Did you know that Harry Potter’s original name was Wally B. Wizard? Well, I looked it up and that’s not true at all. Frankly, you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet (or in a book, for that matter). However, I’ve dredged up some seriously funny original titles for books. The results are not pretty but they are hilarious.
Naming a book is hard. Most authors probably overthink it. Honestly, a few of them with kids probably spent longer considering what they’d name a character in a novel than their own baby. To be fair, that baby ain’t gonna pay the bills any time soon, but a solid character in a best-selling novel? If it’s a series, we’re talking millions! When did a baby ever get that much attention (besides the Lindbergh one)?
Let’s take a look at these 100% real original titles for famous literary works. From Austen to Roth, things are about to get weird. Full disclosure: some of these weren’t even the author’s idea in the first place. They knew, though, to let someone smarter handle the business of marketing their manuscript.
Sadly, that led to some pretty dumb ideas. Let’s have a look.
Here are the funniest and worst original titles for famous works of literature:
1. John Steinbeck: ‘Of Mice And Men’
He must have had a long talk with his editor about this one. Just a generic “this could happen to anyone” vibe is what he was going for. The common man in this here country. I think the allusion to a famous poem is almost always better than, umm, just naming your book the first thing that pops into your head? Anyway, he’s looking really hot in that photo. Good work, John.
2. Jane Austen: ‘Pride And Prejudice’
To be fair, she did not choose this, but it for sure sucks. Just giving away the idea of the romance, nothing poetic about the title. It feels like her dad was making fun of her. Thank goodness it changed.
3. Philip Roth: ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’
I believe this was the original title of the short story in a magazine that got everyone talking. It definitely gives you a better idea of what the book is about but it’s not too subtle.
4. George Orwell: ‘Animal Farm’
Good stuff, George. Very on the nose.
5. Margaret Mitchell: ‘Gone With The Wind’
“Carry” might make me feel better about this one, but tote? Tote is too cute for a book like this.
6. Leo Tolstoy: ‘War and Peace’
The cheeriest title for a man who, I read in George Saunder’s A Swim In The Pond In The Rain, was a bit of a bummer. His wife wrote an open letter about how he was essentially impossible to live with. Can’t imagine why. Look how sweet that photo is.
7. Vladimir Nabokov: ‘Lolita’
More than three trips of the tongue to say this title, my sin my soul. Even (Kingdom, Sea) would be cooler. I guess it sounds like iambic hexameter? That’s nice. Anyway, I think you can tell I went to college. So you know I’m right. Lolita is the better title.
8. Adolf Hitler: ‘My Struggle’
I’m not afraid to say it: this Hitler guy sucks.
9. Rick Moody: ‘The Ring Of Brightest Angels Around Heaven’
Honestly, that’s my kind of title, but I’m guessing the one he went with sold better. He is a self-proclaimed “bad titler” and I respect his work more knowing that he knows that about himself.
10. Woodward and Berstein: ‘All The President’s Men’
Maybe they weren’t sure exactly where the bombshell story about the president was going, but wow. I have no idea what they were going for. Luckily, it didn’t make it to print.
11. Ernest Hemingway: ‘The Sun Also Rises’
Maybe cut some words? IDK.
12. Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, take two:
Now we’re talking. Simply a great title. No notes.
13. George Orwell: ‘1984’
I wonder if American kids would have to read it in school if it were called this. Also, have you ever read Zamyatin’s We? It’s the original, basically. Even that is a cooler title than this one.
14. William Golding: ‘Lord of the Flies’
Wow, William. You almost gave it a name like it was a thriller movie from 1991. Dodged a bullet. That’s a fun title for something. Dodged A Bullet? Hell yeah. I dig it. But not for a book about the gruesome nature of man/biblical allegory told through a story of British boys alone on an island. The other title stands.
15. F. Scott Fitzgerald: ‘The Great Gatsby’
Who wouldn’t love to pick up a novel with a reference to the Satyricon? I know I would. Thankfully, this man was not always drunk, just most of the time. Someone got through to him and he changed it to the title we all know and love and constantly argue about how overrated it is. It’s not. It’s very good. I wouldn’t feel that way if it had this title, though.
16. Ford Maddox Ford: ‘The Good Soldier’
Show don’t tell, kids. Even in titles.
17. Bret Easton Ellis: ‘Less Than Zero’
Again, Bret is showing how good an author can be at titling. However, his mentor, another author proved how bad authors can be with titles. Ellis must have thought his mentor was making fun of him. He probably was.
18. George Eliot: ‘The Mill on the Floss’
Fine. Just pretty generic. Who the hell is Maggie and who cares? An editor came up with this idea. You have to take their advice sometimes, despite the advice Paul Auster once gave me in a bookstore: “never listen to editors!” There’s more to that story, but we’ll save it for another day.
19. Bram Stoker: ‘Dracula’
Hell yeah, my man. Super cool title if it were about zombies and it was a title for a movie that came out last year. The book though? I don’t know. It must have confused readers at the time. Can’t really say “Dracula” is an enticing title, but I can’t erase how ubiquitous the name is every Halloween now. Good choice giving that an edit.
20. Don DeLillo: ‘White Noise’
White Noise is an infinitely cooler name than Panasonic so I’m glad they threatened to sue. Sometimes, a lawyer needs to tell you that your idea is bad.
21. Charles Dickens: ‘Little Dorrit’
Again, your books are long enough that you don’t need to spell out how people should feel when they’re done reading it, Charles. Oh, sorry. He’s not gonna read this. Unless, of course, ghosts are real like in a Christmas Carol. Wow. I’m frightened now. Nobody tell him I was talking shit!
22. Ayn Rand: ‘Atlas Shrugged’
Fuck this lady. I wish she hadn’t called her book something this cool. Then we’d truly be free from everyone who ranted at us in college about libertarianism.
23. Erich Maria Remarque: ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’
This one isn’t terrible necessarily, but the way it’s phrased sounds like “there’s nothing new under the Sun” in the West, at least. I don’t think people like being insulted by Germans this way, so they changed the English transliteration. Good work, bilingual editor!
24. Agatha Christie: ‘And Then There Were None’
I think this one gets left off a lot of lists of bad titles because I don’t even think you should google it. It’s rough. I’m sure at the time she didn’t think anything was wrong with it. Maybe the English feel different about this word. But, in America, it will not fly. Then or now. Yikes.
25. William Faulkner: ‘The Sound And The Fury”
Can you even imagine?
Now can you see why there’s a whole website devoted to giving better titles to these books??