Have a 'Tough' Name that Starbucks Can't Handle? Welcome to My World


All I really wanted was a venti, white chocolate mocha without the whip cream.

It's my go-to Starbucks order at my go-to location in Louisiana. I was two seconds from being late for work and in anticipation of a long day, I decided to treat myself to what southerners call "that high-priced coffee".

I gave the barista, a lovely older woman, my name and she shot me the typical confused look. I spelled it for her like a first-grader would recite her home phone number.

"I-c-e-s-s. You know like the goddess, but spelled like ice", I explained.

"What?" she asked again.

Maybe she needed another reference. Here's a popular one: "The cartoon? Oh, Mighty Isis?"

Silence and a farrowed eyebrow.

"Angela. My name is Angela."

In a world of colliding cultures, a name is more than what someone calls you; it's a verbal business card. Each name has a story and each person has a story. Some people are named after family members or favorite family members, the ones who make it into folklore. Others are named after places. (Who doesn't know the story of little Brooklyn Beckham?) And still others are named after things or concepts that, well, you're not quite sure about but their parents know why. (I'm looking at you, Apple and Pilot Inspektor.)

Yes, a name is not only who we are but also what we represent or hope to represent. They're more personal than blood types and as intimate as a kiss. In my case, the name Icess involved the 1978 eastern seaboard blizzard and two immigrant parents who thought they were clever. They were, though it took me nearly a lifetime to acknowledge it.

In fairness to Starbucks, it's not just baristas who are at fault but any restaurant or eatery requiring a name to add a personal touch to its service. Over the years I've been Jessica, Jenny, Alison and She-Ra, Princess of Power. Yes, there came a time, after a lifetime of having my name misspelled and mispronounced by teachers, servers and sometimes bosses, where becoming She-Ra was easier than being myself. Angela could get coffee at Starbucks with ease while Icess was still spelling her name out. Jessica was a staple at my local Chinese place even though Icess paid. And even Microsoft Word recognized Jenny as a proper pronoun, a proper person, over me; the red squiggle line was a constant reminder.

Sometimes the endless quest for name validation, even in my own Word document, was exhausting. Could you blame me for being someone else? For having a Starbucks alter ego?

But the tide is changing. According to Newberry.com, the most popular names of 2013 could give baristas and others in the service industry a headache, or at least set them on the path toward a nervous breakdown. Imogen, Isla, Declan and Django are some of the more popular names, says the baby names site. Of course some of these names come from television shows, movies and actors, but that doesn't mean that if Declan and Isla wanted to get a tall chai latte together that their names wouldn't be misspelled. (Enjoy the lattes Decklan and Ilah.) Does poor Django have to become He-Man, Master of the Universe, when he puts in his order at Fuddruckers?

Let us not forget surnames, which are also a point of contention. One of my dearest friends mentioned to me how her maiden name was always mispronounced. Her name was Riccitelli (now a middle name) and it wasn't until Victor Riccitelli, a member of the Gambino family was arrested that people began to pronounce and spell it correctly. She was not related to the more infamous Riccitelli, however.

At some point writing or saying a name correctly becomes a matter of respect. As we become a more multicultural society, names as simple as Jane and John will become less common. Shashandria or Hiraku will become the norm and, in some places in the country, it is already. To adjust, those with seemingly odd names will shorten or adopt an easier name, but why?

If we truly want to become an inclusive society, if we want to celebrate our uniqueness, it begins with a name. We are a nation of immigrants and, although we like to say we're a melting pot, we also enjoy different cultures. Names are stories, and in those stories are a person's identity and culture. Just like at one point Sally and Mark were foreign, why not continue the inclusion for all names, all people, all cultures?

Bottomline: if you ask me my name, take the time to spell it correctly. Take the time to learn to say it correctly, and I'll do the same with yours.

Meanwhile, there's some hope. My latest trip to Starbucks had the correct spelling of my name on the cup. I took a picture for posterity. This was the moment my name went mainstream.

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