The original Italian title is Ladri di biciclette. It literally translates into English as Bicycle Thieves, as there is no definite article and ladri is plural. The film was released as Bicycle Thieves in the United States, the United Kingdom and as a world-wide English language release. The poster titles were The Bicycle Thief in the USA and The Bicycle Thieves in the UK.
Bosley Crowther used the poster title in his 1949 review in the New York Times, and as a result this came to be the title by which the film was known in the United States, and some people became attached to it. When the film was re-released in the late 1990s Bob Graham, staff film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, was quoted as saying that he preferred the title The Bicycle Thief, stating, "Purists have criticized the English title of the film as a poor translation of the Italian ladri, which is plural. What blindness! The Bicycle Thief is one of those wonderful titles whose power does not sink in until the film is over".
According to critic Philip French of The Observer (UK), the alternative title The Bicycle Thief is misleading, "because the desperate hero eventually becomes himself a bicycle thief". The 2007 Criterion Collection release in North America uses the plural title.
De Sica changed many aspects of Bartolini's novel, but retained the title, which used the plural form and referred, in the book, to a post-war culture of rampant thievery and disrespect for civil order countered only by an inept police force and indifferent allied occupiers.