Utena - the names of Utena and Anthy

It’s confusing to say “first name” and “last name” when talking about Japanese, which puts the family name first. I prefer “family name” and “personal name”.

the family names

Utena’s family name Tenjou (天上) literally means heaven above, and can be translated simply as the heavens. It’s common for a Japanese family name to be a location or origin. The name Tenjou labels Utena as divine, living in or originating from heaven.

There’s a link between Utena’s family name and Akio’s stars. In episode 14, in the conversation with Kanae present, Akio talks about stars as having personalities that only he knows. Stars are people, and he claims special insight into their minds. In episode 37, at the end of the Routine Date, he admits to Utena that he is not truly interested in stars. He doesn’t care about the literal stars.

Akio, and Utena in general, often uses the word hoshi, star or celestial body, when it can refer to Utena—and rarely uses another word frequent in that context, hoshizora, starry sky. (It does come up once in episode 33, when Akio is talking with Anthy on the phone after the sex scene.) For example, in the First Seduction he says that the stars are beautiful tonight, and in the following episode 34 he compares Utena to a comet and also refers to her with the word hoshi. Utena’s name means sky, but she is never referred to as the sky, even metaphorically. She is always a star or a comet. She is sometimes visually represented as a star, for example with Anthy and with Touga. The sky is Utena’s home or origin, it is not what she is.

Anthy’s family name Himemiya (姫宮) means imperial princess, an emperor’s daughter. Miya (宮) often means Shinto shrine, but here it refers to the Imperial Palace, which I guess is a kind of shrine. Unlike the plain Japanese word hime (姫), which is translated as “princess” but has a broader meaning, I think the meaning of himemiya is close to the Western idea of a princess. It matches up with the Western fairy tale prince/princess. Anyway, as the symbolic daughter of an emperor, Anthy is also labeled as descended from heaven. Religiously, the Japanese Emperor is considered to be a descendant of Amaterasu the sun goddess. The Shinto shrine part of the name, miya (宮), connects with that.

In episode 38, when Akio pulls out Utena’s sword and she turns into a princess in a pink dress and a crown, Akio calls Utena “my true princess” using the word himemiya. In little Utena’s prince story, she is only hime.

Not everyone can be a star. Utena and Anthy have celestial names because they are special. They’re the stars of the show. Akio’s name is celestial too: The three are the main characters of the main storyline. All other character names are earthbound.

the personal names

rose bud surrounded with opening green calyx

Both characters’ personal names are written in katakana: Utena ウテナ and Anthy アンシー. It’s not rare.

The word utena has more than one meaning, but as Utena’s name it primarily means calyx, the outer cup portion of a flower which surrounds and protects the petals as they develop before the flower opens. In this Wikimedia photo of a rose bud, the calyx is the spiky green pieces which are opening to reveal the petals.

More meanings: The word utena can be written as 萼, though it is a rare nonstandard kanji that I had to look up (the word is more often spelled out in kana, as it is in Utena’s name). The word means calyx or cup. In Chinese the character is glossed as calyx, so I assume the cup meaning is derived from the cupped shape of a calyx. The cup meaning ties Utena to teacups—see the teacup reflection below. It can also be written as 台, a character that is usually pronounced differently but can be pronounced utena in some contexts. The basic meaning of 台, and the meaning of utena written as 台, is pedestal or stand or platform—an object to hold something up. The dueling arena can be an utena in that sense, and I wonder about the pedestals of the statues. I also see the word utena glossed as “lofty palace”. I don’t know any background on that meaning, but I suspect it is rare or specialized. It could refer to the castle in the sky.

The name Anthy is derived from Greek Anthea, meaning flower. I didn’t realize this myself, and I’ve forgotten where I first learned it. In scientific terms, I take it to mean the corolla, the petals of the flower. Why only the petals? Because that is how the show depicts roses. The petals are often shown as closed (directly symbolizing immaturity or being closed off), and when open the interior reproductive parts of the flower are not visible (which can be taken as symbolic: Utena and Anthy cannot have their own children). See the rose emblems.

Anthy reflected in her teacup.

The teacup reflection from episode 11 can be interpreted as Anthy reflected in Utena. When the cup is empty, we see a rose emblem on the bottom. Here, Anthy replaces the emblem. The cup is a calyx; the outer edge of the cup is the pointy edge of the calyx. Utena is a teacup, containing and protecting Anthy like a calyx until she opens like a rose and becomes adult, that is, leaves the Academy. See the broken teacup of episode 26.

Hera. Anthea is also an epithet of Hera, the wife of Zeus. In Utena, Akio is tied to Zeus the philanderer, so Anthy’s name symbolically marries her to Akio. Hera is goddess of women; Anthy is stereotypically feminine in most ways. Hera is goddess of marriage and family; that’s represented as Anthy’s care for animals and roses, since she’s not allowed to care about people personally. (Anthy watering the roses represents her doing Akio’s cultural control work, which is a kind of caring for people. It’s not a caring kind of caring, if you know what I mean.) Hera is jealous and vengeful; Anthy is jealous (for example, of Kanae) and vengeful (for example, toward Nanami). See Zeus and Hera for more.

Utena and Anthy, whether as protecting divinity and divine princess or as calyx and corolla, are named as parts of a whole. They are complementary: Each one’s strength or character trait is the other’s weakness or opposite trait. It’s sweet to join them into a couple from the start, but look again: Utena is given the heavenly power and the protector roles, while Anthy is given the earthly representation and the beautiful blossom roles. Their names are connected with the system of control and give them conventional male and female roles to play (which in the complicated story they sometimes do and sometimes do not, rather like real people in the real world). It is subversive because Utena is in fact a girl. It also amounts to accepting convention with one modification, which is counter-subversive, failing to escape from entrapping concepts and thereby strengthening the concepts. Utena likes to use the same symbols at the same time in opposite ways.

I think there’s more to be found in the wholeness of Utena and Anthy together. They tie in with other central meanings. I talk more about the roses that represent them at the rose emblems of Ohtori Academy.

Dios and miracles

Dios is the Rose Prince (which refers to his goal of turning all girls into princesses). Anthy and Utena together are a rose, which is a female symbol. Anthy and Utena are aspects of the same thing: They stand for all women.

Anthy and Utena together correspond to Dios. The power of miracles belongs to Utena, but Anthy has a part of it also: Anthy loved Dios and shares his blood; Anthy provides the Sword of Dios; in episode 25 Anthy switches to drawing the sword from Utena; Anthy powers up the sword for Touga in episode 12 and for Utena in a number of duels.

Utena developed the power of miracles on her own; she showed it in her basketball win in episode 1. For Utena to develop the power to its fullest extent, she needs Anthy. One, she needs Anthy for the literal reasons in the last paragraph. Two, Anthy is her motivation to duel and to become stronger. And three, in the allegory Anthy and Utena need to work together in order to be aspects of the same thing. They are a bridge between a traditional and a more progressive and less sexist world.

Jay Scott <jay@satirist.org>
first posted 14 November 2021
updated 16 July 2023