Sony sets Metreon on sites

What’s in a name?

About $20,000 to $40,000 in consulting fees, for starters.

That’s how much San Francisco-based Lexicon Branding charges to concoct such successful product monikers as Zima and Pentium for its corporate customers.

Lexicon most recently helped Sony Retail Entertainment name its planned worldwide chain of location-based entertainment centers.

The new name, Metreon, makes its first appearance on Sony’s four-story theater and retail site in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens neighborhood.

“It’s a bold name,” said Lexicon’s Ann McArtor, “a little futuristic with a classical feel.”

Lexicon uses language experts, proprietary software and market research to create names that project a desired corporate image, according to McArtor, a senior associate at the 15-year-old firm.

“It’s not a case of people just sitting in a room and brainstorming.”

The first step, according to McArtor, is to help customers create a set of “communication objectives.” Next, on-staff linguists identify key morphemes — the smallest word parts — that help convey the desired message.

The last portion of Metreon, for instance, is a Greek ending found in words like Pantheon or Odeon. According to McArtor, this “suggests a place where exciting things are going on.”

The first part of the word, on the other hand, “suggests metropolitan.”

A computer program then generates thousands of possible variations, which are narrowed down to between 75 and 100 for presentation to the client.

But not until they’re run through Lexicon’s GlobalTalk, a service that evaluates potential names in the native languages of the customer’s key market territories.

This helps avoids the “Nova” syndrome, the now-famous case in which Chevrolet discovered too late that its model name meant “doesn’t go” in Spanish.

In the end though, it all comes down to “smart namers,” McArtor said.

While you may not think Metreon trips easily off the tongue, don’t judge it too hastily. McArtor recalls that when Intel’s Pentium chip was unveiled, the CEO of a key competitor quipped, “It sounds like a toothpaste to me.”

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