A series of essays I’ve been reading from a consultant to non-profit organizations reminded me of a truth that many of us sometimes forget: Hearing your name spoken, or seeing it in print, is one of the most pleasant things people experience.

It’s one of first commandments preached when you get into journalism: Put as many names in your stories as you can.

Assuming, of course, you’re very careful and spell or pronounce names correctly.

That essayist conducted several tests as research. First, he went to a bar, ordered a non-alcoholic drink, and observed how the bartender asked for names and used them frequently. His reward? Generous tips.

Then, he studied how top salesmen in different fields talked to their customers and prospects. Each repeated people’s names quite frequently, and success followed.

Diners at finer restaurants were more attentive and tipped generously when waiters mentioned names often.

You don’t have to go to a bar or fancy restaurant to see it happening. Starbucks, which is famous for writing customers’ names on coffee cups, is a prime example. You also see it being adopted by many casual restaurants.

I’m sure the marketing gurus at corporate headquarters read those same essays. So eventually, the order goes out, far and wide, that when customers step up to buy a burger and fries off the dollar menu, clerks ask for names. That way, when orders are ready and customers need to come to the counter to pick up their food, the clerk calls out names instead of impersonal numbers.

My name is Gene. Simple enough, by my reckoning, but no. You can’t imagine the different and creative ways fast-food counter staff have decided it should be spelled. The most common is Jean, which phonetically is correct, but it doesn’t match how my mama taught me to spell it.

Even when I answer the question about what’s my name by spelling it out, they still regurgitate J-E-A-N, or some other perversion of it like G-E-A-N. So, I’m relegated to walking away holding a purchase receipt bearing the name of who knows who and fuming about it.

Now, I must confess to also misspelling names, in print, far too often over a 50-year career in newspapers — 55 if you include my school years. But I know from personal experience how disappointing it is to accomplish something significant enough to merit mention in the newspaper, and have it tarnished by seeing your name misspelled. When I was named editor of my high school publication, the city’s newspaper ran a story about it. “Gene Dawson Named Editor of School Newspaper.” My name was correct in the story, but that headline spoiled my big moment.

I’m over it now. It doesn’t bother me at all.

Recently, I stopped at one of those name-calling restaurants for a late lunch, ordered, and the clerk said, “You’re Gene, right? G-E-N-E?” Wow, I was impressed. I told her she earned extra points for that. It isn’t a place where customers normally tip, but she would have gotten one if it was.

I told her restaurants might believe that asking customers’ names makes dining more personal, but it’s for naught when those names are botched.

She said she understood, then offered some advice.

“Maybe you just need to come in more often, so we all get to know you.”

This lady is quite young, but she’s got marketing figured out.


Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at news@brownwoodbulletin.com.