What’s in a name?

Companies, people, situations, bananas etc, have names. The reason might seem obvious but, as with everything, you can always complicate things.

For instance, the philosophy of language, which, as you of course know was made famous in large part by Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein, seeks to understand the relationship between our words and what is real. And when I say understand, I obviously mean complicate.

But I won’t bore you with repeating everything you already know about Søren and Ludwig and their position on meaning and language.

I do however want to bore you by telling you in excruciating detail the story behind our name. It’s Ueno.

What does it all mean?

When I was picking the name I wanted a name that could mean a lot of things, but more importantly, a name that didn’t mean anything specific to most people. That way you could decide yourself what it meant. Or, we could create meaning for the name and present that to you. Some people call that branding.

Anyway. I was about to start a company and I needed a name. At the time I was living in Buenos Aires. It was christmas and it was extremely hot. The temperature is not important to the story but I think it adds flavor so I’m keeping it in. It was a hot (flavor!) christmas day and me and my wife went out with our young daughter.

While walking to the playground we were talking about the time we used to live in Hiroo, which is a part of the Shibuya district in Tokyo. And I started to think, maybe I should call the agency Hiroo? But I quickly dismissed it since it sounded too much like Hero, which is not a word I like.

But it got me thinking about other Japanese names. We kept walking and talking and listing out some ideas. I thought back to all the time we spent on trains while we lived in Tokyo, most of the time on the Yamanote line, a railway loop that goes through a lot of the great neighbourhoods of the city.

I thought about the neighbourhood names along the Yamanote line. Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku — all too complicated. There’s Ginza. It’s a fun name but that neighborhood is mostly for fancy shopping and I didn’t like that connection.

But then there’s Ueno.

I mean. common!

If you’ve been to Tokyo, you might know of Ueno Park. It is one of the great places in this amazing city. It’s a magical park filled with museums (history, art, nature and science), schools, concert halls, opera and ballet. The park itself is beautiful, even more so in cherry blossom season. The locals come there and use it to openly practice and exhibit their talents, often in groups. You can see people dancing, painting, playing guitar, others putting on small theater performances.

It honestly couldn’t have a better mental connection for me. Thinking about it now gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.

And as I started to think about it, other meanings started to get attached. For one I thought the word itself was beautiful. It’s short and plain. Unassuming and friendly.

It also reminded me of Scandinavian company names. Names like Ikea, Lego and it reminded me of another design agency I looked up to, Ideo. It even reminded me of a childhood card game I used to play, Uno.

And the final piece that clicked for me was that it reminded me of bueno, my favourite word in spanish, a word we used a lot in Buenos Aires. A word that literally means good (fyi, we use Bueno as a name for our good things, you can read more on that here if you are interested).

My personal experiences would tie together Tokyo, spanish, a card game, Scandinavia, design, all these different things. But for someone else it could mean something completely different. And that’s exactly what I wanted.

Coming back from that walk on christmas day the decision had been made. Once home, I bought the Ueno.co domain and took a nap.


So, that’s all well and good. But how do you pronounce it?

Honestly, for me, that’s part of the fun of the name. Just like you can attach your own meaning to it, you can also pronounce it in many different ways. I’ve heard every possible version.

But, if you want to know how I pronounce it, it’s bueno without the b. And if you don’t know how to pronounce bueno, it’s sort of like ueno with a b.

UENO? ueno? Ueno? uENo?

You may have seen our old logo. It used to be UENO. But we changed that last year because we thought it was a bit aggressive and we wanted to be humble and fantastic. So now it’s all lowercase, i.e. ueno. And we use the ueno typing when it’s standalone. Like in our social media name field. But when we write it out in a sentence like this, we use Ueno.

Dot, dot, dot

What about that dot? I.e. our logo is “ueno.” Well, that’s a bit of a complicated story. And I don’t want to reveal all our secrets just yet. But when I write the name I try to be smart and have the sentence end on our name. So it’s Ueno. That way the dot is there. But when I can’t do that I just leave the Ueno in the middle of the sentence. And there’s no dot.

Ok. that’s it. That’s all the things. Bye buster.

Haraldur Thorleifsson
Design Director at Ueno.

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Ueno is a digital agency with offices in San Francisco, New York and Reykjavik, Iceland. Find out more about us on www.ueno.co.

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