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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. $\endgroup$ – J. M. isn't a mathematician Oct 31 '10 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 '10 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". $\endgroup$ – Mike Shulman Nov 1 '10 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 '10 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. $\endgroup$ – Martin Brandenburg May 23 '14 at 14:26

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There was the fuss about The Yellow Cake, a joint paper of Saharon Shelah and Andrzej Roslanowski. (Wayback Machine)

They also co-authored several other funnily titled papers, amongst them are such names as:

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

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    $\begingroup$ Wow. If you have access to JSTOR: jstor.org/stable/3606559 $\endgroup$ – Gil Kalai Nov 4 '10 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ The abstract says, in part, "After illustrating some of the methods by which difficult-looking results can be obtained simply, I shall obtain a simple-looking result with difficulty and ask for an easier way of getting it." $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 26 '17 at 11:32
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Kindergarten Quantum Mechanics” by Bob Coecke / arXiv:quant-ph/0510032v1

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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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I always like the title "Homology flows, cohomology cuts" by Chambers, Erickson and Nayyeri, which makes analog (a general technique indeed) to the well-known theorem (for graph theorists) "Maximum flows, minimum cuts".

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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 '10 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. $\endgroup$ – Arend Bayer Nov 5 '10 at 18:25
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Theorems for free! by Philip Wadler

From the abstract: ... This provides a free source of useful theorems, courtesy of Reynolds' abstraction theorem for the polymorphic lambda calculus.

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"What is infinity factorial (and why might we care)?"

The only downside is that it isn't actually typed up, but rather is hand-written and scanned, but the result of $\infty! = \sqrt{2\pi}$ is still rather intriguing.

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How to Gamble If You Must by Lester E. Dubins & Leonard J. Savage

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De Weger and Pinter wrote this paper entitled:

$$210 = 14 \times 15 = 5 \times 6 \times 7 = \binom{21}{2} = \binom{10}{4}$$

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  • $\begingroup$ . . . which reminds me that $\displaystyle \binom{3003}1 = \binom{78} 2 = \binom{15} 5 = \binom {14} 6. \qquad$ $\endgroup$ – Michael Hardy Jul 21 '20 at 1:01
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Here are a few that jump to my mind.

Young person's guide to canonical singularities by Miles Reid, 1985.

Twenty-five years of 3-folds—an old person's view by Miles Reid, 2000.

Tendencious survey of 3-folds, by Miles Reid, 1985 (same book, Bowdoin -- Algebraic Geometry, as the first one).

On the ubiquity of Gorenstein rings by Hyman Bass, 1963. This also seems to be the first paper with the word ubiquity in the title (via a mathscinet search).

Another one that jumps to my mind is the various Pathologies papers of Mumford.

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  • $\begingroup$ A little late: When I was recent PhD (about 40 years ago), I wrote a paper, Propinquity of Gorenstein rings (referring to some classes of Gorenstein subrings being close together), answering a question in ... ubiquity .... The paper was accepted by Hy, and appeared in JPAA. Subsequently, I found out that the question had already been answered, by Sally. So I thought about writing a paper entitled Iniquity of Gorenstein rings, but couldn't find any suitable results. $\endgroup$ – David Handelman Dec 19 '17 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ I notice that 'tendencious' is in the original, not a typo here. Is this some pun (as compared to the usual spelling 'tendentious')? $\endgroup$ – LSpice Jun 26 '19 at 16:36
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Speaking of Milnor and such things, have we already done [Edit: Kervaire-Milnor's] "Groups of Homotopy Spheres"?

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  • $\begingroup$ That's is a really lovely title. $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Jul 11 '11 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ +1; In his Abel lecture, Mike Hopkins remarks that Milnor's papers often have this kind of elegant concision: The title almost says it all and by the time you end the first paragraph, you have already learnt a couple of mind-blowing theorems and/or conjectures... (BTW, maybe your answer should at least mention the late Kervaire...) $\endgroup$ – Maxime Bourrigan Aug 23 '11 at 22:35
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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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    $\begingroup$ They tell the reader who is familiar with the subject. I cannot even tell what subject they are about. $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Oct 31 '10 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ – Spiro Karigiannis Oct 31 '10 at 18:33
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You can find in Serre's Œuvres (volume IV) an article titled $\Delta = b^2 - 4ac$. (Wayback Machine)

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Not math, but Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow is hard to beat

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    $\begingroup$ It's not a title, though, is it? Do I foresee a new question about memorable lists of authors? $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Nov 10 '10 at 5:08
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    $\begingroup$ That one is sort of a cruel example, as it was due to Gamow's sense of humor that Bethe was invited; he did not even have anything to do with it. Alpher was just a student at the time and felt afterwards that his contribution was drowned out by the bigshot names. (This is all just paraphrased from the Wikipedia article.) $\endgroup$ – Ryan Reich Nov 16 '10 at 11:17
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Another one: MR1274760 (95d:30040) Carleson, Lennart(S-RIT); Jones, Peter W.(1-YALE); Yoccoz, Jean-Christophe(F-PARIS11) Julia and John. (English summary) Bol. Soc. Brasil. Mat. (N.S.) 25 (1994), no. 1, 1–30.

