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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!
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    $\begingroup$ 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
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    $\begingroup$ 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
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    $\begingroup$ 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
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    $\begingroup$ 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
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    $\begingroup$ 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

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Atiyah's K-Theory and Reality

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H=W

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

@ARTICLE{MeySer1964,
  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 = {http://www.pnas.org/content/51/6/1055.short}
}
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  • $\begingroup$ I added the citation info, since this is CW, I just pasted it in, hope you don't mind. $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2010 at 22:34
  • $\begingroup$ (BTW, this was also the first thing that came to mind when I read the title of this question.) $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2010 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ Even shorter, at least in print, is $c_p$ by C.A. McCarthy (Israel. J. Math. 5, 249--271 (1967)), about the Schatten classes.. $\endgroup$ Oct 20, 2020 at 20:17
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I'm quite surprised that no one has mentioned The Joy of Sets by Keith Devlin.

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    $\begingroup$ Ah, that's what "The Joy of Cats" (a category theory book) referred to. $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2010 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2010 at 11:57
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    $\begingroup$ 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… $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2010 at 1:19
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    $\begingroup$ Michael Spivak has published a book in this vein about typesetting. $\endgroup$
    – Neal
    Jul 20, 2020 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ I would be certain that the name was hinting at this 1972 book $\endgroup$ Mar 19, 2021 at 22:29
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J.-M. FONTAINE Il n'y a pas de variété abélienne sur Z Invent. Math. (1985) 81, 515-538

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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

or

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

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

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Todd's "The 'odd' number six."

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I've always enjoyed the poetry of the title:

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

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  • $\begingroup$ Although, with the usual definition of chaos, period three doesn't imply it. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2020 at 2:42
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The book Why Knot? by Colin Adams.

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  • $\begingroup$ Who is the author? $\endgroup$ Jul 11, 2011 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ That was a good question! I am far from the business but saw the title on a desk of a colleague in Bonn about 4 years ago. The title was easily memorizable but not the name. I googled the latter... $\endgroup$ Jul 11, 2011 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ There's also a set of notes for a knot theory course by Justin Roberts, called "Knot Knotes". $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2011 at 11:55
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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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Addictive Number Theory, by Melvyn B. Nathanson.

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    $\begingroup$ This is the title of the introductory chapter to Additive Number Theory: Festschrift in Honor of the Sixtieth Birthday of Melvyn B Nathanson. $\endgroup$ Nov 16, 2010 at 6:26
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"The 40 billionth binary digit of pi is 1", D. Bailey and P. Borwein.

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"Fun with $\mathbb{F}_{1}$"

https://arxiv.org/abs/0806.2401

Quite a decent pun, I think.

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At some point in time the Erdős collaboration graph did not contain an (induced) $K_5$, but it did contain a $K_5$ with one edge missing. Someone showed me a paper with a title something like "The Erdős graph contains a $K_5$," written by the two authors that formed the missing edge. The rest of the paper was blank, since the names of the authors were sufficient to prove the statement of the title. Not really a memorable title per se, but it becomes quite memorable when the authors are included. I couldn't find any mention of this paper on the web, however.

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  • Andrew Stacey and Sarah Whitehouse, The hunting of the Hopf ring, Homology, Homotopy and Applications, Vol. 11 (2009), No. 2, pp.75-132. doi:10.4310/HHA.2009.v11.n2.a6, arXiv:0711.3722

referencing this poem. Much more memorable than the related works by the same authors:

  • Andrew Stacey and Sarah Whitehouse, Tall-Wraith monoids, arXiv:1102.3549

  • Andrew Stacey and Sarah Whitehouse, Stable and unstable operations in mod $p$ cohomology theories, Algebr. Geom. Topol. 8(2) (2008), 1059–1091, doi:10.2140/agt.2008.8.1059, arXiv:math/0605471

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Lovasz's "Hit and Run Is Fast and Fun". In that he proved the hit run algorithm on sampling from log concave distributions on a convex set in the Euclidean space has a polynomial mixing time, hence fast.

