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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

I can't believe no one's mentioned this:

Some title containing the words "homotopy" and "symplectic", e.g. this one
Pavol Severa

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I tend to remember this as and call it "Some title..." –  David Roberts Jan 24 '11 at 3:45
inching towards the proverbial 100 $\uparrow$ –  Suvrit Sep 15 '11 at 9:58
Yes, it's my greatest claim to fame on MO. –  David Roberts Sep 15 '11 at 10:20

"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

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

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

Mark Van Raamsdonk's Princeton PhD thesis in string theory was called "Making the most out of zero branes and a weak background". Priceless.


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

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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

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

And in the graph theory corner we have the famous Harary/Read paper "Is the null-graph a pointless concept?"

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This epic paper appears in Lecture Notes in Math., vol. 406, Springer, 1974, 37-44. The abstract is the following: The graph with no points and no lines is discussed critically. Arguments for and against its official admittance as a graph are presented. This is accompanied by an extensive survey of the literature. Paradoxical properties of the null-graph are noted. No conclusion is reached. –  Richard Stanley Nov 2 '10 at 1:31
I don't know now whether i like the abstract more or the title; absolutely fantastic. –  Suvrit Nov 3 '10 at 17:29
I like the title more. There are many cases where the degenerate case is hard: 0!, a^0 vs 0^a, 1 is a prime, which we resolve by how many theorems need special cases. –  Ross Millikan Nov 10 '10 at 4:57

"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: ams.org/mathscinet-getitem?mr=757434 –  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

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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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

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

The missing axiom of matroid theory is lost forever

A emotional variation on absolute negative results.
Refs : Vámos, Peter (1978), "The missing axiom of matroid theory is lost forever", Journal of the London Mathematical Society, II. Ser. 18: AT : http://jlms.oxfordjournals.org/content/s2-18/3/403.extract

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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

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.

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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

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

A Group of Order 8,315,553,613,086,720,000 by J H Conway, Bull. London Math. Soc. (1969) 1 (1): 79-88, http://blms.oxfordjournals.org/content/1/1/79.extract

Maybe it's cheating to call this memorable - I remembered there was a Conway paper with a title of this type, but I certainly don't claim to have remembered the exact title!

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I'm told that shortly after the Hall-Wales paper "The Simple Group of Order 604,800" (J. Algebra 9 (1968), 417-450) was published, the editors received an anonymous submission entitled "The Simple Group of Order 604,801". Sure enough, 604801 is prime. –  Henry Cohn Mar 8 '11 at 18:12

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

I always remember the paper entitled "On groups of order one." It turned out the title referred to groups defined by generators and relations, so the problem was to determine when a set of elements (together with its conjugates) generated a free group. I cannot imagine any mathematician who would not look at this paper to see what it was about.

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Here is a list of papers in Theoretical Computer Science with cute titles. Some that I like from the list (aside from "Mick gets some" which is good enough to deserve its own answer anyway).

  • A Smaller Sleeping Bag for a Baby Snake
  • The Art of Pointless Thinking: a Student's Guide to the Category of Locales
  • Scott is not always sober

Also: Mangoes and Blueberries.

And in a similar vein, a quote from "Quotients homophone des groupes libres - Homophonic quotients of free groups," that appears on the first linked page page: "Ah, la recherche! Du temps perdu."

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+1 for mentioning that last dazzling paper –  Georges Elencwajg Nov 1 '10 at 12:49

There are not exactly five objects by Andreas Blass

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I learned later that "my" proof had actually been published earlier by Kenneth Appel. I can't find any record of what Morley's 1977 proof was, but later, in 1984, Morley sent me a short formula that does the job (for arbitrary primes): $\forall x_0\dots x_{p-1}\,\exists t_0\dots t_{p-1} \bigwedge_{\sigma\in p^p}\big((\bigwedge_{i=0}^{p-1}t_i=x_{\sigma(i)})\to x_{F_0(\sigma)}=x_{F_1(\sigma)}\big)$ where $F_0,F_1:p^p\to p$ are chosen so that for all $\sigma$, $F_0(\sigma)\neq F_1(\sigma)$ and if $\sigma$ is not one-to-one, then $\sigma(F_1(\sigma))=\sigma(F_0(\sigma))$. –  Andreas Blass Nov 4 '10 at 17:02

"I know I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque" by Gady Kozma and Ariel Yadin (http://arxiv.org/abs/1008.4258)

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You should have informed a certain user on this site about this, and let them post it. –  Steven Gubkin Mar 4 '11 at 13:49

I'm quite surprised that no one has mentioned The Joy of Sets.

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Ah, that's what "The Joy of Cats" (a category theory book) referred to. –  darij grinberg Nov 3 '10 at 11:48
Actually both book are spin on a famous book by Alex Comfort. Either way, the first edition of "The Joy of Cats" dealt with its theme very nicely. There were many illustrations featuring cats. –  Michael Greinecker Nov 3 '10 at 11:57
In fact, the Alex Comfort book was based on Irma Rombauer’s classic cookbook “The Joy of Cooking”, from 1931. As far as I know, this meme goes back no further… –  Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Nov 18 '10 at 1:19

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