How did Ub Iwerks get his name?

The character Mickey Mouse in the animated short film "Steamboat Willie" (1928)
Mickey in “Steamboat Willie

Are you a diehard Mickey Mouse fan?

If so, you may already know that the man who first sketched Mickey Mouse for Walt Disney bore the unusual name Ub Iwerks.

In fact, “Ub Iwerks” was a contraction of the animator’s birth name, Ubbe Ert Iwwerks.

Ubbe was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1901. His father, Eert Ubbe Iwwerks, had emigrated from East Frisia (in northwest Germany) in 1869.

The name Ubbe, originally used in Sweden and Denmark, can be traced back to either Ubbi (which can come from various Old Norse words/names, including ulfr, “wolf,” and úfr, “hostile”) or Urban.

Ub Iwerks in the opening credits for "Steamboat Willie" (1928)
“Steamboat Willie” by Ub Iwerks

Ubbe Iwwerks simplified his name over time, cutting Ubbe down to Ubb, then to Ub, and shortening Iwwerks to Iwerks.

And how did Ub pronounce his name? Good question. According to the Chicago Tribune, “his first name rhymes with cub, and the last name is pronounced EYE-works.”

Walt Disney mentioned Ub’s unusual name in a letter to his wife, Lilly, written in 1929: “Everyone praises Ubb’s artwork and jokes at his funny name. The oddness of Ubb’s name is an asset — it makes people look twice when they see it.”

Finally, here’s an episode of Drunk History all about Ub, Walt, and the genesis of Mickey Mouse [vid].


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