned it to his character and book, he was working with the The Dead Un-Dead as a title.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
An elegant and distinctive title, Of Mice and Men was almost known by a much simpler name: Something Happened. I mean, something — a lot of things — did happen in the novella, but Steinbeck's later title selection carries a lot more charm with it.
Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand says she had help from her husband coming up with the title Atlas Shrugged. Beforehand, she was working with the title The Strike, but was afraid it gave away too much about the book. Readers and book cover designers are both probably glad for her final choice.
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
A series as beloved as The Lord of the Rings is known by almost everyone, whether from the books or from the films, but it was nearly named The War of the Ring. Though only one word is different, there's just something special about The Lord of the Rings that makes it the perfect final title.
1984 by George Orwell
When George Orwell told his publisher he wanted to call his book The Last Man in Europe, they said it was too commercial. Instead, Orwell went with 1984, which is simple yet unforgettable.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Prior to settling on War and Peace for the title of his epic novel, Leo Tolstoy was playing around with the title All's Well That Ends Well. It was also almost named The Year of 1805 — clearly, War and Peace ended up with the right name.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita is a name you won't soon forget after reading the book about her by Vladimir Nabokov, but her name almost wasn't the title. Instead, Nabokov almost called it The Kingdom by the Sea. Intriguing as that is, Lolita really is the perfect name for the novel.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll
Not radically different from the title it was published with, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was almost called Alice's Adventures Under Ground, Alice Among the Fairies, and Alice's Golden Hour.
William Shakespeare asked, "What is in a name?", and the answer, when it comes to book titles at least, seems to be a whole lot.