Culture & Society / Short & Sweet

Don’t Call Me Kitsch-Mael: On Misspelled Names

By Carina Chien

If you’ve ever walked into a Starbucks, dead from exams and homework assignments, you’ll automatically feel at home in that community of languishing souls. Even as Ithaca’s water supply diminishes, you’ll notice them drowning their sorrows and ability to sleep in a cup of coffee that’s suspiciously never empty. But screw the environment as long as it’s for the aesthetic of tragedy, which Starbucks generously provides. Basically a second home, it’s also a safe place to chill. It’s where some of us live, morning and night. It’s a good place to meet up with people. But just like parents who confuse you with your siblings, Starbucks never seems to get your name quite right.

Sometimes it’s hilarious, and sometimes we accept this fact with dramatically cynical resignation. More often than not, though, some lurking sensation of frustration does creep up. But why do we get upset in the first place? After all, it’s usually clear enough which coffee is whose.

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Art by Aurora Rojer

The spelling error may register as indifference from society. Anyone who spells your name incorrectly, be it a publisher, a professor, your parents, or the barista, can serve as a casual reminder that you are unknown and unrecognized. Misspelled names get to the core of personal identity for what I categorize as four separate reasons, each of which revolves around insecurities of identity.

Reason 1: The Coffee-Induced Identity Crisis

You might acknowledge that your name can belong to other people, but you’ll also recognize that your name can be spelled a variety of different ways. Chances are you’ll insist that your name, spelled exactly the way it is, belongs explicitly to you. The way you see it, differently spelled versions of your name are completely different names. If you walk out of Starbucks thinking, “I don’t even look like a [insert misspelled name here],” then this is you.

Version #1:

Amie is a professional masseuse, paid modestly on account of her seriousness, which customers complain is distracting from a total Zen experience. She’s a gruff 47-year-old woman who was a heavyweight wrestling champ in her prime. Amie, with her strangely charming unibrow, her quirky frown, and her robust frame, is never amused. She is a ballet enthusiast and enjoys cuddling with her pet corgi on the weekends.

Version #2:

Aimee is the epitome of sophistication and always takes her coffee black. She speaks French, Italian, and German, and has lived in Europe for five months doing a culture study. Her favorite artist is Henri Matisse, and she’s super chic on account of the fact that she wears sunglasses all the time, even in the winter.

Version #3:

Amy is a preppy, saccharine hard-working student who smiles a little too much in a way that’s just a bit off. She’s probably the kind of person who walks into glass windows and doors, and most people might think she had been dropped down the stairs when she was a kid—they’d be right. Being a student, Amy isn’t a real person yet and thinks that college is basically the real world.

Reason 2: The War Flashbacks

If you were ever an Icky Vicky, an Ewis Lewis, or a Kansas Candace, then name errors are a great source of your Paranoid Touchiness About Spelling Disorder. In this case, Starbucks is just another tormenter from your past. Your name, essentially a presentation of your identity, is rejected in this situation. Negative recognition creates more intense feelings of insignificance that carry undercurrents of deprecation. You’ll vehemently insist that Vicky is not your name, but Starbucks is relentless and, like a seemingly unhelpful psychiatrist, your coffee will subject you to childhood trauma while you drink its therapy.

Reason 3: The Grammarian

The Grammarian might just hate spelling errors and think of the names of people as subject to the rules of grammar. Do you get offended when anyone’s name, not just your own, is misspelled? Do you then continue to rail on about the degenerative “culture of autocorrect” that Starbucks facilitates? If yes, this is you.

In an age when Kanye and Kim can name their child “North West,” and Spike Lee can name his kid “Satchel,” the Grammarian suffers a traumatic amount of eye-twitching—maybe from the coffee, maybe from the misspelled name, maybe from her dismal outlook towards the future.

Reason 4: It’s Just the Morning

Honestly, you might actually just hate everything because it’s the morning—everything except for the actual coffee. Anything could set you off.

Names function as an important source of recognition, and the corporate coffee psychiatrist emerges triumphant by forcing the individual to confront her simultaneous self-confidence and insecurity in her own identity. It’s no wonder then that coffee and coffee shops are so often associated with feelings of profundity. Got a problem? Just order a pumpkin spice latte from your fairy god-therapist.

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