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

https://jlms.oxfordjournals.org/content/s1-36/1/177.extract

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    $\begingroup$ I'm afraid I don't get it. It's a nice paper, certainly, but what's memorable about the title? $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2010 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps it is because "footnote to a note" makes one imagine the entire paper as written in a tiny, tiny font? $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2010 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ Or that the entire paper is a footnote? $\endgroup$
    – adamo
    Nov 1, 2010 at 11:55
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    $\begingroup$ @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. $\endgroup$
    – j.p.
    Nov 3, 2010 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ Nabokov's novel, Pale Fire, is mostly footnotes. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2020 at 3:18
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My memory is marked by the titles of two papers by Branko Grünbaum:

  1. Branko Grünbaum. `Are your polyhedra the same as my polyhedra?' Discrete and comput. Geom.: the Goodman-Pollack Festschrift, ed. B. Aronov et al, Springer (2003), pp. 461-488.

  2. Branko Grünbaum. `The Bilinski Dodecahedron and Assorted Parallelohedra, Zonohedra, Monohedra, Isozonohedra, and Otherhedra'. The Mathematical Intelligencer (2010). DOI: 10.1007/s00283-010-9138-7.

The first title is easy for me to recall whenever I need to refer to the paper. The second title sounds fancy (though the article itself is not) and, more importantly, is unpronounceable by me, therefore I have put some stretch of mental effort into memorising it.

As to the original question---What makes the title of a paper memorable?---, personally, when I look for things to read, my attention tends to be captured by titles that are short and sweet, for instance, Jean-Pierre Serre's Trees, Ken Brown's Buildings. These monographs/papers usually turn out to be the authoritative treaties of the topics, with material unforgettable for one working in the field.

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  • $\begingroup$ Books were writ by Archimedes, but only Serre could call one Trees. $\endgroup$ Nov 23, 2022 at 23:32
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Paul Halmos' Applied Mathematics is Bad Mathematics is certainly a memorable title, notwithstanding the wrong-headedness of what at least superficially appears to be its thesis.

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Approximately counting up to four, by Luby and Vigoda.

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I don't think $\textbf{L'endoscopie tordue n'est pas si tordue}$ (Twisted endoscopy is not so twisted) de J.-L. Waldspurger has been mentioned yet.

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Ben Andrews' : "Gauss curvature flow: the fate of the rolling stones"

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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.

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On the Dreaded Right Bousfield Localization by C. Barwick.

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There are some rather obvious aspects to the question that perhaps should be mentioned.

"For a large number of readers, the choice whether they select to read a paper or not is often strongly influenced by the title."

Yes, but it is also strongly influenced by the abstract and introduction.

"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?"

Since most answers refereed to the second part, perhaps it is worth answering the first part of the question as well. Perhaps the main thing that makes the title (and paper) memorable is the content of the paper.

"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)."

Overall, the reaction in the mathematics community to catchy titles, personal descriptions, jokes of various kind, and various other things that can be seen as PR-related or "salesmanship" are mixed. So while it is always good to have a clear title having an overly catchy title can also backfire.

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    $\begingroup$ I think given the papers that I have seen being cited here, a conservative moral might be: the more powerful the content (or the writer) of the paper, the bolder the title one may select. More important to me is to figure out a good balance between catchyness, precision, and informativeness. I would not want to sacrifice the latter two in favor of the first one, unless I had a breakthrough result. $\endgroup$
    – Suvrit
    Nov 5, 2010 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ I would put it more strongly: if you are in the position that the community won't mind your papers having catchy titles, then you probably aren't reading MO to get advice. $\endgroup$ Nov 5, 2010 at 18:25
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Ideals and reality

projective modules and number of generators of ideals

By Friedrich Ischebeck and Ravi A. Rao

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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.

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  • $\begingroup$ The link you provide doesn't work. can you, please, fix it? $\endgroup$ Aug 17, 2013 at 15:52
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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

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How often should you beat your kids?, by Don Zagier. The conclusion is that you should beat your kids every day except Sunday!

The word "beat" in this context means to defeat your child in a certain card guessing game, which the paper shows that you will win with asymptotic probability $\frac12+\frac1{2\sqrt{2}}\approx\frac{6}7$, hence six days out of seven.

Despite the intentionally shocking title, the paper is quite a good read!

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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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