This site keeps getting questions from users who have mistaken mathoverflow for a place to ask questions about elementary mathematics. This is not a problem for me, as those too-elementary questions are still vastly outnumbered by questions that are way over my head; but I suppose it's a problem for those kids who are trying to get help with their homework.

Would it help if this site had a more informative name, like mathresearch or mathadvanced, instead of the seemingly meaningless mathoverflow? What does mathoverflow mean, anyway?

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    $\begingroup$ I presume the name MathOverflow was chosen with a nod to the coding Q&A site Stack Overflow. Like many names of things that have been around for a long time, it made sense at the start and now it is engraved in stone (and it would be counterproductive to change it). Note that there is also a PhysicsOverflow site, for advanced physics questions. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Beenakker Apr 25 at 7:20
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    $\begingroup$ I remember the suggestion MathResearchOverflow from this comment. Considering that MathOverflow can be considered a rather established "brand name" by now, I find it unlikely that it gets renamed. (As a side note, the name of the site is usually written as MathOverflow - also some people object that using capital in the middle of a word is grammatically incorrect.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Apr 25 at 7:31
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    $\begingroup$ I hope those opposed to capital in the middle are not named McDonald or LaFontaine (and don't use LaTeX, or post to the arXiv). $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Apr 25 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe we should call it MSO or MU rather than MO. After enough iterations we might graduate to MStrung... $\endgroup$ – Tim Campion Apr 25 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson I try to balance them out by approving of capitals only in the middles of words. $\endgroup$ – Noah Schweber Apr 25 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ I like mathoverflow and MO as names, personally. I think the proactive measures Tim and the other moderators are looking at are going to have a positive impact on this issue, and hopefully this together with continued community moderation will be sufficient to assist any incoming inquirers who can be helped -- if all of that is ignored, I'm not sure a name change would work either. $\endgroup$ – Alec Rhea Apr 25 at 15:47
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    $\begingroup$ @AlecRhea I would try to temper expectations about how much the changes to the modal window dialog will actually do to decrease the number of off-topic questions. But I do think those changes might go some way to helping off-topic questioners understand after the fact that they're not being dismissed arbitrarily, and to lessen the feeling of "What? If they didn't want this type of question here, why didn't they tell me?" $\endgroup$ – Tim Campion Apr 25 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ By the way -- if you think that most of the questions are over your head, then don't worry -- it stays that way! I don't think there exists a mathematician expert in enough fields that they could actually say they understand the majority of questions on MO. Eventually you can hope to understand a good chunk of the questions in your field(s), and you can sort by tags so that you see mostly those questions, though. $\endgroup$ – Tim Campion Apr 25 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak MathOverflow has been in business for what, a dozen years, and so now it's an "established brand name" and must not be changed? Tell that to Aunt Jemima. Or to Astounding Science Fiction which changed its name to Analog after three decades as Astounding. Or to Persia, Burma, and Ceylon. :-) $\endgroup$ – bof Apr 25 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ The logo for MathOverflow shows an overfull $\LaTeX$ box. For me, it implies that the mathematics here is beyond the usual mathematics taught in general education subjects. $\endgroup$ – Joel Reyes Noche Apr 26 at 11:11
  • $\begingroup$ @TimCampion, "Maybe we should call it MSO or MU rather than MO." MU would be for MathUnderflow. $\endgroup$ – Joel Reyes Noche Apr 26 at 11:13
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    $\begingroup$ @bof re Persia, you might find there's some debate/ambivalence/difference about the name and its use as an adjective/signifier, among the people in question. Also the two colonial names you mention are arguably case of new names being changed back, which is almost the opposite of what is being discussed here for MO $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Apr 26 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @JoelReyesNoche: Not just would be, it was called MathUnderflow by many people for a few years around 2010. $\endgroup$ – Dmitri Pavlov Apr 26 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ @DmitriPavlov Was? I thought that joke was still current! I guess I'm dating myself! Oh well :) $\endgroup$ – Tim Campion Apr 27 at 1:19

I haven't looked that hard, but it's kind of surprising that as far as I can see, this question hasn't come up before on meta.

MathOverflow's name reflects our proud history. Although we are hosted on the Stack Exchange network, we were founded independently and continue to be an independent entity. I'm pretty sure we pre-date the existence of Mathematics Stack Exchange, for instance. We've had this name, and the associated logo and so forth, since 2009.

None of this is precisely relevant to the valid concerns you bring up about the regular opportunities for confusion about the purpose of the site suggested by the name. But what I'm trying to express is that I, and I'm certain many others, would be extremely reluctant to change the name of the site after all these years.

Moreover, my sense is that almost any conceivable name would have similar issues. The name and setup of the site need to communicate that

  1. We're about mathematics;

  2. You can ask questions and post answers here;

  3. We're not about any mathematics questions, but specifically about research-level mathematics.

I think the name and setup do a great job of communicating (1) and (2). The difficulty is communicating (3). Part of the problem is that the majority of people looking for answers to mathematical questions on the internet don't even have any idea that there is such a thing as research-level mathematics! Even if they do possess such a concept, the idea that there's a sleek, modern Q&A site devoted to something so niche and that that's what they've stumbled across it is probably quite surprising. In fact, it's an open problem, even after all these years, to adequately communicate (3) in one or a few sentences, and we continue to have internal debate about it -- for just one recent example, see discussion here. Given these difficulties, the challenge of communicating all of (1),(2), and (3) in a single name seems beyond the reach of current methods.

So if we were to try to deter off-topic questions by changing the name, the only avenue I could imagine at this point would be to choose some very clinical and stuffy-sounding name which would be indecipherable to most people on the internet, so that they would not suspect we're talking about mathematics here. I, and I think many others here, would be very unhappy with such an approach for many reasons. Among them would be sentimental value of the current and historical name, as well as worries about attracting users whom we do want to attract.

For these reasons, the name MathOverflow is not going anywhere. Phew!


I am not opposed to it a priori, if we find a good name.

I would suggest to open a question to ask for suggestions for new names.


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