First Harry Potter Book’s U.S. Title Change Explained

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Harry Potter fans have long pondered the question: Why does the first book in J.K. Rowling’s series have a different title in the United States? Rowling’s beloved book debut, titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, is called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the U.S. only. For more than 20 years, fans of the franchise have been baffled as to why the book has a different name in America. And it turns out, the name switcheroo bothers Rowling, too.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone first appeared in Britain in June 1997 as a YA fiction title, but it climbed to the top of adult bestseller lists. In September 1998, the book took over the U.S. but under the title Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

According to Metro, Scholastic Corporation bought the U.S. publishing rights to the book under the original name of Philosopher’s Stone, paying $105,000 for the rights to publish the title. Scholastic head honcho Arthur A. Levine knew the book would be a hit, but he was unsure of the title so he proposed a change.

Philip W. Errington’s biography on Rowling reveals that Levine wanted “a title that said ‘magic’ more overtly to American readers.” The Scholastic boss was concerned that Philosopher’s Stone would feel “arcane,” so a proposed alternative was Harry Potter and the School of Magic. J.K. Rowling reportedly nixed that title and eventually suggested Sorcerer’s Stone. The book was published as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the U.S. market where Scholastic had the rights, while the rest of the world knew the book as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

While Rowling consented to the name change, she wasn’t thrilled about it. During a 2011 web chat, Rowling admitted it bothered her that the name of the book had been changed in the States.

“They changed the first title, but with my consent,” Rowling told fans. “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 Sorcerer’s Stone title change was also reflected in the first Harry Potter film in 2001, but Rowling’s subsequent six books in the series all have the same name all over the world.

It’s amazing that the first Harry Potter book got published at all. In an interview posted by BBC News, Rowling reflected on her franchise which sold millions of copies and spawned several blockbuster movies. The author revealed that after she wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, she couldn’t afford to photocopy the manuscript, so she sent it to a list of publishers one by one until she got a bite.