NEW YORK — Wii Yatani, a 26-year-old graphic designer who works in downtown Manhattan, did not get his Wii for free. But the saleswoman where he bought the machine two months ago did flip out when he showed her his credit card.
No, Nintendo did not consult Wii Yatani or his parents when the company opted to give its fifth gaming console his name.
Though Yatani kicks himself for not buying the Wii.com domain name, and he’s disappointed Nintendo never responded when he offered to be a company spokesperson, he was quite cheerful about the situation when MTV News met with him at a pizzeria in SoHo.
The son of Japanese parents, Yatani grew up in upstate New York, where he was uncomfortable mentioning his name to new people. “When I was growing up, I had a pretty difficult time,” he said. “I just found when I was introducing myself to people, it was a little awkward.”
People never guessed how to spell it properly. They would see his name written down and call him Will. And all the same jokes that arose when Nintendo first announced the Wii were lobbed at Yatani back in grade school. “You get all those wee-wee jokes, and that sort of thing.”
Yatani eventually grew more comfortable with his name. He lived down any heckling and began to relish the character and creativity of what he was called. He may have been one of the only students of Asian descent in his school, but he didn’t have to go by John or Mark or something else common. He never met any other Wiis, though he heard a rumor that a woman named Wii Tu had competed on “Jeopardy!” And then in the spring of 2006, Yatani got an e-mail from his brother in Japan. “He e-mailed me right away and said, ‘Holy sh–, the Nintendo is named after you.”
Nintendo representatives never really defined the word Wii, which is no more common a word in Japanese than it is in English. In April 2006, the company explained its selection as a riff off the word “we,” a signal that the video game console formerly codenamed Revolution would be accessible to everyone.
Certainly that’s not what Mrs. Yatani had in mind when her son was born. So what does Wii’s name actually mean?
In Japanese, Wii Yatani explained, his name is composed of two kanji characters, pronounced as “oo” and “ee.” Together, they sound like “wee.” The “oo” comes from a Japanese word for universe, Yatani said. The “ee” is derived from a word for willpower. “The reason my parents chose that is because they didn’t really have a name picked out when my mom was pregnant. They had a couple of ideas in mind. My mom went into labor early in the morning. When I was being born, the sun was rising and she thought it was a beautiful and joyous day. … She was like, ‘It’s a blessing, like the entire universe being born.’ ”
Based on Yatani’s explanation, his name could have been spelled in English as Ooie, We or Whee. How did his parents settle on the same spelling that Nintendo would present as a breakthrough 25 years later? “That was just creativity on my mom’s part,” Yatani said.
Even Yatani wasn’t sold on Nintendo naming their machine the Wii. He’s a gamer, and he heard the criticism from fans who wanted the Revolution name back. “I thought it was weird Nintendo would go with that,” he said. “I thought it sounded really gimmicky and too cutesy.”
Some of Yatani’s friends suggested he pitch a deal with Nintendo, but the company has never contacted him. Still, he’d be a spokesman if they asked. The company has made his life easier, now that people finally understand how to spell his name. And they’ve given him the ability to introduce himself in a new way: “Now, when I meet people I say, ‘My name is Wii. I’m the original.’ ”
Yatani gets new jokes now too. His friends ask him: “Oh, Wii, are you going to go home to play with yourself?” Laughing, he said he gets that “all the time now.”
Yatani hasn’t started playing his Wii yet. He’s waiting to move into a new apartment. Among other games, he’s excited to try “Wii Fit.” But there’s no chance he’s going to change his last name to match. After all, he’s the original. He doesn’t need to change.
For much more about the history of the word Wii prior to Nintendo, as well as other video game news check out the Multiplayer blog.