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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

This question is unlikely to help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet. For help making this question more broadly applicable, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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

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

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Simmons, F. W., When Homogeneous Continua Are Hausdorff Circles (or Yes, We Hausdorff Bananas), Continua, Decompositions, and Manifolds, University of Texas Press (1980) pp. 62-73. I think it's a reference to this song.

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

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I like Cliff Taubes's simple titles: "Gr -> SW", "SW -> Gr", and "SW = Gr". (Okay, they each also have a subtitle, but the first part is enough to tell the reader exactly what the paper is about.)

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They tell the reader who is familiar with the subject. I cannot even tell what subject they are about. – Mariano Suárez-Alvarez Oct 31 '10 at 17:20
That's true, but I figured any readers looking at papers by that particular author would know what they're about. And everyone in this field certainly knows that author, so there would never be any confusion. – Spiro Karigiannis Oct 31 '10 at 18:33

Ideals and reality

projective modules and number of generators of ideals

By Friedrich Ischebeck and Ravi A. Rao

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

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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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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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Bob Thomason's "Beware the Phony Multiplication on Quillen's $A^{-1}A$".

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I wanted to post this but I kept forgetting until I was somewhere without Mathscinet – Sean Tilson Nov 3 '10 at 23:54

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

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That's is a really lovely title. – Mariano Suárez-Alvarez Jul 11 '11 at 15:23
+1; In his Abel lecture, Mike Hopkins remarks that Milnor's papers often have this kind of elegant concision: The title almost says it all and by the time you end the first paragraph, you have already learnt a couple of mind-blowing theorems and/or conjectures... (BTW, maybe your answer should at least mention the late Kervaire...) – Maxime Bourrigan Aug 23 '11 at 22:35

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

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It's not a title, though, is it? Do I foresee a new question about memorable lists of authors? – Gerry Myerson Nov 10 '10 at 5:08
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

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

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I've always wanted to read this paper, but I can't find it anywhere. – Ryan Reich May 6 '11 at 3:22
J.H. Conway, The weird and wonderful chemistry of audioactive decay, in: Open Problems in Communication and Computation, T.M. Cover and B. Gopinath, eds., Springer, 1987, pp. 173–188. If your library doesn't have it, get it through interlibrary loan. – Todd Trimble May 8 '11 at 15:17

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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+1 for the subtitle. This reminds the course given by C. Foias in Orsay: Contractions et dilatations, which could have been given in the Department of Obstetrics. However, I regret the adjective difficult. Jean-Pierre (=?) wrote a concise book, which is so usefull that it is still used by our students after fifty years. – Denis Serre Apr 6 '11 at 15:32
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

On manifolds homeomorphic to the 7-sphere

In which Milnor proves there is more than one.

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

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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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"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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I'll echo other comments that the question is wrong-headed, but I think it still serves a purpose.

Comment l'hypothese de Riemann ne fut pas prouvee (How the Riemann hypothesis was not proved), by P Cartier, Seminar on Number Theory, Paris 1980-81, Progr. Math., 22, Boston, MA: Birkhauser Boston, pp. 35-48, MR693308

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