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Apparently, for a large number of readers, the choice whether they select to read a paper or not is often strongly influenced by the title.

I was wondering if the MO-users would be willing to share their wisdom with me on what makes the title of a paper memorable for them; or perhaps just cite an example of title they find memorable?

This advice would be very helpful in helping me (and perhaps others) in designing better, more informative titles (not only for papers, but also for example, for MO questions).

One title that I find memorable is:

Nineteen dubious ways to compute the exponential of a matrix by C. B. Moler and C. F. van Loan.

EDIT: The response to this question has been quite huge. So, what have I learned from it? A few things at least. Here is my summary of the obvious stuff: Amongst the various "memorable" titles reported, it seems that the following statements are true:

  1. A title can be memorable, attractive, or even both (to oversimplify a bit);
  2. A title becomes truly memorable if the accompanying paper had memorable substance
  3. A title can be attractive even without having memorable material
  4. To reach the broadest audience, attractive titles are good, though mathematicians might sometimes feel irritated by needlessly cute titles
  5. Titles that are bold, are usually short, have an element of surprise, but do not depart too much from the truth seems to be more attractive in general. 5.101 Mathematical succinctness might appeal to some people---but is perhaps not that memorable for me---so perhaps such titles are attractive, but maybe not memorable
  6. If you are a bigshot, you can get away with pretty much any title!

If something more precise comes to mind, I will edit the above list.

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closed as no longer relevant by Dan Petersen, Ryan Budney, quid, Mark Meckes, Will Jagy Aug 23 '11 at 23:37

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For news article and fiction, certainly; in some rare cases for expository material. But I can't say it's ever happened to me for math research articles (I'll post an almost-exception in the answers). And just as well, really, most papers have really dull titles! (The worst is when the titles are dull and vague.) –  Thierry Zell Oct 31 '10 at 14:45
I'd have put in "A Contribution to the Mathematical Theory of Big Game Hunting" as an answer, but that's carrying a joke too far I think. –  J. M. Oct 31 '10 at 15:19
Entertaining as this list may be, I seriously doubt that it will be a useful prescriptive guide as to how to title one's papers. Editors' and readers' tastes also change over the years –  Yemon Choi Oct 31 '10 at 19:35
Since this question seems to have turned into a big list of "memorable/amusing paper titles," ignoring the primary question "what makes the title of a paper memorable?", perhaps it might be helpful to re-ask that question but without the loophole "...or perhaps just cite an example of title they find memorable". –  Mike Shulman Nov 1 '10 at 0:23
I have now caught a duplicate answer for the second time in as many days on this thread. To me this casts doubt on the usefulness of this thread, but I acknowledge that I have a long-standing bias against these types of questions, which from previous discussions on meta seems not to be shared by most people –  Yemon Choi Nov 2 '10 at 1:19

107 Answers 107

Ideals and reality

projective modules and number of generators of ideals

By Friedrich Ischebeck and Ravi A. Rao

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Fractured Fractals And Broken Dreams. Self-similar Geometry through Metric and Measure. Guy David, Stephen Semmes.


This is the most unusual title of a book which I have ever come across. I discovered this while randomly browsing through books in the library and got hooked. I was an undergraduate then and it had a strange attraction to me, even though I could not figure out anything that was written in it then.

I was not the only one!

Our university used to put out a list of courses (in the good old days) which were going to be offered and students would choose from it. Some of us managed to add the name of this book against the fractal geometry course as a course material. A record number of students enlisted.

Within a week a record number of them wanted to opt out. So there were inquiries: it turned out most of the students cited that they found the title of the book mentioned in the course material attractive which prompted them to enlist.

(We had found in the previous year that the instructor did not care about teaching, insist on taking class at 8 in the morning and would religiously take attendance for 10 minutes, by the end of the class half the class would be snoring. The assignments were to be submitted on A4 paper, we were supposed to write on one side with appropriate margin.

It was a case of a pun / warning which had gone horribly wrong. )

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Stephen Semmes has a real gift for choosing titles for books. Two other ones : "Where the Buffalo Roam : Infinite Processes and Infinite Complexity" (posted here : arxiv.org/abs/math/0302308) and "A graphic apology for symmetry and implicitness" (written w/ Alessandra Carbone). –  Andy Putman Nov 1 '10 at 19:42
"...it had a strange attraction to me..." boom boom! –  David Roberts Nov 2 '10 at 2:35

Theorems for free! by Philip Wadler

From the abstract: ... This provides a free source of useful theorems, courtesy of Reynolds' abstraction theorem for the polymorphic lambda calculus.

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"What is infinity factorial (and why might we care)?"

The only downside is that it isn't actually typed up, but rather is hand-written and scanned, but the result of $\infty! = \sqrt{2\pi}$ is still rather intriguing.

