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

Question: If you have a finite group, how do you name it?

If, for whatever reason, you have to list all subgroups of $GL_2({\mathbb F}_5)$ up to isomorphism in a paper, you are likely to write something along the lines of

$$ C_1, C_2, C_2, C_3, C_{2,2}, C_4, C_5, C_6, S_3, Q_8, C_8, C_{2,4}, D_4, $$ $$ C_{10}, D_5, D_6, C_{12}, C_3\rtimes C_4, C_{2,4}\rtimes C_2, OMC_{16}, C_{4,4}, $$ $$ C_{20}, D_{10}, G_{20}, C_5\rtimes C_4, SL_2(F_3), C_4\times S_3, C_3\rtimes C_8, C_{24}, $$ $$ Q_8\rtimes C_4, C_2\times G_{20}, C_2\times G_{20}, C_4\times D_5, (C_{2,4}\rtimes C_2)\rtimes C_3, C_3\rtimes OMC_{16}, $$ $$ C_4\times G_{20}, C_2.A_5, SL_2(F_3)\rtimes C_4, (C_2.A_5)\rtimes C_2, GL_2(F_5). $$

Computer algebra packages tend to produce a human-unfriendly output of generators and relations or generating permutations in $S_n$. How do you convert from one to the other and decide how to name complicated groups? I am looking for standard names, standard constructions, conventions and notations. For me a good notation is informative, human friendly, short and is generally as close as possible to what you would use in a paper. I am also looking for any kind of canonical conventions: e.g. $(C_5\times C_5)\rtimes C_4$ or $(C_5\rtimes C_4)\times C_5$?

(The reason I am asking is that I seem to have to work with funny groups all the time recently. I have a Magma function for personal use that analyzes and names finite groups; e.g. it produces the list above for $GL_2({\mathbb F}_5)$, and I personally find this really useful.

Currently it knows various standard groups: cyclic, abelian, dihedral, alternating, symmetric, special $p$-groups (semi-dihedral, generalized quaternion, "other maximal cyclic", Heisenberg), simple groups, linear groups (SL, GL, O, SP) and eventually their projective versions; it tries to recognize direct, semidirect (and eventually wreath) products if the group is not too large, and reverts to chief series if everything else fails.

Recently sufficiently many people asked me to share the code that I'll make it public domain. But before that I'd very much like to get suggestions from the MO community how to make it as useful as possible for most people.)

share|cite|improve this question
$G_{20}$? I'd call it $F_{20}$ as it is the Frobenius group of order $20$. So good luck with finding names! – Someone Dec 6 '10 at 12:48
Jonathan, I thought the notation for the dihedral groups is standard: group theorists write the dihedral group of order 2n as D_{2n} and everyone else (?) writes the group as D_n. – KConrad Dec 6 '10 at 13:34
@KConrad: I suppose I'll have an option IAmAGroupTheorist:boolean in my code to deal with dihedral groups then. @Jonathan: My OMC16 comes from the last paragraph of, I don't know if that's the same as a modular group. What is the modular group of order 16 (as generators and relations or whatever)? – Tim Dokchitser Dec 6 '10 at 13:50
Unfortunately, we all still publish paper in Dead Tree. If you use a more modern graphical user interface, namely Light Emitting Diode, then you can usually provide greater functionality to your readers: allow them to click or double click or right click or whatever on each name for more information on it. (Such hyperlinking is also available in Dead Tree, of course, in the form of footnotes, endnotes, appendices, and references.) – Theo Johnson-Freyd Dec 6 '10 at 16:23
Have you looked into what the GAP function StructureDescription currently does? Details can be found in the manual: – ndkrempel Dec 6 '10 at 19:43

It is difficult to come up with a consistent notation for all groups of a certain order since their construction is somewhat chaotic. We might be able to describe all the groups of order $p^3$ or $p^4$ but what about all groups of order $p^6$? Or order $p^4q^2$?

The software package GAP ( has a catalogue of all groups of order up to 2000 or so and so I've sometimes referred to groups by their catalogue number, for example, SmallGroup(96, 33) refers to a particular group in that library. (As does SmallGroup(512, 1000000)!)

share|cite|improve this answer
I agree, one might use the small group database if there is really no other choice, but generally this is not very human friendly. E.g. SmallGroup(96,33) is $C_3\rtimes D_{16}$, which may not describe it uniquely but at least it says more. – Tim Dokchitser Dec 6 '10 at 13:56
In GAP you can try StructureDescription: gap> StructureDescription(SmallGroup(96,33)); "(C3 x D16) : C2" – Primoz Dec 7 '10 at 20:11

For transitive permutation groups the first paper in Journal of Computation & Mathematics by Conway, Hulpke, & McKay lists the smaller degrees with "respectable names".

share|cite|improve this answer
Thank you, I'll have a look! – Tim Dokchitser Apr 24 '11 at 19:59

There is a useful convention to decorate some of the groups with an index which is the smallest $n$ for which the group can act transitively on $n$ points, i.e. embeds in $S_n$ as a transitive subgroup. The notation for $S_n, A_n, D_n, C_n$, your $Q_8$ and for example Mathieu groups $M_{11}, M_{12}, M_{22}$ (although not other sporadic simple groups) follow this pattern.

Of course, there is also another convention to use the size of the group instead...

share|cite|improve this answer
... and, as mathematicians would put it, "This problem is a natural generalization of the dihedral case" – Tim Dokchitser Dec 8 '10 at 0:19
It's not clear to me that n is the smallest index k for which D_n embeds into S_k. – Qiaochu Yuan Dec 8 '10 at 0:43
That's right, $D_{15}$ can act faithfully on $3+5=8$ points. Smallest $n$ for which $G$ is a transitive subgroup of $S_n$? – Tim Dokchitser Dec 8 '10 at 0:48

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

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