The Atari Connection, volume 1, number 2, Summer 1981, page 19

Inside Atari®

If Atari Isn't a Japanese Company, Why Does it Have a Japanese Name?

Very early Atari logos

by Joel Miller

The name ATARI is in fact a Japanese word, but the company is most definitely American. The evolution of the name ATARI is interesting and somewhat complicated. To get to the root of it, we spoke with Ted Dabney, one of the founders.

In the beginning, three friends, who knew each other from previously working at Ampex, decided to invent and market the first commercially feasible video game. They were Nolan Bushnell, Ted Dabney and Larry Bryan. To become a partner, each had to ante up $100--unbelievable today considering ATARI's success! The three were all sitting around Bushnell's house one day, drinking beer and trying to figure out a name for their new company. Bryan was thumbing through the dictionary and came upon an interesting last listing in the "S" section: Syzygy--"the straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies." What a perfect name, they thought, for a company begun by three so obviously astronomically talented people...

They invented the game Computer Space. Things became a little shaky and Bryan didn't ante up his $100. Only Bushnell and Dabney remained. They set up shop in Santa Clara, California and incorporated the business. A little later, they invented Pong.

Bushnell and Dabney applied for the name Syzygy, but the Office of the California Secretary of State, which regulates California corporations, informed them that this name had already been taken by another California corporation. As this corporation didn't appear to be active, they tried to buy the rights to the name; however, they were unsuccessful. Their attorney told them to identify a new corporate name. They considered "BD, Inc." and "DB, Inc." but these names too closely resembled Black & Decker Manufacturing Inc. or Dunn and Bradstreet Inc.

Bushnell and Dabney were both players of Go, a Japanese strategy game. Their best brainstorming always occurred over beer and a good game of Go. Being preoccupied with Go at the moment, they decided to make a list of several Go words and see if one of them would fly as the new corporate name.

First on the list was "Sente," which means "the upper hand." Their second and third choices were "Atari," which has similar meaning to the chess word "check" and "Hanne," the acknowledgement of an overtaking move.

Bushnell and Dabney submitted the list to the Office of the California Secretary of State. A few weeks later, their incorporation papers came back; the Office of the Secretary had selected their second choice, ATARI. If someone in the Office of the Secretary of State had decided to approve their first choice, you might now be reading "THE SENTE CONNECTION."

When the name changed, Bushnell and Dabney wanted to change the logo too. So they incorporated both the "S" from Syzygy and the "A" from ATARI into the new design. If you look closely at the middle logo, you'll see both letters. Some time later, as the company became more successful, an advertising agency designed the slicker and now famous ATARI logo, the ATARI "fuji" or stylized "A" design.

Joel Miller is the Manager of Marketing Publications in the ATARI Computer Division.

This page by Michael Current, August 2008