I found an interesting question on Math SE asked by @KCd, but it is over four years old without a clear answer. Since it seems to be more on topic here than on Math SE, I thought to post it here in case it receives good answers.

(I commented on the post a few months ago asking the OP if they would be interested in posting the question here, but since I did not receive any reply I'm making my own post; I hope there is no objection to this, but if so please let me know.)

This question is being asked on behalf of a graduate student in my department. When and where did the tradition start of a seminar or colloquium speaker using just the first initial of the speaker's last name (or initials for the speaker's first and last names) when stating a theorem due to the speaker? Attributions of results due to anyone else, including joint theorems with the speaker, are usually indicated with the other people's full last name.

Anything like a photograph of Hilbert giving a talk with "Satz (H.)" at the start of a theorem would be great to see if it exists.

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    $\begingroup$ I suspect very few of us have seen or experienced that "tradition." $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft Oh, I didn't expect that. It's happened in talks that I've attended, and I thought it was a common tradition. $\endgroup$
    – user3224
    Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, it may well be a localized (country, or period in history) custom. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ I have seen this in lectures. (Some mathematicians have surnames that start with I: how lucky for them: I proved this, I proved that; I conjecture; I had a mistake which I was able to repair...) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 13:20
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    $\begingroup$ I can confirm that in the U.S., in number theory, automorphic forms, representation theory, and such, it is quite common to see this custom manifest. I have seen it for at least 20 years (i.e., before 2000). $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 12:45

1 Answer 1


The question probably cannot be precisely answered as stated, but there is an early example close to what you expect to see, at least in terms of time frame and the importance of the mathematician involved. It has to do with printed matter, though, not with talks, and refers to a notion, not a theorem. The notion is that of a Banach space. According to Jeff Miller, http://jeff560.tripod.com/b.html, the name originated with Maurice Fréchet (1878-1973), who in 1928 in his Les Espaces Abstraits wrote about "les espaces de M. Banach." Yet in his own book Teoria operacji liniowych, 1931, and its French version Théorie des opérations linéaires, 1932, Banach calls such spaces "the spaces of type (B)". Unfortunately the French text is not digitally available, but the Polish version can be seen here, on p. 96: http://kielich.amu.edu.pl/Stefan_Banach/pdf/teoria-operacji-pol/05.pdf It is hard to guess if Banach is following the naming convention in question, because in the initial chapters of the book he also refers to (B)-measurability, but he links this notion with the name of Baire. There is also a chapter about "spaces of type (F)".

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    $\begingroup$ And earlier when Dickson created cyclic algebras (before they had that name) in 1906 he called them "algebras of type D," but he was not successful in the long run in getting them called Dickson algebras. Anyway, this is not what I had in mind with the question when I asked it, but I can see the similarities. $\endgroup$
    – KCd
    Commented Apr 26, 2019 at 4:50

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