The sweetest and most important sound in any language.

“How can I spell your name in an arbitrary way that perplexes and infuriates you?” (Paul Gale)

Have you ever gone into Starbucks and had them misspell your name on your cup? Last year the concept of baristas at Starbucks getting names wrong on a consistent basis became a viral sensation. Paul Gale, a comedian, created a 3 minute video on the subject seeking to “explain” why he (posing as a barista), does it. In his world, it is high entertainment for an otherwise boring job, and he takes great amusement from those who get all upset when their name is wrong. I know that the video is fake, and he is just a humorist, but it no less infuriates me.

While researching this post, I also came across an article from Forbes magazine, which actually quotes the principle for this post. In that article, Roger Dooley posits that it might actually be good business for Starbucks to mess up names because it makes the experience more memorable. He says:

“And, if they get the spelling wrong? Some customers might be irritated, but from a brain function standpoint the experience might be more memorable. There’s evidence that when one’s brain is expecting one thing and is delivered another, attention and interest spike. That’s the basis of most jokes, and was also a favorite linguistic technique of Shakespeare.”

So, I guess it’s ok, then to butcher someone’s name in the name of advertising and marketing? HOGWASH!

I very rarely go to Starbucks for my coffee. I used to, but I found the atmosphere to be a bit too pretentious and hipster for my taste. If that atmosphere appeals to you, more power to you. For me it just doesn’t work. I have two places I go for coffee on a regular basis – Biggby and 7-11.

Biggby is a chain of coffee shops in Michigan. They are growing fast, and seem to be popping up like dandelions all over the area where I live. I started going to one that was on my way to work. I am an early starter, and I fell into a pattern of arriving there at about the same time every day. After just a few weeks, one of the baristas asked me my name. Not because she was going to write it on a cup or anything, but because she was genuinely interested. Since then, nearly all of the baristas who work early in the morning have gotten to know my name (and the names of many other regulars). I often get a greeting as soon as I walk through the door. While I am getting my coffee we chat about things. I have talked about upcoming or recent vacations, home improvement projects and so on. And, they remember and ask me again later how it went.

Some years ago, 7-11 was on my path to work. The same thing happened there. Despite the fact that it was a hopping and busy place, the gal at the cash register got to know my name and used it frequently.

The truth is that neither of those places are on my way to work anymore, and yet I frequently stop at one or the other. Part of the reason is that the coffee is good, but honestly it is no better than I can make at home. The biggest reason is that they take an interest in me.

So, here is a choice for you. You can go to a place where they will make a game out of your name, write it on a cup in some unrecognizable form, and do it very overtly to possibly be messing with you. Or, you can go somewhere that they will take the time to actually get to know a bit about you, and get your name right. Which will you choose?

There are some people who prefer anonymity, especially first thing in the morning. They might choose the 3rd option of going through the drive through, and that is quite understandable. I think there are a large percentage of people, though, who would prefer that if there name is going to be used, it be done so correctly and respectfully. I know I am in that camp.

I have made the mistake, far too often in life, of calling someone by the wrong name. It is embarrassing in any circumstance, but when the person knows that I was once a Dale Carnegie instructor, the embarrassment for me is increased exponentially. I know that a person’s name is precious, and you know it too.

Have you ever been called by the wrong name by someone you thought knew you? If you are like me, it can be devastating. You think you’ve made an impression on someone, then the next time they see you they haven’t remembered even your name. When we get someone else’s name wrong, it has the same effect.

You might be reading this and be thinking “I am bad with names”, or “I cannot remember names”. To that I also say hogwash. Remembering names is a skill. The skill of remembering names can be learned and improved with diligence and practice. As with any skill, the first thing you must do is to convince yourself that you can do it, if you convince yourself that you can’t, then you never will.

Once you have convinced yourself that you can remember names effectively, then it is a matter of learning the skill. I am not going to take you through learning the skill here. There are many resources on the internet, and in the Dale Carnegie class (if you happen to ever take that class), on how to remember names.

I will leave you with this last thought on the subject. Over the last year I have been working to lose weight. My wife and I still like to go out to dinner from time to time, and we discovered that there are menu items at Ruby Tuesday that are quite diet friendly. Combine that with handy coupons, and you have a match made in heaven. As we have been going there about twice each month, we have had the same waitress many times. Sherry is very friendly and efficient, and we really enjoy being in her section. We even ask for her by name. About 4 or 5 months ago, she asked us our names, and we told her. Since then, when we come in she greets us by name, with a huge smile. She remembers that my wife likes hot tea, and that I enjoy coffee with my dinner. She knows our most frequent menu selection to the point where I can just say “I’m having the fish tonight”, and she knows that I mean blackened tilapia with green beans and the salad bar. She has hundreds of customers each month, and we are there no more than twice in a month. But she gets to know her regulars, and makes them feel honestly appreciated. Where do you think we went last night when we had the itch to go out?

Principle 6 – Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

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