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For example: And Then There Were None was first called Ten Little Indians;

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side was later shortened to The Mirror Crack'd;

Death in the Air is also known as Death in the Clouds;

What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw is also known as 4:50 from Paddington.

Why are there so many alternate title for Christie's novels?

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This is because Christie was published in both the United States and the United Kingdom. These are the two largest markets for English-language books, and in the mid-20th century when Christie was writing, most publishers operated in one of these markets and not the other. So the variant titles of Christie’s works are due to the choices made by different publishers in the two markets.

Amalgamation in the publishing industry has since resulted in a few large companies that publish on both sides of the Atlantic, so variant titles are now much rarer.

For nearly all her career, Christie published with Collins in the UK and Dodd, Mead and Company in the US, and many of her books have titles that vary between the two publishers:

Year US title (Dodd, Mead & Company) UK title (Collins Crime Club)
1931 Murder at Hazelmoor The Sittaford Mystery
1933 The Tuesday Club Murders The Thirteen Problems
1933 Thirteen at Dinner Lord Edgware Dies
1934 Murder in the Calais Coach Murder on the Orient Express
1934 The Boomerang Clue Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
1934 Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective Parker Pyne Investigates
1934 Murder in Three Acts Three Act Tragedy
1935 Death in the Air Death in the Clouds
1937 Dead Man’s Mirror Murder in the Mews
1937 Poirot Loses a Client Dumb Witness
1938 Murder for Christmas Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
1939 Easy to Kill Murder is Easy
1939 And Then There Were None Ten Little N—
1941 The Patriotic Murders One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
1942 Murder in Retrospect Five Little Pigs
1945 Remembered Death Sparkling Cyanide
1948 There is a Tide … Taken at the Flood
1952 Murder with Mirrors They Do It with Mirrors
1953 Funerals are Fatal After the Funeral
1955 So Many Steps to Death Destination Unknown
1955 Hickory Dickory Death Hickory Dickory Dock
1957 What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw! 4.50 from Paddington
1962 The Mirror Crack’d The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side

In a few cases paperback editions had further variants. Note that in this period hardback and paperback editions were handled by different firms.

Original (US) title Year Publisher Title
Murder for Christmas 1947 Avon Books A Holiday for Murder
Mrs. McGinty’s Dead 1952 Detective Book Club Blood Will Tell
The Patriotic Murders 1953 Dell Books An Overdose of Death
The Hollow 1954 Dell Books Murder after Hours
After the Funeral 1963 Fontana Books Murder at the Gallop
And Then There Were None 1964 Pocket Books Ten Little Indians

So why do publishers do this? Well, the title of a book is part of its marketing, like its cover picture and blurb, and so different markets may benefit from different titles. Some of the reasons for this variation are guessable:

  • In the case of And Then There Were None, the racial epithet in the original UK title was unacceptable in the US.
  • In the cases of Murder in the Mews and 4.50 from Paddington, the US publisher was probably concerned that potential readers might not know what a “Mews” was, nor that “Paddington” is a railway station.
  • In the cases of One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, Five Little Pigs and Hickory Dickory Dock, the US publisher was probably concerned that potential readers might mistake these for childrens’ books due to the quotation from a nursery rhyme in the title.
  • In the case of Murder at the Gallop the publisher wanted to take advantage of a tie-in with the film starring Margaret Rutherford.

However, most of the reasons seem to be lost to history. I did look in Christie’s An Autobiography and some more recent biographies and found nothing relevant to this question.

It should be emphasized that there is nothing particularly unusual about Christie in this respect: many other works of popular fiction have titles that vary trans-Atlantically. For example, if we look at Christie’s contemporary John Dickson Carr, we find:

Year US title (Harper) UK title (Hamish Hamilton)
1935 The Three Coffins The Hollow Man
1936 The Magic Lantern Murders The Punch and Judy Murders
1937 The Peacock Feather Murders The Ten Teacups
1938 The Crossbow Murder The Judas Window
1939 Fatal Descent Drop to His Death
1939 The Problem of the Green Capsule The Black Spectacles
1940 Nine—And Death Makes Ten Murder in the Submarine Zone
1941 Death Turns the Tables The Seat of the Scornful
1941 Cross of Murder Seeing is Believing
1942 Death and the Gilded Man The Gilded Man
1945 Lord of the Sorcerers The Curse of the Bronze Lamp

Carr’s biographer Douglas Greene noted a few cases where Harper asked for a change of title to better convey the nature of the work to the American public:

Carr’s original title for The Problem of the Green Capsule was The Black Spectacles, based on the spectacles that the murderer wore while committing the crime. One of the themes of the story, moreover, is that “all witnesses, metaphorically, wear black spectacles.” Harpers, however, objected that the title was not particularly intriguing for a novel of crime and mystery. Carr then suggested The Problem of the Green Capsule, and Harpers agreed.† […]

Harpers did not get the point of Carr’s title, The Seat of the Scornful, which did not seem to them right for a detective novel, and before even seeing Carr’s typescript asked for an alternate. Carr apparently did not send an acceptable suggestion, for Harpers devised the American title, Death Turns the Tables, which does describe a part of the book but misses Carr's theme.‡

Douglas G. Greene (1995). John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles, chapters 7 & 11. Cincinatti: Crippen & Landru.

† But in a footnote Greene added, “The letters are so vague, however, that they might be read to indicate that Carr came up with a list of titles—Harpers picked one, Hamilton another.” ‡ Carr’s title quotes from Psalm 1:1 “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.”

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    The specific case of ‘Ten Little —’ is a little different from the rest, due to the obvious sensitivity of the original title — which is why it's been published as ‘And Then There Were None’ in the UK too since 1985. When performed as a play, both the name and the rendition of the eponymous poem varies; I've heard it recited as ‘Ten Little Indians’ (or ‘…Indian Boys’) and ‘Ten Little Gentlemen’. Other adaptations use ‘…Soldier Boys’ or ‘…Sailor Boys’.
    – gidds
    Jun 28, 2022 at 18:59

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