Growing up in the 1960s, we used to sing a song called "The Name Game." The idea was to start out with a name and then add different sounds and pass it along. Any name you'd start out with would always end up sounding completely different - and funny.
Now it turns out that some chip makers seem to be playing a new version of that same game today, attempting to take on new corporate identities by coming up with weird, alien-sounding names.
Venerable Siemens Semiconductors in Munich shocked some of us in mid-March when it declared that it was becoming Infineon Technologies AG on April 1, the day it was officially to spin out of parent Siemens AG.
Siemens wanted to create a brand-new corporate identity in the global semiconductor market, so it created "Infineon" by combining the English word for "infinity" with the ancient Greek word "eon," which means eternity. The aim, says Siemens, was to conjure up thoughts of unlimited possibility, perseverance, innovation and reliability. Frankly, that seems to be a bit of a stretch.
The second example is the new name for Rockwell Semiconductor Systems. On Jan. 1, the Rockwell International Corp. division became Conexant Systems Inc. after it was spun out of the parent company. It took Rockwell Semiconductor five months of searching before it came up with this name and an identity for the new chip supplier.
In this version of the semiconductor name game, Conexant was created by mixing the verb "connect" with the adjective "next" and the suffix "-ant." Put them all together and Conexant is supposed to spell out its mission as an independent chip company - connecting people, ideas, and technology with next-generation products. The adjective "-ant" gives it action, according to Conexant managers.
"First, we figured out who we were and where we wanted to be - then we worked on the name," explains Chris Gorciak, director of communications at Conexant who was on the team responsible for coming up with the new name.
High on the list of Rockwell concerns with any new name was the linguistic issue - how it plays in foreign languages. Gorciak says the company didn't want any name with undesirable meanings or one that was difficult to pronounce.
Rockwell management also worried about whether it could get an Internet Web address with a ".com." Internet domain issues actually did eliminate several of its favorite candidates, Gorciak notes.
Once it made its choice, Conexant had to sell its name to the public, the press, and customers. The chip maker laid out nearly $1 million for advertising at the Comdex show in Las Vegas last fall and plastered its new name on anything it could - taxis, billboards, and so on. It could still take two years to get the name branded in the public's awareness, Gorciak figures.
Other chip companies also have tried in recent years to come up with new and improved monikers. There was NCR Corp.'s Microelectronic Products operation that turned into Symbios Logic. And what about AT&T Microelectronics becoming Lucent Technologies? At least Lucent is a real word that means to give off light or to be luminous. But it was still a hard sell.
Maybe it's just old-fashioned conservatism, but it seems that most of these new company names are difficult if not impossible to understand, pronounce, or even remember. Spell checkers still choke on them. While sometimes a company gets lucky - Intel sounded pretty far out in 1969 - most of these artificial new names do little more than obfuscate or confuse the brand name issue.