My coffee name is…


For those of us who absolutely hate hearing mangled versions of our names, the simple act of ordering coffee at a certain ubiquitous chain can be unnecessarily stressful.

It turns out that we are not alone. The Village Voice’s Shefali Kulkarni recently had this revelation:

…I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had tired of being asked how to spell a name that people find difficult to handle, at least in the super-busy moment of a Starbucks line.

So, like other people, I came up with a “coffee name.” Something simple that a coffee jockey can scribble on a cup without thinking. And, after taking a survey of the local scene, it’s clear that many others have come up with a similar solution.

At the Starbucks on Eighth Avenue, a grande iced caramel macchiato for “Sean” was really meant for “Chan,” short for Chandani.

“I never, ever give out my name,” Chan says. “And they still don’t get it right, but, hey, it’s what everyone calls me.”

Is anyone surprised that both the author of the article and the first person quoted both have desi names? And do any readers use a nom de cafe while in coffee shops or restaurants? I never do, primarily because I am afraid that I will forget my alias and never get my $4 drink.

73 thoughts on “My coffee name is…

  1. When my dad orders pizza, his name is “Sus” and at Starbucks, my name is Sho”.

  2. “My coffee name is Balasubramanium.”

    I wish there were a way to “Like” SM comments :) I always wanted to give my children absurdly long, unpronounceable Sanskrit names that could not even be shortened to a nickname.

  3. i use “ron mexico” and refuse to get up if they just say, “ron.”

    I find that the coffee places frequented by people on tall bikes don’t ask for your name–they just yell out the name of the drink you ordered.

  4. Well my name is Minnie but I still tell Starbucks that my name is “Kevin”…mostly for my own amusement.

  5. I use my real name since it’s pretty easy, but I’ve gotten some weird spellings before. One cashier spelled it “Osha” which meant the server pronounced it (long o)-sha. My friend teased me for the rest of the day.

    My italian-american cousins have the same problem and regularly use “Kern” instead of their real name “Rufatto”

  6. I used to give a “coffee name” but then I discovered that giving my real name was a great way to start a conversation with cute baristas. They have to ask how to spell it and “where is it from” and a couple of visits later it leads to a free small coffee.

  7. I never do, primarily because I am afraid that I will forget my alias and never get my $4 drink.


    i only like americanos/espressos/regular coffees, none of which exceed 2$. so maybe i can experiment once in a way—though i have never done so till now.

    i will try brown next time.

  8. Stacy.

    Sometimes when I’m not expecting them to ask, “Vineeta” slips out. But when the barista/cashier/checker asks, “Anita?”, I say yes.

  9. Oodoodanoo, of course. The only complication is which syllable to stress: “Oodoo-DAN-oo?” “No, no: Oo-DOO-danoo. Thanks. Right here.”

    Be pedantic, but only about stupid things.

    I’ve recently learned that dyslexia is not as rare as I once thought, so I’m thinking of switching my coffee name to “Obqodpoqbopdobqo”.

  10. I usually go with Jimmy, a random choice I once made. I used to say ‘Mo’ but was often surprised when people asked me to spell it. Once anticipating that I said ‘M-O’ to which the response I got was, “how do you spell that?” It’s been Jimmy since.

  11. I give my actual name but then check what barista wrote on the cup/receipt. In last 20 years, not a single coffee place has got my name right even though name is only 4 letters long.

  12. My coffee name is Balasubramanium.

    aka Element 121…

    I’m actually lucky(?) enough to have a “Western” first name. If I needed my last name to order coffee, however, I would be screwed…

  13. I have a 12 character Indian name which Americans usually mispronounce, so I go by my initials. Not that using my initials makes things any easier. I have a thick Indian accent, which I do not Americanize, simply because I refuse to sell out and I have no desire to fit in.

    At a meetup I had once been to, after a round of introductions, a woman came up to me and started a conversation,.

    She – What was your name again, VK?

    Me – Yes, VK.

    She – Well, how do you spell that?

    Me – Umm, they are my initials, V as in Virginia and K as in Kansas.

    She – Ahhh! The letters V and K. Got it!

    On another occasion, I walked into a UPS store with a box of stuff I wanted shipped. A minute after she had started recording the shipment details, the girl at the counter asked me what was in the box. I replied, “Riding Pants”. She went “Hmm, ok”, charged my card and handed me the receipt.

    On my way out, I happened to glance at the receipt. Under the ‘Package Details’ section, she had put down Writing Bands.

  14. At starbucks, I use my real name, and then immediately start spelling it out, because I’ve see that clueless look all too often.

    I think most people like being told “real names”. Indian names are tres exotique!

    The only “coffee name” I’ve had, was given to me in center camp at Burning Man. The barista volunteers there were taking down names as, “what is your favorite sexual position?”, and I giggled uncontrollably, and was hence christened “giggles”.

    I’m keeping it.

  15. If it makes you feel better, one of my French friends shortens his name to something more American, but they still kept getting it completely wrong. They would write Gill, or Neil or something similar. So he decided to change it and give his coffee name as Matt. The first time he ordered under the name “Matt” the name they wrote on the cup was “Map”. It was then that we figured they were either really dumb or that they were fu*king with him on purpose.

  16. I am pretty militant when I get people to pronounce my name right since it is easy. However, I make an exception at these kind of places where the cashier needs your name and they need to attend to someone else. There just isn’t enough time(even a few seconds) to get them to adjust to your name unless it is a common Indian American name like Raj or Sanjay or Patel.

