Why would someone named John feel the need to call himself anything other than "John" when he orders his coffee? Gould says, "John is common-enough a name that, if there’s a crowd in line with you, it’s hard to feel confident that you’re the only John they’re making coffee for." So if there are more than a few other customers, he modifies his name; for a while, "Jack" was Gould's go-to, but after encountering another Jack in a Starbucks one day he switched to "Johnny."
My colleague Judith Ohikuare goes by "Jay" when she orders at Starbucks. You'd think that "Judith" would be ideal in this situation—it's an uncommon but not unheard of name. Yet Ohikuare says she often ends up with cups labeled "Julie," and baristas have even written "Judas" and "Jewish." No wonder there are so many Tumblrs devoted to documenting Starbucks "name fails." A monosyllabic moniker that can double as a single initial, like Jay, is great. (Unless everyone starts doing it—can you imagine the chaos if a Betsy, a Beatrice, a Becca, and a Becky all walked into Starbucks at the same time and chose to identify themselves by first initial only?)
The man who stood behind me in line at the Starbucks in Foggy Bottom last Friday had not yet perfected his technique in this, the art of the pseudonymous coffee shop order. When asked for his name, he said: "My initials are H.P." Despite feeling instant kinship—He, too, has an unfamiliar name!—I cringed a little, knowing what would come next. The barista furrowed her brow: "What?" The man repeated, "H.P." The barista raised her voice and asked, "H. Pee or H. BEE?" Amateur hour over here, everybody.
I assumed that H.P.'s strategy had backfired, but maybe his objective had been different from mine. Perhaps his reasons for giving initials in place of a full name were less about sparing others inconvenience and more about wanting an accurate representation of himself on his coffee cup. I'll take any name with any spelling so long as I don't have to engage in a whole dialogue about it. In a place where everyone seems to be rushing, I feel guilty holding up the line for an extra ten seconds.
I'm not ashamed of my name, but I prefer to reserve conversations about it for less hurried, less public interactions. A back-and-forth about the spelling, pronunciation, origin, and meaning of "Svati" can be fun, even necessary—at a cocktail party, during an interview, on a date. While ordering coffee? Not so much.
This weekend I visited a Starbucks in San Jose, where I asked the barista if, and how, she knows when a customer lies about his or her name. She told me about several regulars whom she knows by two names: There's Daryl, who admitted to her early on that he orders as "Mike" because it's easier to spell, and another guy who goes by Sam but whose credit card displays a name she "won't even try to pronounce." Luckily for Sam, this barista isn't the type to yell out a greeting every time he walks into the store. If you become a regular at an establishment where you've lied about your name, it can get awkward to return time after time to a friendly employee who has memorized your order and the fake name that goes with it.