Left: God wielding the golden compasses, by William Blake. Right: Jesus as Geometer in a 13th-century medieval illuminated manuscript of unknown authorship.
During pre-publication of the novel, the prospective trilogy was known in Britain as The Golden Compasses, an allusion to God's poetic delineation of the world. The term is from a line in Milton's Paradise Lost, where it denotes the drafting compass God used to establish and set a circular boundary of all creation:
Then staid the fervid wheels, and in his hand He took the golden compasses, prepared In God's eternal store, to circumscribe This universe, and all created things: One foot he centred, and the other turned Round through the vast profundity obscure
— Book 7, lines 224–229
In the US, publisher Knopf had been calling the first book The Golden Compass (singular), which it mistakenly understood as a reference to Lyra's alethiometer (depicted on the front cover shown at the head of this article), because of the device's resemblance to a navigational compass. By the time Pullman had replaced The Golden Compasses with His Dark Materials as the name of the trilogy, the US publisher had become so attached to the original title that it insisted on publishing the first book as The Golden Compass rather than as Northern Lights, the title used in Britain and Australia.