Cultural Commentary: Coffee Says What?


By Molly Freeman

Photo courtesy of Prabowo Restuaji.

Customers who walk into any location of the Seattle-based coffee chain, Starbucks, can expect certain norms. They can expect the same muted lighting, acoustic indie music (CDs of which are available at the registers for long line boredom-induced perusing), and a team of green apron and cap clad baristas behind the counter.

Also, patrons can usually expect their names to be written incorrectly on whatever coffee or tea beverage they order.

The joke (that’s only funny because it’s true) of baristas spelling names wildly or entirely wrong has become as pervasive in our culture–maybe even more so–as the idea of showing up 15 minutes late with Starbucks. This gag has been featured in the Saturday Night Live digital short “Starbucks Verismo” and the 2014 viral video “Why Starbucks Spells Your Name Wrong.”

The latter video, created by comedian Paul Gale, suggests that baristas write out the wrong names (like “Gessika” instead of “Jessica”) on purpose to mess with customers. Additionally, if baristas do, in fact, spell a name right, it’s only to lull customers into a false sense of security.

Justin Hook, writer on Bob’s Burgers and creator of the popular internet game Google Feud, took the Starbucks name joke a step further with his website, What’s My Starbucks Name? Based on similar name generators for gangstas and superheroes, this site predicts what could be scribbled on your Starbucks cup.

However, what sets this generator apart from the others is that its results are based on photos of real Starbucks cups with misspelled or completely erroneous names. For instance, I put in “Molly” and possible outcomes include “Molley” and “Matiy.”

Photo by Molly Freeman.

While these results don’t even compare to the worst wrong iteration of my name I’ve received on a Starbucks cup (that honor belongs to “Bali,” when there was a complete communication breakdown between the barista and me), the website certainly offers some fun for regulars of this coffee chain.

Of course, as Gale’s video suggests, frequenters of Starbucks generally laugh off wrong names on their cups (and post them to social media if they’re truly spectacularly wrong). The joke has, for better or for worse, become integral to the Starbucks’ name, and, for some, it makes the Stirbuxs experience even more enjoyable. (See what I did there?)