The preprint wad even more memorable title: In Carleson and Gamelin's book on complex dynamics it was referred to as: When is Julia John?

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Bob Thomason's "Beware the Phony Multiplication on Quillen's $A^{-1}A$".

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I have always found the book title "Prolegomena to a Middlebrow Arithmetic of Curves of Genus 2" by Cassels and Flynn to be quite memorable.

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The weird and wonderful chemistry of audioactive decay, by John Conway.

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  • $\begingroup$ I've always wanted to read this paper, but I can't find it anywhere. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Reich May 6 '11 at 3:22
  • $\begingroup$ J.H. Conway, The weird and wonderful chemistry of audioactive decay, in: Open Problems in Communication and Computation, T.M. Cover and B. Gopinath, eds., Springer, 1987, pp. 173–188. If your library doesn't have it, get it through interlibrary loan. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble May 8 '11 at 15:17
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Great Expectations: The Theory of Optimal Stopping,
Yuan Shih Chow, Herbert Ellis Robbins, David Siegmund
Houghton Mifflin, 1971

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The following is not quite as arresting as the other titles listed, but Stallings has a paper in Inventiones entitled "The topology of finite graphs". It's a pretty gutsy title, but what's even more impressive is that it is a fairly good description of what the paper contains (namely, a totally new approach to studying questions about subgroups of free groups using finite graphs; this is totally different from the classical approach using covering spaces of graphs)!

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There's an algebra book called "Rings and Ideals". I thought of a subtitle: "Marriage during the Revolution".

I remember reading Jacobson's "Basic Algebra I" on the bus on the way to university, and someone noticing it and thinking it was a high-school level text.

Similarly, Serre(?) has a difficult book about number theory, titled simply "Arithmetic".

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the subtitle. This reminds the course given by C. Foias in Orsay: Contractions et dilatations, which could have been given in the Department of Obstetrics. However, I regret the adjective difficult. Jean-Pierre (=?) wrote a concise book, which is so usefull that it is still used by our students after fifty years. $\endgroup$ – Denis Serre Apr 6 '11 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ In the same vein of elementary-looking books, Weil's Basic Number Theory is unbeatable. $\endgroup$ – lhf Apr 6 '11 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ And what about Lurie's Higher Algebra? $\endgroup$ – ACL Jun 15 '11 at 6:40
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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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I just saw the very curious title:

An Operator-Like Description of Love Affairs

by: Fabio Bagarello and Francesco Oliveri SIAM J. Appl. Math. Volume 70, Issue 8, pp. 3235-3251 (2010)

And with the report of this title, I also admit that this title belongs to the category of memorable titles, without first needing to read the paper. The abstract of the paper is also quite curious!

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[Smale, Stephen. The story of the higher-dimensional Poincaré conjecture (what actually happened on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro). A joint AMS-MAA invited address presented in Phoenix, Arizona, January 1989. AMS-MAA Joint Lecture Series. American Mathematical Society, Providence, RI, 1989. 1 videocassette (NTSC; 1/2 inch; VHS) (60 min.); sd., col. MR1057609 (91g:01035)]

It's a video, but it's Smale, so...

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Andrew Ranicki and the late John Roe were writing

Surgery for Amateurs

A spectacularly funny title, I think.

The incomplete, but very nice, notes can be found online. Thanks again to Nigel Higson for his lovely talk remembering John Roe in the UK Virtual Operator Algebras Seminar.

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    $\begingroup$ Does "Virtual" modify "Operator", or "Algebra", or "Seminar"? $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 23 '20 at 22:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerry Myerson: the seminar is virtual, not the operator algebras. :) $\endgroup$ – Jon Bannon Jul 24 '20 at 14:04
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Ancestors, Cardinals, and Representatives by T. D. Parsons.

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    $\begingroup$ Could the (apparently anonymous at this time) person who voted this one down explain their rationale? This posting is similar in content to many of those above that were voted up. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hardy Nov 3 '10 at 12:49
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Knobel's wonderful paper on the constant rediscovery of iterated exponentials.

R. Knobel. "Exponentials Reiterated." American Mathematical Monthly 88, (1981), p. 235-252.

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