Take the 2-minute tour ×
MathOverflow is a question and answer site for professional mathematicians. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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|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

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

share|improve this answer
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

Street-Fighting Mathematics by Sanjoy Mahajan is about estimation, Fermi calculations, dimensional analysis and so on.

I haven't read it yet, but the title was certainly enough to get me to download it.

share|improve this answer

The AKS paper PRIMES is in P is a pretty memorable title for me.

share|improve this answer
Certainly it's a memorable title, but I keep having to fight the urge to reply "No, they isn't!" I would have preferred a title like "Deterministic, polynomial-time primality testing," but that would not have been memorable, so perhaps they made the right choice. –  Henry Cohn Oct 31 '10 at 16:07
@Henry, to be fair, the title was actually "PRIMES is in P", where 'PRIMES' refers not to the set of primes, but the (hypothetical) (deterministic) algorithm to test for primality. –  dorkusmonkey May 3 '11 at 9:48
Actually, it does refer to the set of primes (see the first page of the article). I agree that the title is syntactically correct; I'm just bothered by how it sounds when you read it out loud. –  Henry Cohn May 3 '11 at 13:25

Very late addition (August '13) J. J. Sylvester, Thoughts on inverse orthogonal matrices, simultaneous sign-successions and tesselated pavements in two or more colors, with applications to Newton rule, Ornamental tile-work, and the theory of numbers. Phil Mag 34 (1867), 461-475.

This title is unbeatable!

Late addition (March, '13): Long and Wigderson's " How discreet is the discrete log?."

Gale and Shapley's "College Admissions and the Stability of Marriage, " was a great title to a great paper. (link JSTOR)

"Moments in mathematics" Papers from the American Mathematical Society annual meeting held in San Antonio, Tex., January 20–22, 1987. Edited by Henry J. Landau. (Link: Google book)

This is about "moments" in the technical sense but the double meaning of the title is very cute. (There is also a book entitled "great moments in mathematics" with the ordinary meaning of moments.)

About 1-2 decades ago Sylvain Cappell and Shmuel Weinberger planned writing a book called "A piece of the action" about group actions. This is a memorable title but I think the book was not completed.

One obvious: Aigner and Ziegler's Proofs from the book. (Link: WikipediA)

Joel Spencer's title "Six standard deviations suffice." is also memorable. (Link: JSTOR)

Jack Edmonds',(1965) "Paths, Trees and Flowers". (Link: ps file.)

For some reasons I found the title "Defect Sauer results" of a paper by Bollobas and Radcliffe memorable. (Link)

Branko Grunbaum has a paper entiled "The importance of being straight" (I could not find a link), and Irit Dinur and Shmuel Safra have a paper entitled "On the importance of being biased". (A link to a later version with a different title.) (There is a paper by A. Dillof published in Michigan Law Review with very similar name.)

Jorg Wills had a memorable title "decomposable skeleta" for a paper he sent for the 100th birthday of a well known mathematician. But I think at the end he changed the title.

Saharon Shelah has several memorable titles like this one: "On what I do not understand (and have something to say). I" .Although, I forgot the most memorable one.

share|improve this answer
If you forgot it (last sentence), it couldn't have been the most memorable! :-) Maybe "The last forcing standing"? –  Joseph O'Rourke Nov 1 '10 at 1:03
You may be thinking of "You can enter Cantor's paradise". It is also worth mentioning that Shelah numbers his publications, and reserves special numbers for significant papers. Paper 666 is the one you mentioned. –  Andres Caicedo Nov 1 '10 at 3:19
I think "Why I am so happy" was the title of an abstract by Shelah, but the paper probably got a more serious title (involving the "main gap"). –  Andreas Blass Nov 3 '10 at 19:37
The Shela very nice title "On what I do not understand (and have something to say)" It is useful for some (including myself) to know that it is a reference to Wittgenstein quote: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent" –  Jérôme JEAN-CHARLES Nov 5 '10 at 19:21

The book  $A=B$.  

share|improve this answer
+1. This also brings to mind "Generatingfunctionology", which is itself pretty memorable. –  James Oct 31 '10 at 20:34

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".

share|improve this answer
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

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|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

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

share|improve this answer

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

share|improve this answer

"The 40 billionth binary digit of pi is 1", D. Bailey and P. Borwein.

share|improve this answer

I've always enjoyed the poetry of the title:

"Period three implies chaos" -- T.-Y. Li & J. A. Yorke

share|improve this answer

You'd think that with John H. Conway around, this should be like shooting fish in a barrel. One title that comes to mind is

  • The Sensual (Quadratic) Form

and there are more goodies if you look at his bibliography. For example,

  • Character Calisthenics


  • The $\sqrt{\text{Monster}}$ Construction

I also like the paper (both the title and the contents!) by Andreas Blass,

share|improve this answer

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

share|improve this answer

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

share|improve this answer

The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis. Alan Turing.

A math paper use chemical principles explaining biological phenomenon.

share|improve this answer

From the top of my head comes the papers

But also, Cox & Zucker, who in Intersection numbers of sections of elliptic surfaces creates the algorithm later named the Cox-Zucker machine

share|improve this answer
Great one :) ${}$ –  Mariano Suárez-Alvarez May 8 '11 at 22:26

One of my favorite titles from control theory is a 1978 paper by John Doyle entitled "Guaranteed Margins for LQG Regulators." It is memorable because of the abstract "There are none." The paper shows that optimal controls may be fragile; the 3-word abstract says it all.

share|improve this answer

On manifolds homeomorphic to the 7-sphere

In which Milnor proves there is more than one.

share|improve this answer

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.

share|improve this answer

There was the fuss about The Yellow Cake, a joint paper of Saharon Shelah and Andrzej Roslanowski.

They also co-authored several other funnily titled papers, amongst them are such names as:

share|improve this answer
How can we talk about sweetness without mentioning Saccharinity? shelah.logic.at/files/859.pdf :) –  Haim May 9 '11 at 8:17

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|improve this answer

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

share|improve this answer

Larry Bates, Monodromy in the champagne bottle.

share|improve this answer

[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...

share|improve this answer

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?

share|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|improve this answer

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|improve this answer

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

share|improve this answer

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