The New York Times reports that cable television's Sci Fi Channel has been renamed Syfy. The pronunciation remains "sigh-fie." The new slogan is "Imagine Greater," and the old SciFi.com website is moving to Syfy.com. The new name was developed by an internal team with the help of San Francisco-based Landor Associates, which is famous (or infamous) for creating corporate names like Lucent, Agilent, and Accenture.
From the Times article:
“We couldn’t own Sci Fi; it’s a genre,” said Bonnie Hammer, the former president of Sci Fi who became the president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Universal Cable Productions. “But we can own Syfy.”
Another benefit of the new name is that it is not “throwing the baby away with the bath water,” she added, because it is similar enough to the Sci Fi brand to convey continuity to “the fan-boys and -girls who love the genre.”
Ms. Hammer and her successor as Sci Fi president, Dave Howe, said they had sat through many meetings over the years at which a name change was debated.
The principal reason the idea kept coming up, Mr. Howe said, was a belief “the Sci Fi name is limiting.”
And a little further down:
“The testing we’ve done has been incredibly positive,” Mr. Howe said of the Syfy name, reading what he described as a comment from one participant: “If I were texting, this is how I would spell it.”
Aptly, "Syfy" also looks like a morpheme from an alien vocabulary, perhaps Klingon.
Sci Fi's shrinkage is reminiscent of last year's makeover of Court TV into TruTV. "Tru" was justified as an abbreviation of "true" and also the last three letters of "court" spelled backward.
By the way, "sci-fi" as an abbreviation for "science fiction" was coined in 1954 by Forest J. Ackerman, who died last December at age 92. The wonderful L.A. Times obituary (courtesy of my brother Michael) tells the origin story, which includes this quotation:
Ackerman, a native Angeleno, founded the Boys Scientifiction Club when he was 13, and by his late teens had mastered the international language Esperanto. He created (and presumably named) the comic-book characters Vampirella and Jeanie of Questar.
I can't help wondering what Ackerman would have had to say about "Syfy."
UPDATE: Read what NameWire has to say about Syfy ("Naming from a Galaxy Far, Far Away").
UPDATE #2: CatchThis, the blog of Oakland branding agency Catchword, says: "Science fiction is all about asking 'what if?'; Syfy makes me ask 'WTF?'”
UPDATE #3: Branding guy Rob Frankel takes off the gloves: "Landor, the hack agency that created the name and logo, has once again proven its ineptitude, by charging big bucks for a logo that was probably the result of a junior designer spending an hour or two rendering a 3D line of text in Carrara Pro, completely draining the mark of any values to which sci-fi fans could relate. What you've got there, friends, is a soccer mom's version of what the people at Landor think science fiction ought to be."
Not sure I like Syfy, and not sure I would recognize it on my TiVO channel list, either. (Although SciFi is one of the few channel #s that I have memorized.)
BTW - Another SCIFI -- at SCI-Arc, The Southern California Institute of Architecture. It's "an intensive research-based, post-professional degree program and think-tank...." http://is.gd/nAy8
Posted by: NextMoon | March 16, 2009 at 11:57 AM
The name "science fiction" was coined in I believe 1930 by Hugo Gernsback, who had founded the first magazine in the genre. It was his second attempt, "scientifiction" having failed to cut it.
This comment has been the geekiest thing I've said or written all month.
Posted by: WIIIAI | March 16, 2009 at 03:06 PM
Hope you saw this tweet from @drmomentum: SciFi channel is changing name to SyFy for branding. Other new channels: Hystori, DzKoveri, Empty Vee, Focks Nuz, and "See B.S."
Posted by: Karen | March 16, 2009 at 03:07 PM
@Karen: I missed @drmomentum's tweet; thanks for sharing! See B.S. indeed.
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | March 16, 2009 at 03:15 PM
Lucent is an OK brand name in my book, but Agilent evokes agitation and Accenture is just goofy. I don't think Landor Associates is instilling confidence in their naming abilities.
Posted by: Amy Reynaldo | March 16, 2009 at 04:13 PM
@Amy: From what I remember, Agilent was supposed to evoke agility. And I think Tate Linden at Thingnamer said it best: "Where Landor fell down was not with the name but with the talking points for the executives. A strong branding firm doesn't let the executives make fools of themselves with nonsensical justification for the rebranding. ... No capably led organization would ever change its name from the correct spelling to a made-up homophone of the same word because the original word 'is limiting.' That's crazy talk." http://is.gd/nCHE
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | March 16, 2009 at 04:29 PM
Boy, I'll watch their four trademark applications (filed on the 12th) vigilantly - they pussyfooted around the descriptions and didn't include any reference to science fiction, which was no doubt deliberate. The question from the PTO will be whether the term has any meaning in the trade - and what their response is will be telling. Let's see if the PTO is fooled or not.
Honestly, it's always a marketer who says "we can own this" - not a trademark lawyer. Exhibit A weighing against registrability: “If I were texting, this is how I would spell it.”
Posted by: Jessica | March 17, 2009 at 09:34 AM
@Jessica: I was hoping you'd weigh in on this! I've always warned my clients that trademark observes the oral tradition: you can't change the Cs to Ks and register Koka-Kola. Just one question: wasn't the original "Sci Fi Channel" already a descriptive mark?
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | March 17, 2009 at 10:58 AM
Hmm, I think that junior exec also listens to the Bay Area's own flavor of crunk music, hyphy:
Posted by: Mark Gunnion | March 17, 2009 at 01:07 PM
You know, speaking of sci-fi, William Shatner, and Esperanto, you've probably heard about the all-Esperanto movie Shatner made, right?
Forry Ackerman was one of my boyhood idols. I was in the key demographic for Famous Monsters of Filmland, which, now that I think of it, was full-to-burstin' with constant wordplay and punning. Every headline, every caption, practically every sentence of the magazine included some kind of linguistic joke or gymnastic.
Posted by: Mark Gunnion | March 17, 2009 at 01:13 PM
@Mark: Did somebody say "Shatner in Esperanto"? http://is.gd/nLsP
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | March 17, 2009 at 01:36 PM
Yep, Sci Fi Channel was descriptive - and that's why changing the spelling doesn't change the underlying meaning, pronunciation or descriptiveness.
Posted by: Jessica | March 18, 2009 at 07:45 AM