After I was born, I was a wee thing in a swaddly shirt that pinned my left arm to my right shoulder, due to me being born with a broken collarbone. My family would refer to me as “the one with one wing,” though since I was one of, well, the only white baby in the hospital in Crown Heights, Brooklyn (which no longer exists, and which I just realized is on the same street as the home of a high school boyfriend), it was easy to know who I was.
They also called me Eileen (when not joking about my broken collarbone or other distinguishing features), after my maternal grandfather, an Ashkenazi Jewish tradition of naming with the first initial of a deceased relative. This relative died while I was busy gestating, knitting together a collarbone which would later break and form a funny knot like a treebranch, only presumably, less dark.
My name never caused me much woe, until around the 80s sometime, when the song Come on Eileen came into vogue, and I had to be serenaded rather than spoken to, and joked about. There was also this spate of jokes, and well, I’d rather not tell them, I suppose. So Eileen. It’s a fairly run of the mill name. Nothing too interesting, got a couple of extra vowels that might trip you up a bit, but it’s not hard to remember, doesn’t require any unusual tongue gymnastics or glottal stops. Just a name.
And then I moved to Chile. While the names Edgardo and Rodrigo might together be my nemeses, I have yet to meet a Chilean that says my name the way I used to expect it to be said.
But I’m over it. Really. Aygleen is my new name, similar to the now-abandoned “Idreen” my nephew called me briefly. It doesn’t bother me. I even say it that way, so as not to trip people up.
Here’s where I confess that I go to Starbucks. Sometimes. Okay, not just sometimes. More than a little. It’s reliable, the coffee is big, there’s wifi, and I’m a capitalist pig. Are you over it yet? I am.
So when I go to Starbucks, they invariably ask my name. They say, “Cuál es tu nombre?” and I reply “Aygleen” and they say “Cómo?” and I say “Aygleen.” (the g is sort of silent, but the l is way pointier and further back than in English).
And then I saunter down to the coffee pickup area, waiting for (usually) a tall americano or an iced americano with extra ice (or an espresso over ice, but never request that at this coffee shop). And the great hilarity begins.
Often it’s as though they think I’m ill:
It’s gotten to the point where R, my partner in crime and Starbucks, waits, eyebrows raised at the counter to see what they’ve labeled my cup. Luckily it’s fairly unusual to hear of someone named anything similar, and no one ever orders an Americano other than me (it would seem), so it’s easy enough to figure out which one is mine.
And now let’s switch continents. I was recently in NY for a travel bloggers thingame , and having a caffeine emergency, like you do. I hopped into a nearby Starbucks in the West Village, and when asked my name, I thought, well, it’s not fair, I always have to give a foreign name and they always get it wrong. If I give them my name in English, it’s a freebie. Grandpa Ely (my namesake) would want me to set down more of a challenge.
So when they said, “And your name?” I said, “Maria Elena.” “What?” “Maria Elena.”
You see, it would have been an unfair advantage in the “Can anyone spell my name correctly or pronounce it well” game to give a name so easy, so simple, so American (by which I mean USA-ian, though actually the name is Irish, but of Greek origin, related to Helena, which is how I came up with Maria Elena). So I gave the first name that came to my mind. Plus my ahijada (goddaughter) has a similar name, and yes, I’m Jewish, so not really her godmother per se, but it works for me and her family and anyway, that’s not the point of the story.)
And how did they do on Maria Elena at one of the plague of Starbuxen (as I like to call them) in the West Village at 8 AM one morning on a sultry summer day?
You be the judge.
Thanks to my sister for pointing out this NPR piece on “your starbucks name” , not that they need my traffic, but I love NPR, and also, I have thought of inventing a new Starbucks name, but I might forget and then my coffee would get cold, and I would be sad. Or melty, in the case of the iced americano.
And in the interest of full disclosure, one time I was out with Abby, and this happened, but it was up on Isidora Goyonochea, close to Sanhattan (I know, I hate that, too), and it’s the closest you’ll get to being in the United States here in Chile, and also, it wouldn’t be fair to judge all of Chile on the basis of one barista at Starbucks up in El Golf.
I know, I was shocked, too. Maybe Shefali Kulkarni, the reporting fellow at the Village Voice who spoke her piece on All Things Considered, should give ordering coffee in Chile a whirl. I’m betting they’d write it Chefaly. Maybe she should visit. She’d be in good company.
So, what’s your Starbucks alias?