Name Dropping

Illustration: John Mavroudis

Recently, I ventured into a Mendocino Farms restaurant to pick up a takeout lunch. I had called in my order under my “restaurant name”—Monica. After a quarter-lifetime of spelling out my given name to people I might never see again, I stopped wasting time and chose an alter ego that most everyone knew how to pronounce and spell.

There was another reason, too. Contrary to academic psychology studies and Dale Carnegie’s proclaiming that humans turn into malleable, happy, higher-spending Teletubbies at the sound of their names, I can’t stand hearing my name. It sounds accusatory, especially the two-syllable American pronunciation. My parents use the elongated, melodic, three-syllable Bengali pronunciation—which helps, but not if bellowed—that automatically makes me think I’m supposed to be putting on a salwar kameez and showing up at an Indian religious festival. I like the name Monya itself—just not being addressed that way. I got a doctoral degree so that people would pretty much have to call me Dr. De. My significant other has strict instructions to use “hey, you” unless searching for me in a crowd of strangers in a dangerous foreign country.

Anyway, Mendocino Farms was not messing around. As I entered, an excited-looking young employee approached me. I told him I was there for takeout, and noticed that the restaurant was swarming with similarly gleeful millennial employees—far too many for the number of customers. ’N Sync-era Lance Bass had cloned himself, it seemed.

“GREAT! What’s your name?” he asked. I told him.

“OK, Monica!” With utter delight, he rushed me to a counter clerk. “This is Monica. She’s picking up soup,” he chirped, not unlike a child announcing a first lost tooth.

“Ohhh-KAY!” said the counter clerk. “Monica, we’ll have that right up for you! How are you doing, Monica?” 

The name-obsessed staff wasn’t done yet. Another mysteriously employed young man escorted me to the pick-up counter, repeating my name on the way, where the second counter clerk proclaimed, “You must be MONICA!” I was ready to have an arrhythmia, or to ask if there was a hidden camera and a cocaine-addled reality show producer somewhere nearby. 

Often, when calling a call center to pay a bill or change my phone plan, I can just tell that the operators’ scripts say “Use the Customer’s Name” in big black letters. The operators spit my name out like a stuttering sprinkler system gone rogue. Now I interrupt them: “I don’t actually like hearing my name. You can just do your job.” You’ve never heard such sighs of relief.

I’m all for building customer relationships, but a company would achieve that through taking a genuine interest in a customer’s happiness, not by parroting his or her name like some kind of Pavlovian trigger word. The owners of the toothy grins? I doubt they’d remember my moniker if they saw me on the street.

As for Mendocino Farms? I’ll order food from them again, no doubt. As long as someone else picks it up for me.