MathOverflow is a question and answer site for professional mathematicians. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

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.

share|cite|improve this question

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

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

share|cite|improve this answer
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 really like humor in scientific texts, specially in titles. One of my favorite authors is Donald E. Knuth. A title like The sandwich theorem makes me curious about its content. The Art of Computer Programming is also a nice title.

share|cite|improve this answer

Marginalia to a theorem of Silver (see also this link) by Keith I. Devlin and R. B. Jensen, 1975. A humble title and yet, undoubtedly, one of the most important papers of all time in set theory.

share|cite|improve this answer

Larry Bates, Monodromy in the champagne bottle.

share|cite|improve this answer

Knobel's wonderful paper on the constant rediscovery of iterated exponentials.

R. Knobel. "Exponentials Reiterated." American Mathematical Monthly 88, (1981), p. 235-252.

share|cite|improve this answer

One title I delight in having on my bookshelf is "Introduction to Group Characters" by Walter Ledermann - if you know it's a maths book the title makes complete sense. But a non-mathematician imagines a completely different kind of content.

share|cite|improve this answer
There's a Wikipdia article titled ''group action''. What must the lay reader expect it to be about? – Michael Hardy Dec 29 '10 at 2:11
Reminds my of books with titles like "Theory of normal families". I've been told that one of these could be found in the "social sciences" section the university library in Bremen... – Dirk Dec 17 '12 at 18:54

I like the second part of:

Breuil, Christophe; Conrad, Brian; Diamond, Fred; Taylor, Richard "On the modularity of elliptic curves over $\mathbf{Q}$: wild 3-adic exercises."

MR1839918 (2002d:11058)

They prove the remaining cases of the Shimura-Taniyama conjecture: "every elliptic curve is modular".

share|cite|improve this answer

Most colorful:

MR1371379 (97g:60105) Chung, Kai Lai: Green, Brown, and probability. World Scientific Publishing Co., Inc., River Edge, NJ, 1995. xiv+106 pp. ISBN: 981-02-2453-2; 981-02-2533-4

The book discusses connection between potential theory (in particular Green's function for Laplace equation) and probability (in particular Brownian motions).

share|cite|improve this answer

I'm a big fan of "Excluding a Forest": technically precise, to the point, but just mysterious enough to grab the attention. I've said before that it ought to be the name of a band. ("Taming a vortex" is also good.)

share|cite|improve this answer

Larry Bates, "You can't get there from here", Differential Geometry and its Applications 8.3 (1998): 273-274

share|cite|improve this answer

My Ph.D. thesis is titled Why Logical Probabilists Need Real Numbers. (But I haven't published any paper with that title.)

share|cite|improve this answer
And... why do they? – darij grinberg Nov 1 '10 at 21:00
Start by thinking of probabilities as belonging to some partially ordered set lacking such amenities as the operations of addition and multiplication. Then under certain assumptions that are reasonable in some epistemic situations, one can show that they might as well be real numbers with the usual order and the usual operations. – Michael Hardy Nov 1 '10 at 22:28
Doesn't a PhD thesis count as a paper? – Zsbán Ambrus Dec 5 '10 at 10:51
@Zsbán: Maybe it's a matter of convention. I haven't submitted anything to a journal with this title, but maybe I should have. My thesis contained some big sections explaining some background material to my advisor. I did write a paper on the same general topic with the unexciting title "Scaled Boolean Algebras". – Michael Hardy Dec 5 '10 at 22:23

Mathematical Fallacies, Flaws and Flimflam was definitely by far the most memorable title I have ever read. Also A Taste of Topology seemed tasty.

But I would also like to stress, that to me, the books that have the most 'classical' and 'general' titles, seem the most appealing. Eg.


share|cite|improve this answer

Some nice titles from B.A. Kupersmidt:

share|cite|improve this answer

Would a book titled Calculus Made Honest get me burned at the stake for heresy?

Or would it merely confuse mathematicians who don't understand what is in need of being made honest in that topic?

Later edit: This question illustrates nicely the emotional nature of the anonymous voting system. Robin Chapman commented: "So, it isn't an actual title, and so this reply is not an answer to the original question."

That proves that he never read the original question and didn't know what it said. Probably he drew an inference about its content from the many answers. Then people rushed in with "down" votes. I invite anyone who has doubts about this to read the original question by Suvrit, and I invite Robin Chapman to read it for the first time.

[Original answer by Michael Hardy.]

share|cite|improve this answer
Could the anonymous persons who voted this down step forward and say something in this comment space? I am mystified by this reaction, so an explanation could be useful. I think the denizens of this forum should be competent to express themselves verbally; I think if I had something critical to say about a posting that I thought was worth voting down, I would say something. But no one has in this case. – Michael Hardy Nov 3 '10 at 12:56
So, it isn't an actual title, and so this reply is not an answer to the original question. – Robin Chapman Nov 4 '10 at 11:33
Nonetheless it bears upon the topic, in that I would propose that this would be more memorable than other titles. Other such proposed titles attempting to improve on whatever's out there would also bear on the topic. – Michael Hardy Nov 4 '10 at 16:04
Just to be completely clear: Robin Chapman is confused. He says I wasn't answering the original question, simply because my answer didn't give a title of a published paper. But the original question was not ONLY a request for such titles. Apparently Robin Chapman didn't finish reading the original question, and then he drew this conclusion that he would see to be incorrect if he had read it. – Michael Hardy Nov 8 '10 at 16:31
Robin Chapman is asserting elsewhere that I posted this answer only as a pretext for a polemic. At this point I can only surmise that he views my comments above as a polemic, and thinks that I posted for the purpose of posting those. But I posted them only in reply to Robin Chapman's question that I'd have thought he'd already know the answer to, because of the way I phrased my posting. – Michael Hardy Nov 8 '10 at 19:16

The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis. Alan Turing.

A math paper use chemical principles explaining biological phenomenon.

share|cite|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.