What 10 Classic Books Were Almost Called

Everyone from Bram Stoker to Harper Lee has discarded out a title or two and come up with something better.

Muharrem huner/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images (books); Justin Dodd/Mental Floss (background)

Remember when your high school reading list included Atticus, Fiesta, and The Last Man in Europe? You will once you see what these books were renamed before they hit bookshelves.

1. The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald went through quite a few titles for his most well-known book before deciding on The Great Gatsby. If he hadn’t arrived at that title, high school kids would be pondering the themes of Trimalchio in West Egg, or Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires, or On the Road to West Egg, or Under the Red, White, and Blue, or Gold-Hatted Gatsby, or The High-Bouncing Lover. Just weeks before publication, he cabled his publisher “CRAZY ABOUT TITLE UNDER THE RED WHITE AND BLUE STOP [WHAT] WOULD DELAY BE.” But he was talked out of it.

The author would later say of the Gatsby title, “It’s O.K. but my heart tells me I should have named it Trimalchio ... Gatsby is too much like Babbit and The Great Gatsby is weak because there’s no emphasis even ironically on his greatness or lack of it. However let it pass.”

2. 1984

George Orwell's Dystopian Novel 1984 Tops Best Seller LIst, Publisher Orders Additional Printing
George Orwell’s ‘1984.’ / Justin Sullivan/GettyImages

George Orwell’s publisher didn’t feel the title to the author's novel, The Last Man in Europe, was terribly commercial. He recommended using the other title Orwell had been kicking around—1984.

3. Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand referred to her magnum opus as The Strike for quite some time. In 1956, a year before the book was released, she decided the title gave away too much plot detail. Her husband suggested Atlas Shrugged—then a chapter title—and it stuck.

4. Dracula

Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker. / Hulton Archive/GettyImages

The working title of Bram Stoker’s famous Gothic novel sounded more like a spoof: He changed The Dead Un-Dead to The Undead before he landed on Dracula.

5. The Sun Also Rises

Ernest Hemingway’s original title for his 1926 novel—Fiesta—was used for foreign editions, but the American English version was called The Sun Also Rises. Another supposed candidate was “For in much wisdom is much grief and he that increases knowlege [sic] increaseth sorrow.”

6. Catch-22

Author Joseph Heller wanted to name his story Catch-18, but Leon Uris’s novel Mila 18—released the previous year—made editor Robert Gottlieb want to change the title. He and Heller looked into Catch-11, but because the original Ocean’s Eleven movie was newly in theaters, it was scrapped to avoid confusion. After toying with other numbers, his editor decided on 22.

7.To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee
Harper Lee. / Chip Somodevilla/GettyImages

To Kill a Mockingbird was titled Go Set a Watchman when Harper Lee first submitted it to her publishers. Next, she changed the title to Atticus before deciding that the title focused too narrowly on one character. The final novel was substantially different than her first draft; Go Set a Watchman was eventually published when Lee was 89 years old.

8. Pride and Prejudice

An apt precursor to the title Jane Austen finally decided on for her most beloved novel was First Impressions (it’s been proposed that a name change was needed because Margaret Holford published a novel called First Impressions; or the Portrait).

9. The Secret Garden

Mistress Mary (nowadays better known as Mary, Mary), “quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” Secretly, apparently. Mistress Mary, taken from the classic nursery rhyme, was the working title for Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden.

10. Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck. / Hulton Deutsch/GettyImages

John Steinbeck originally called his novella—which was published in 1937—Something That Happened. A Robert Burns poem supplied the title Steinbeck eventually used.

A version of this story ran in 2010; it has been updated for 2023.