I can only assume that it's executive meddling, but has there ever been a reason stated for the re-titling of the first harry potter book for US Markets?
Q: What kind of manuscript changes had to be made to make the U.S. version more understandable to American readers? Specific things, like the title change of the first Harry Potter book? (The original British title is Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.)
A: Very few changes have been made in the manuscript. Arthur Levine, my American editor, and I decided that words should be altered only where we felt they would be incomprehensible, even in context, to an American reader. I have had some criticism from other British writers about allowing any changes at all, but I feel the natural extension of that argument is to go and tell French and Danish children that we will not be translating Harry Potter, so they'd better go and learn English. The title change was Arthur's idea initially, because he felt that the British title gave a misleading idea of the subject matter. In England, we discussed several alternative titles and "Sorcerer's Stone" was my idea.
Scholastic Corporation bought the U.S. rights at the Bologna Book Fair in April 1997 for US$105,000, an unusually high sum for a children's book. They thought that a child would not want to read a book with the word "philosopher" in the title and, after some discussion, the American edition was published in September 1998 under the title Rowling suggested, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Rowling claimed that she regretted this change and would have fought it if she had been in a stronger position at the time.
For English Children's Lit trying to sell in America, the translation process is almost a given - just as translations to any other language are. Because yes, there are enough differences between American English and the UK English to be treated that way - ESPECIALLY with learning readers and especially if you want it to succeed.
People who want to lose themselves in a book need to be able to do so fairly seamlessly without having to consult a UK-to-American dictionary to figure out why someone lit a fire to check inside their vehicle's footwear in search of... ???? when reading "He pulled out his torch to look in the boot for the wayward spanner"
And we can all giggle about the differences in language, but this is about selling books. And - probably rightfully - the attraction of a title that seemed pedantic rather than mystical in the US was questioned.