I am not quite sure that this question belongs to the math.stackexchange.com. What I am sure is that definitely there are people here who know the answer to my question.

On the Internet and in the literature I saw two different types of spelling of the last name of Paul Erdös (together with the wrong one "Erdos"):

  1. Erdős
  2. Erdös

In the former case it is called "long Hungarian umlaut (double acute)" and in the latter "umlaut, trema or dieresis". Hence the question: which choice is the correct one, or maybe they both can be used interchangeably?

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    $\begingroup$ Number 1. is the only correct one. In cases of emergency, when one does not know how to generate a long Hungarian umlaut, an ordinary umlaut may be an acceptable approximation. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 6, 2013 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ As once an hungarian speaker said in a number theory colloquium in the mathematics department: "nobody can pronounce correctly the name of Erdös but hungarians...and even that only some of them" $\endgroup$
    – DonAntonio
    Commented Oct 6, 2013 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe the correct spelling can depend on which language you're writing in. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 6, 2013 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ I've wondered the same thing about the Hungarian graph-theorist D. König. I believe that he used the German spelling König (as it is of course a German name), but I believe the pronunciation is closer to Kőnig. I could be wrong on both counts. $\endgroup$
    – bof
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 3:36
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHardy In Japanese, it'd be ポール・エルデシュ. No need to worry about umlauts! $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 9:19

7 Answers 7


Also his first name "Paul" should be Pál.

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    $\begingroup$ Also, it is family name first, given name last. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 6, 2013 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ His given name is Pál in Hungarian. Uncle Paul himself used "Paul" when writing or speaking in English. Using the form Pál when writing in any language except Hungarian is affectation. $\endgroup$
    – bof
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 2:51
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    $\begingroup$ The OP only asked which is correct, not which is the best Anglicization or the most acceptable to "bof" to use in an otherwise English context. There is not only one "correct" to such a question. When in Spanish speaking countries I go by the name Andrés because many people hear Andrew as Henry! But when some still call me Andrew I most certainly do not accuse them of affectation. Telling people it's affectation if they don't do it your way is pontification. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 6:57

It is "Erdős", pronounced something like "air-dersh".
"Erdő" in Hungarian means 'forest', "Erdős" is 'one with forest'.. :)

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    $\begingroup$ Note, though, that most Americans, at least, will hear the Hungarian e, which is relatively low, as being roughly their cat vowel, not their air or met vowel. Speakers who have different first vowels in marry and merry will most likely match it with marry. For those familiar with German, the Hung. ő is close to German long ö in, e.g., schön. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 6, 2013 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ Off-topic, but this reminds me of how Americans used to pronounce schön like "shane", as in the song "Danke schön". As Wayne Newton does here: youtube.com/watch?v=uUryeDLpY_c $\endgroup$
    – user43208
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 2:41
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    $\begingroup$ Even farther off-topic, my impression is that in Yiddish, what’s ö in German is pronounced like e, so “shane”. Certainly the Andrews Sisters’ song Bay mir bistu sheyn got pronounced exactly that way. $\endgroup$
    – Lubin
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 3:31
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    $\begingroup$ Even his name contains graph theoretic terminology. A true graph theorist. $\endgroup$
    – user45220
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 19:42

Well there are different levels of "correct".

Most of the bits of this answer have been given separately in other answers or comments but I'd like to submit a "complete" answer if I may.

The most correct would be to write the whole name the Hungarian way:

Erdős Pál

  • In Hungarian, surnames come first, given names come last. This is also the case in East Asia with Chinese, Japanese, and Korean at least.

  • Pál and Paul are the Hungarian and English versions respectively of the same given name popular across Christian Europe after Saint Paul the Apostle (Παῦλος in Biblical Greek, Paulus in Latin).

  • Pál is pronounced with a "long a" so might be written "phonetically" as "Pahl". For speakers of non-rhotic English varieties (don't pronounce "r" after a vowel) this rhymes with "Carl". Wikipedia gives the IPA pronunciation /paːl/.

  • English and Hungarian have different spelling "quirks". Hungarian s sounds most like English sh whereas the English s sound is spelled sz in Hungarian.

  • Hungarian "Umlauts" (better technical words are "diaeresis" and "trema") represent different vowel qualities, much as they do in German, Swedish, etc. Hungarian "Acute accents" indicate vowels that are pronounced longer. "Double acutes" are actually a combination of the other two, so long versions of vowels that have different sound to the letter without the diacritics.

