What's Your Coffee Name?

Using An Alias At Starbucks

Audio Interview: CLICK HERE
Interviewer: Michele Norris
Guest: Shefali Kulkarni
What: Excerpt from NPR on using a coffee alias

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I’m Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host: And I’m Michele Norris.

Shefali Kulkarni is the name of my next guest. But at Starbucks, she’s known as Sheila. You see, Sheila is her fake coffee name, and by that, I mean the name she gives the barista at Starbucks when she orders her coffee and waits for someone to call her name when it’s ready.

Why the alias? Shefali Kulkarni – or Sheila – served up an answer in a recent blog post for the Village Voice. And she joins us now for further explanation.

Welcome to the program. I’m wondering if I should call you Shefali or Sheila.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SHEFALI KULKARNI (Journalist): If you give me coffee, you can call me Sheila.

NORRIS: Okay. When and why did you begin using aliases?

Ms. KULKARNI: It was about five months ago. I was in line at Starbucks, and they asked for my name. And spelling Shefali just took forever. And I think at one point, somebody in the line – in the back of the line was saying, hurry up – like, let’s go. And it’s when it dawned on me. I’m like, you know what? