An article from:
The Atari Connection, Volume 1, Number 2, Summer 1981, p. 19.
"If ATARI Isn’t a Japanese Company, Why Does It Have a Japanese Name?"
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
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
Joel Miller is the Manager of Marketing
Publications in the ATARI Computer Division.