183
$\begingroup$

Given the vast number of new papers / preprints that hit the internet everyday, one factor that may help papers stand out for a broader, though possibly more casual, audience is their title. This view was my motivation for asking this question almost 7 years ago (wow!), and it remains equally true today (those who subscribe to arXiv feeds, MO feeds, etc., may agree).


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 Moler and van Loan.

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: Amongst the various "memorable" titles reported, some of the following 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!
$\endgroup$
35
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2010 at 15:19
  • 13
    $\begingroup$ 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 $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Oct 31, 2010 at 19:35
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ 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". $\endgroup$ Nov 1, 2010 at 0:23
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ 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 $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Nov 2, 2010 at 1:19
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ For some reason no further answers can be posted, so let me share with you Continuing horrors of topology without choice by C. Good and I.J. Tree, and related to that Horrors of topology without AC: A nonnormal orderable space by E.K. van Douwen, Disasters in topology without the axiom of choice by K. Keremedis, Disasters in metric topology without choice by E. Tachtsis. $\endgroup$ May 23, 2014 at 14:26

127 Answers 127

1 2 3 4
5
2
$\begingroup$

Smullyan: what is the name of this book?

Mazzola: The Topos of Music

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

« Autopsie d'un meurtre » dans l'homologie d'une algèbre de chaînes ("Anatomy of a murder" in the homology of a chain algebra) by J.-M. Lemaire, http://www.numdam.org/item/ASENS_1978_4_11_1_93_0/

(For those who do not care about old movies as much as I do, the title of course alludes to the iconic film of Otto Preminger https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatomy_of_a_Murder)

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

"49598666989151226098104244512918" by Michael Filaseta and Samuel Gross

$\endgroup$
3
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Is this really memorable? $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2023 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ I admit I went with "A title can be attractive even without having memorable material" with this one - certainly got me attracted to spend searching Cohn irreducibility criterion wiki page history to find out who entered such non-sense :o $\endgroup$
    – Sil
    Jan 3, 2023 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Sil I think Emil Jeřábek was intending a pun on the difficulty to memorize that hell of a number. $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2023 at 22:46
1
$\begingroup$

Mickley, Smith and Korchak's Fluid flow in packed beds.

(No-one in fluid mechanics seems to be willing to see the innuendo. They all want to explain the effect on the Reynolds number. And they hate it if you snigger when they mention turbulence.)

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Old and new on SL(2) by Hilgert and Hofmann. I heard that the authors wrote a sequel with the title More is true on SL(2), but that the editors insisted on a different title.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The sequel should have been "SL(2) II, Electric Boogalo." $\endgroup$
    – JoshuaZ
    Feb 17 at 2:53
-2
$\begingroup$

The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis. Alan Turing.

A math paper use chemical principles explaining biological phenomenon.

$\endgroup$
-2
$\begingroup$

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.]

$\endgroup$
11
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Is Calculus Made Honest an actual title? $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2010 at 11:00
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2010 at 12:56
  • 12
    $\begingroup$ So, it isn't an actual title, and so this reply is not an answer to the original question. $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2010 at 11:33
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2010 at 16:31
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2010 at 19:16
1 2 3 4
5

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