Computer software's prima donna programmers like to think they're as creative as Hollywood and Broadway prima donnas -- and that they deserve the same sort of public recognition.

But where Hollywood's best get Oscars and Broadway's best Tonys, the most creative name that software's hotshots could agree upon was "Excellence in Software" awards.

"It's forgettable but inoffensive," apologized Ken Wasch, executive director of the Software Publishers Association, which hosted a special congressional exposition of its 16 software winners at the Dirksen Senate Office Building yesterday.

With more than 150 members, the two-year-old Software Publishers Association is struggling to capture some of the high-profile cachet that prizes can generate.

According to Wasch, naming the prizes proved more difficult than awarding them.

"We thought about calling them the RAM [for Random Access Memory] awards," he said, "but people thought that name had sexual connotations. We considered the 'Softies' -- but on the East Coast, people might confuse it with Mr. Softee.

" 'The Floppies' sounds wimpy; and we had thought about calling them 'The Woz' awards [for Steve 'The Woz' Wozniak, cofounder of Apple Computer]. . . but he said no. So we picked out an innocuous name that didn't offend anyone."

"For us, it's especially gratifying to win recognition from our peer group," said Trip Hawkins of Electronic Arts, sort of an MGM of software and the programming winner of Best Sound, Best Graphics, Best Creativity Product and Best Adaptation to a New Computer Format awards.

While crediting the little people who made it possible, Hawkins conceded that "we can probably come up with a more convenient handle" for the awards than "Excellence in Software."

Though sparsely attended, the awards exposition underscores the need of most creative industries to heap praise upon themselves.

"There's so much uncertainty in any professional field where you make a creative product that it's difficult to measure the excellence of your product," said sociologist Everett M. Rogers, Annenberg professor of communications at school of communications at the University of Southern California and author of Silicon Valley Fever, a book about life in the high-tech capital of the world.

"I don't think they're worthless -- they do serve a function, but they're a poor substitute for real measures of effectiveness," he said.

Rogers said that in some creative communities -- advertising, for example -- award-winning ads aren't always the ones that have been most effective at selling.

Similarly, computer programs most admired by programmers may reflect a bias towards technical excellence rather than any special value to their users, said Rogers.

But "these are the artists of the computer industry," he said, adding that his survey of Silicon Valley people shows conclusively that the most important measure remains "money."

Wasch said the SPA hopes to have a new name for the awards by next year.