  • Wikipedia gives the IPA for Erdős as /ˈɛrdøːʃ/. ɛ occurs in various varieties of English. It may sound closer to the "e" in "bet" or the "a" in "bat" if you speak a rhotic variety but for speakers of non-rhotic varieties the closest sound is probably that of "air". ø Does not occur in English but is most similar to the "er" of non-rhotic varieties. If you speak French or German it's closer to "eu" in the former and "ö" in the latter.

English typewriters, keyboards, and older digital technology did not support any "accented" letters. Many European ones supported ö but not ő. ö is seen as looking more like the less well-known ő than the plain o so was often used by people that knew a way to type or enter it.

All of this means there are many possible variations depending on how many of the above facts you know, combined with your personal feelings of what's correct in English when writing foreign names, modulated by how you've seen the name written before.

So you will see Pal, Pál, and Paul with Erdős, Erdös, and Erdos, in either order.

If you prefer to use popularity as an arbiter, Google Ngram Viewer only seems to cover Paul Erdos and Paul Erdös. The former is four to five times more common but declining, while the latter is gaining popularity.

  • $\begingroup$ Also don't forget that most fonts still lack ő and ű which can still be a problem when writing the name. $\endgroup$
    – SztupY
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 8:45
  • $\begingroup$ @SztupY: Yes I intended to cover that where I said '... older digital technology did not support any "accented" letters'. The situation is pretty good now for these characters but deficient fonts will probably lurk around for some time to come. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 9:41

The former is the correct spelling, but outside of $\mathrm\LaTeX$ and its \H command it's hard to enter, so a lot of people just use umlauts which are easier to type on a keyboard.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I believe that the Linux compose sequence =o generates it; in Windows the unichars app generates it with the sequence Ctrl-o-'-'. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 6, 2013 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ The usual problem with ő is not that it's hard to enter, but that it is (just like ű) missing from a lot of fonts, except from the most used ones (and even some of them lack it). I especially hate if the font designer actually creates the U+030B (combining double acute) code point in the font, but doesn't generate the actual ő and ű characters from this. $\endgroup$
    – SztupY
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 8:44
  • $\begingroup$ ő and ű are not harder to enter than ö and ü but the latter are supported on more national keyboards - not English but many European languages, whereas the former are only on Hungarian keyboards I believe. Outside of $\mathrm\LaTeX$ there are other tools which make it easy, including HTML, Vim, MS Word, other word processors, and copying+pasting. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 10:23

As for the pronunciation, just remember this (not by me, but I do not know who the author is):

$\begin{align} &\text{A theorem both deep and profound}\\ &\text{states that "Every circle is round!"}\\ &\quad\text{But in a paper by Erdős,}\\ &\quad\text{written in Kurdish,}\\ &\text{a counter-example is found.}\\ \end{align} $

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    $\begingroup$ That limerick is attributed to Leo Moser. The original actually scanned. The following (from memory) is a better approximation: There's a problem both deep and profound/As to whether all circles are round;/In a paper by Erdős,/Written in Kurdish,/A counterexample is found. $\endgroup$
    – bof
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 2:57
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    $\begingroup$ Mathematical People: Profiles and Interviews (Albers, Donald J. and Gerald L. Alexanderson, eds. A.K. Peters, 2008) quotes Erdős as follows: “Yes, [Leo] Moser has [a limerick]: ‘A conjecture both deep and profound / Is whether a circle is round / In a paper of Erdős / Written in Kurdish / A counterexample is found.’ I tried to publish a paper in Kurdish; there is no journal.” (p. 84) $\endgroup$
    – MJD
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 3:33
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for the corrections and attribution. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 3:54
  • $\begingroup$ I believe the rhyme doesn't get the first syllable quite right: the first syllable of "Erdős" should be like the word "air", while the first syllable of "Kurdish" rhymes with "fur". (There are probably further subtleties of pronunciation, but in my experience "air-dish" is about as close as most English speakers get.) $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 16:32

It's the first, Erdős.

Erdős's name contains the relatively uncommon character "ő" ("o" with double acute accent). This has led to many misspellings in the literature, typically Erdos or Erdös, either "by mistake or out of typographical necessity".[9]

From Wikipedia.


WA (Wikipedi A) yields the first spelling. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Erd%C5%91s

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    $\begingroup$ While it is OK to use Wikipedia as a knowledge source, it is bad to use it as a reference. Being nothing more than a verifiable secondary source is an explicit goal of Wikipedia. $\endgroup$
    – ulidtko
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 12:22

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