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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

One that comes immediately to mind is Can one hear the shape of a drum?

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In brief, no; there are "drums" with different shapes but the same "sound". –  Gerry Myerson Oct 31 '10 at 20:23
@Suvrit: Yes, but only if one knows a priori that the drum is convex. –  Simon Lyons Oct 31 '10 at 21:43

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

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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

OK, fine... I'll confess I could not resist downloading from the arxiv the paper Act globally, compute locally: group actions, fixed points, and localization. I don't know if it quite fits the question though, since I never read it (beyond the first couple of pages). It's just way too far outside of my main interests.

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"Hodge's general conjecture is false for trivial reasons."

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I love that title so much. –  Gunnar Þór Magnússon Oct 31 '10 at 15:58
That is indeed a great title! –  Suvrit Oct 31 '10 at 16:35
I dissent. This title is arrogant and vulgar ("trivial" is a ugly word), unworthy of Grothendieck who invented a lot of beautiful, decently modest, and often informative title, such as "Sur quelques points d'algèbre homologique" or "Récoltes et semailles", or "à la poursuite des champs". –  Joël Dec 28 '10 at 21:44
It is a modest title (though it might be taken to be offensive) - he doesn't say: "The Hodge Conjecture is false for very deep reasons and only I could have disproved it." –  Lennart Meier May 2 '11 at 22:12
I don't think it's offensive at all -- all one has to do is read a few words of the paper to see that Grothendieck is merely performing a small but useful service. The title is catchy enough that one is easily invited to discover just that. –  Todd Trimble May 8 '11 at 14:50

"Footnote To a Note of Davenport and Heilbronn" by J. W. S. Cassels.

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I'm afraid I don't get it. It's a nice paper, certainly, but what's memorable about the title? –  Pete L. Clark Oct 31 '10 at 17:43
Perhaps it is because "footnote to a note" makes one imagine the entire paper as written in a tiny, tiny font? –  Daniel Litt Oct 31 '10 at 22:43
Or that the entire paper is a footnote? –  adamo Nov 1 '10 at 11:55
@adamo: Two students in our institute wrote their master thesis based on a book written with typewriter in which a footnote roughly in the middle never ended and became the main text. –  j.p. Nov 3 '10 at 20:57

An application of Poincaré's recurrence theorem to academic administration by Kenneth Meyer is a title that is hard to resist looking into.

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This is absolutely hilarious... and only one page long. It's a MUST read. –  André Henriques May 3 '11 at 9:14

Finding composite order ordinary elliptic curves using the Cocks-Pinch method, by D. Boneh, K. Rubin and A. Silverberg. (To appear in the Journal of Number Theory.)

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+1 because I'm so shallow. :D –  J. M. Oct 31 '10 at 16:50
We have ways of making number theorists talk... –  Todd Trimble May 8 '11 at 14:57

Al Capone and the Death Ray by R. C. Lyness

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Wow. If you have access to JSTOR: –  Gil Kalai Nov 4 '10 at 15:47

The flattering lie You Could Have Invented Spectral Sequences by Timothy Y. Chow.

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subtitled "Also, that shirt looks good on you." –  Cam McLeman Oct 31 '10 at 17:14
+1 because more people should learn of the existence of this paper. –  Ketil Tveiten Nov 1 '10 at 12:39
Nice one. I have sometimes wondered if I should have chosen a better title than Prime Simplicity for my joint paper with Catherine Woodgold, setting the record straight about what Euclid did and did not do in a certain well-known but not-well-known proof. –  Michael Hardy Nov 1 '10 at 19:56

I find it dubious that anyone here will get better at choosing titles for their papers by reading these examples.

Nevertheless, I like the title "The homotopy category is a homotopy category" by Arne Strøm. I also like the very apt title "$\overline{\mathcal{M}}_{22}$ is of general type" by Gavril Farkas. The paper starts like this:

The aim of this paper is to prove the following result:

Theorem: The moduli space of curves of genus 22 is of general type.

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Yes: a title can be effectively eye-catching not just by being humorous or off the wall, but also simply by being very mathematically expressive and succinct. –  Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Oct 31 '10 at 18:54

The book  $A=B$.  

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

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.

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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

Noone beats Mick gets some (the odds are on his side) by V. Chvatal and B. Reed. It is an article about the satisfiability problem, and the title is of course referring to this song. I havn't read the article, and the only reason I know the it is its title.

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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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Given the atmosphere of terror and fear in recent years, I did a double take when I first glanced at Bruce Berndt's paper "Ramanujan's association with radicals in India".

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That reminds me of a course description from the Harvard course catalogue, circa 1970: something like, "The theory of blowing up, with special attention to local problems." Fortunately, this was offered by the Department of Mathematics, not Social Relations. –  Gerry Myerson Oct 31 '10 at 20:30
I know this paper, but I'm not entirely sure Berndt was being deliberately provoking... :) –  J. M. Oct 31 '10 at 23:13

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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My favourite : "My Graph", by H.S.M. Coxeter.

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A Midsummer Knot's Dream, by Allison Henrich, Noël MacNaughton, Sneha Narayan, Oliver Pechenik, Robert Silversmith, Jennifer Townsend

It is quite funny to read

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"On $O_n$" by D.E. Evans. ($\mathcal{O_n}$ is notation Cuntz gave for the algebras he introduced in "Simple $C^*$-algebras generated by isometries".)

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That resembles Connes/Consani's "Fun with F_1" - 1 in french is "un". –  Peter Arndt Oct 31 '10 at 20:49
There is also the sequel, "On $O_{n+1}$" by Araki, Carey, and Evans: –  Jonas Meyer Nov 2 '10 at 17:36
Have you ever tried to google that paper (without knowing who wrote it, of course)? Hopeless! :-) –  Ulrich Pennig May 2 '11 at 21:30
@Ulrich: The first result that Google Scholar returns when I type On O_n into it is precisely this paper. I wouldn't exactly say that googling this paper is “hopeless”. –  Dmitri Pavlov May 8 '11 at 18:50
@Dmitri: I just tried that in Google Scholar and it didn't work for me. –  Timothy Chow Nov 17 '11 at 3:32

The book Free rings and their relations by P.M. Cohn.

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+1: I've encountered that book many times during trips to the stacks over the past dozen years or so. Every time I stop and scratch my head. One day I suppose I'll actually read it... –  Pete L. Clark Nov 1 '10 at 14:37


It's a paper showing that two methods of defining Sobolev spaces, one which uses H's with subscripts and superscripts and one that uses W's, give rise to the same spaces.

Thanks to Willie Wong for the following:

Citation information

  author = {Meyers, Norman G. and Serrin, James},
  title = {{H = W}},
  journal = {Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA},
  year = {1964},
  volume = {51},
  pages = {1055-1056},
  number = {6},
  file = {MeySer1964.pdf:MeySer1964.pdf:PDF},
  owner = {ww278},
  timestamp = {2010.05.03},
  url = {}
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