    So I usually either use my initials or shorten my middle name to a Western name, or I have fun creating new names based on the place or the attendant. I have even said C3PO at one place.

  17. You´re not alone…: my name is Ada (Aaa-daa). Older, bute still existing German/Scandinavian name. Three(!) Letters. Don´t you think there has been one person in a German/Scandinavian coffee shop who got ist right? Not once…(Guessing: there might be no problem with our names but with the eployees ears?) Nice post, though!

  18. Nice to meet you all. I’m Joss, Ross, Jose. John. Sorry to report from the vanilla-name western crowd you’re not alone, and I’ve experimented with both volume and eye-contact. I’ve gone so far as to say things like “Roscoe”, “Steve” and “Buck” because they’re harder to misinterpret. Once I got it in my head I was just going to say “Scooby-Doo” but lost the nerve. Maybe you should say your name is “Facebook”. Everyone knows how to say that.

  19. i usually use my last name, since it’s relatively easy to spell (and pronounce), but even then, most people end up pronouncing it as ‘paula.’ or, if they are unsure, they just yell out the drink. i’ve stopped giving out my first name because i’m so sick of hearing it mispronounced. but based upon the stories above, it seems that even more popular names are not pronounced properly. i think it would be an interesting experiment if all mutineers choose the same name to give and reported back on the results…

    @ abhi and yo dad – well played. but if you’re leaning towards south indian, might i suggest quick gun murugan for your next visit?

  20. I live in a country where people usually don’t want to know your name. Aren’t I lucky. In the US, I’m John for coffee or Neil or Stacy or whatever. There is a nom du activity for pretty much everything even this blog. Even my official name at work or when I author stuff is not the real thing. My real name only my passport knows. And even then it isn’t what it could have been–my parents also tried to make their names short and stylish, first for North Indians and then for westerners both of whom seem to have similar problems. And I inherited those experiments of theirs.

  21. Honestly now as my last name is Tripathi – I walk in a cofee shop and give my name as “Tea Party”. Get it? By the way Lakshmi, I am sure you are using the famous “Ghandy” – as American’s would spell it – as your name, right?

  22. I just say my name and then cringe later at whatever they’ve written on the cup. It generally involves extra consonants. Once, a barista actually made the effort to ask how to spell it, then told me my name was cool. In general, the Starbucks name business has directed my business towards Caribou.

  23. I have a coffee name too. My parents gave me a first name (which I love) that is inexplicably unpronounceable by at least 75% of Americans. Now that I have (what I think is a pretty simple) Indian last name too, I have given up on anyone saying or pronouncing either one correctly (unless they are desi–or Irish). My coffee name is DJ. My husband’s coffee name is VJ, but then people always think he means Vijay.

    This post brought to you by parentheses.

  24. I have also said “I’m Batman.” you should have seen the look on her face. I also detected a smile. And she was cute. Hey, whatever works, right.

  25. My name is Debkumar, which in Sweden was always written as two names Deb Kumar. So I’ve always presented my self as Deb. It took my up to my twenties until I realized (accepted?) it was supposed to be one name. But I still only say Deb, which shouldn’t be a problem now that I live in the US, or so I thought, I’ve been called

    Dev, which is sort of correct I guess Beb Bev Debba and my favourite O’Deb

  26. I usually say “Rundi” (hindi) or “Sule” (tamil). It’s just so nice to hear the barista yell for a few seconds

    “Coffee for Rundi! is there a Rundi here?! Any Rundi here!”

    and then I can respond

    “Yes! I am a Rundi!”

  27. After being called HAN-NEWMAN once too often, I have settle for “Pete”. :)

  28. Well just give the competitors name, just to embarrass the guy behind the counter.

    Like Caribou or Seattle’s best for Starbucks and vice versa

    Imagine a Starbucks guy calling, “Coffee for Caribou .. Coffee for Seattle’s best”

    Hope he dosen’t get fired !!

  29. I refuse to patronize bourgeois establishments like Starbucks and so I make my own coffee. Ethnic and economic integrity remain intact that way, too.

  30. I use my regular name, which is just 2-syllables and completely phonetic, but I still have to spell out all five letters.

  31. After being called HAN-NEWMAN once too often, I have settle for “Pete”. :)

    What about Han (as in Solo?)

  32. Imagine a Starbucks guy calling, “Coffee for Caribou .. Coffee for Seattle’s best”

    Seattles best is owned by Starbucks…

  33. My real name isn’t even Indian, it’s a very common English name, so it’s not a problem. My last name, which is Indian, doesn’t sound Indian. If you saw my real name on a nameplate you would probably assume I was white.

    I used to work with a Nitin who called himself Nathan.

  34. VJ is mine. Funny story from my co-worker whose white American kids created coffee names for the heck of it. So when Caroline was asked her name, she says “Svetlana”, and the server asks “how do you spell that?”, to which Caroline promptly replies “I have no idea”

  35. I used to give people my dakh nam, which is easier to say/spell but then if I’m paying by credit card they get suspicious, and if I’m having a coffee w/ someone who doesn’t know my dakh nam, it’s awkward, so I just say Saheli and am amused by any results. Usually I get Sally or SaiLee.

  36. Should I feel bad that it’s never occurred to me to give a coffee name? I don’t live in a city with many Indians and I have a western middle name. But I feel like I’m doing them a small favor by teaching them a fairly common name. Maybe that’s totally narcissistic of me.