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How to Gamble If You Must by Lester E. Dubins & Leonard J. Savage

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De Weger and Pinter wrote this paper entitled:

$$210 = 14 \times 15 = 5 \times 6 \times 7 = \binom{21}{2} = \binom{10}{4}$$

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Kindergarten Quantum Mechanics” by Bob Coecke / arXiv:quant-ph/0510032v1

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You can find in Serre's Œuvres (volume IV) an article titled $\Delta = b^2 - 4ac$.

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Speaking of Milnor and such things, have we already done [Edit: Kervaire-Milnor's] "Groups of Homotopy Spheres"?

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Another one: MR1274760 (95d:30040) Carleson, Lennart(S-RIT); Jones, Peter W.(1-YALE); Yoccoz, Jean-Christophe(F-PARIS11) Julia and John. (English summary) Bol. Soc. Brasil. Mat. (N.S.) 25 (1994), no. 1, 1–30.

The preprint wad even more memorable title: In Carleson and Gamelin's book on complex dynamics it was referred to as: When is Julia John?

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The weird and wonderful chemistry of audioactive decay, by John Conway.

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Here are a few that jump to my mind.

Young person's guide to canonical singularities by Miles Reid, 1985.

Twenty-five years of 3-folds—an old person's view by Miles Reid, 2000.

Tendencious survey of 3-folds, by Miles Reid, 1985 (same book, Bowdoin -- Algebraic Geometry, as the first one).

On the ubiquity of Gorenstein rings by Hyman Bass, 1963. This also seems to be the first paper with the word ubiquity in the title (via a mathscinet search).

Another one that jumps to my mind is the various Pathologies papers of Mumford.

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I always like the title "Homology flows, cohomology cuts" by Chambers, Erickson and Nayyeri, which makes analog (a general technique indeed) to the well-known theorem (for graph theorists) "Maximum flows, minimum cuts".

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The following is not quite as arresting as the other titles listed, but Stallings has a paper in Inventiones entitled "The topology of finite graphs". It's a pretty gutsy title, but what's even more impressive is that it is a fairly good description of what the paper contains (namely, a totally new approach to studying questions about subgroups of free groups using finite graphs; this is totally different from the classical approach using covering spaces of graphs)!

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I have always found the book title "Prolegomena to a Middlebrow Arithmetic of Curves of Genus 2" by Cassels and Flynn to be quite memorable.

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On manifolds homeomorphic to the 7-sphere

In which Milnor proves there is more than one.

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Not math, but Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow is hard to beat

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That one is sort of a cruel example, as it was due to Gamow's sense of humor that Bethe was invited; he did not even have anything to do with it. Alpher was just a student at the time and felt afterwards that his contribution was drowned out by the bigshot names. (This is all just paraphrased from the Wikipedia article.) –  Ryan Reich Nov 16 '10 at 11:17

I just saw the very curious title:

An Operator-Like Description of Love Affairs

by: Fabio Bagarello and Francesco Oliveri SIAM J. Appl. Math. Volume 70, Issue 8, pp. 3235-3251 (2010)

And with the report of this title, I also admit that this title belongs to the category of memorable titles, without first needing to read the paper. The abstract of the paper is also quite curious!

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"A survey of finite differences of opinion on numerical muddling of the incomprehensible defective confusion equation" by B.P. Leonard

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A mathematical theory of the guillotine, by Plero Villaggio, Archive for Rational Mechanics and Analysis (1990) Vol. 110, pp 93-101.

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[Smale, Stephen. The story of the higher-dimensional Poincaré conjecture (what actually happened on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro). A joint AMS-MAA invited address presented in Phoenix, Arizona, January 1989. AMS-MAA Joint Lecture Series. American Mathematical Society, Providence, RI, 1989. 1 videocassette (NTSC; 1/2 inch; VHS) (60 min.); sd., col. MR1057609 (91g:01035)]

It's a video, but it's Smale, so...

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There's an algebra book called "Rings and Ideals". I thought of a subtitle: "Marriage during the Revolution".

I remember reading Jacobson's "Basic Algebra I" on the bus on the way to university, and someone noticing it and thinking it was a high-school level text.

Similarly, Serre(?) has a difficult book about number theory, titled simply "Arithmetic".

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In the same vein of elementary-looking books, Weil's Basic Number Theory is unbeatable. –  lhf Apr 6 '11 at 17:38
And what about Lurie's Higher Algebra? –  ACL Jun 15 '11 at 6:40

Great Expectations: The Theory of Optimal Stopping, by Chow, Robbins, and Siegmund (1971)

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Ancestors, Cardinals, and Representatives by T. D. Parsons.

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Could the (apparently anonymous at this time) person who voted this one down explain their rationale? This posting is similar in content to many of those above that were voted up. –  Michael Hardy Nov 3 '10 at 12:49

I hope it is OK to mention "A Disorienting Look at Euler's Theorem on the Axis of a Rotation" even if I am a joint author, particularly if I admit that none of the authors thought up the cute title---it was the editor. (The cute part is the somewhat subtle use of "disorienting", namely we prove Euler's Theorem for orthogonal transformations that are not proper---i.e., don't preserve orientation.) You can download it here:


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