What’s in a Name?


Every morning I make coffee. It’s the first thing I do after getting tiny baby out of her bed and setting her up with a cup of milk to start her day. In all honesty, coffee is a fairly substantial part of my existence. Don’t worry, I drink plenty of water, too. Though it would be fair to say (just ask any of my students or colleagues) that coffee is definitely how I manage to get things accomplished.

The second half of my day involves a pit-stop to a coffee shop to get an Americano in my travel mug. For anyone that is curious, I use a Zojirushi travel thermos and it’s probably the one gift I’ve received in the past year that has changed my life—seriously—the coffee is hot all day. All. Day.

I mention all of this because I must confess something…I have a “coffee shop name.” What’s a coffee shop name you ask? Simple—pick a name that is not yours and use it everywhere when you’re out in public ordering something. You could be Bob at Panera bread, or Willy at the pizza shop. It’s liberating, allows for spontaneity, gives you a small bit of privacy, and if you’re like me, saves you from having this conversation over and over:

Cashier: Can I get a name for your order?

Me: Yes, it’s Zane

Cashier: I’m sorry…what’s your name?

Me: Zane

Cashier: Shane?

Me: Zane…Z. A. N. E.

Cashier: Oooooh…what’s that mean?

Me: I’m not sure… (Now twitching due to being stuck in this conversation loop and becoming aware of the line forming behind me.)

Cashier: You know, I know another Zane. He lived in Phoenix, Arizona…can you believe that?!?!

Me: …..Cool…well, um, thank you.

Cashier: Yeah, man, that’s cool—I’m gonna have to tell him I met you…

Me: (receives coffee with name spelled: Shane)

After having hundreds of these interactions over the last 25 years (particularly during 2012-13 when I was flying almost every week) I became “Chris” at any and all coffee shops, food establishments, and watering holes.  It was great—there was never any confusion, or spelling involved.  I was just simply good ol’ Chris.  You know, Chris—that name that people can spell and that doesn’t need any back and forth.

Cashier: What’s your name, buddy?

Me: Chris.

Cashier: Great, will have that up for you at the end of the bar. Have a great day, Chris.

Me (Internal conversation): Hell, yeah! Chris IS going to have a great day.

And a great day I did have! I was in and out of places in a flash. Sure, they didn’t know my name, but did it really matter? NO! I was polite, paid my bill, and quietly looked out the window or stayed out of the traffic pattern.

This was all going great until my wife and I moved to our current home. Over the course of the past couple years, I have become a daily customer at the coffee shop near my house (Peet’s Coffee and Tea). From the first day I entered, I became Chris and it was business as usual until about 6 weeks ago.

I had just returned from recording (you can read about that here) and a good friend sent me a “Hooray! You finally finished that album coffee card.” Full disclosure, this may be the greatest reward for making anything ever—coffee. In a quest to simplify my life, I downloaded the Peet’s app, as suggested by one of the employees, and set it up so that I could pay with the app. Here’s where I made my fatal mistake. I entered my real name.

I pull into pick up my coffee, “check-in” and pay with the app, and then all hell broke loose:

Cashier: Thanks, Chri….Zane?!?!?

Me: Uh…

Cashier: Wait, I thought your name is Chris?

Barista: What? Wait, what’s going on?

Me: ….

My cover was blown. My identity had been compromised by my own [email protected]#*ing coffee app. Screw wiki-leaks. I was my own damn wiki-leaks.

With my “real name” now out there, I knew there would be questions. It went from bad to worse in a hurry. The next day, the entire staff knew and I received that quiet middle-school “you’re now on the outside” treatment. It started with:

Cashier: Thanks for your order Zane…or whoever you really are…

And quickly moved to:

Barista: So is that little child you bring in here actually yours? Or, is that a fake baby, too?

I went home that night and explained my hangdog expression to the mighty S (that’s my wife) and she thought the entire thing was funny. I asked her why they were so angry and she, in her infinite wisdom, pointed out that they worked to build a relationship with me. They’d gotten to know me (Chris), and that now the person they knew isn’t who they thought. Boom!—it finally hit me. The awesome people at Peet’s actually liked coffee shop me and now they were faced with Zane instead….Yeah, I might be disappointed, too, if that were the case. Sorry guys. It’s not you, it’s me.

She also said I should talk about it in my blog as this truly captures the real me. Yep…feelin’ prittay, prittay good. Or, I should say I’m having a Larry David moment.

Flash forward to now. Things are getting better. Like any relationship that has had a setback it can take a minute to get over it (though they’re not totally over it). I say this with certainty as S went into Peet’s with my phone to pickup a coffee and they said:

Cashier: So who are you, really?

S: Laughter ( I have no idea what she told them.)

Cashier: I know you’re not Chris, and we know you’re not Zane…

What’s the takeaway from all of this? At the moment I’m not sure. I do know I’m not giving up my coffee name. I like it and now it makes S laugh even more than she normally does. All I can hope for in the interim is that the team at Peet’s somehow see’s the humor in all of this and eventually we get back to our usual rhythm but like fixing an error in a piece, it will take some time. Also, in an effort to point out the humor in all of this, I’ve decided I’ll be changing the name in my Peet’s App every week. On Monday I became Jo-Jo…let’s see what that does.

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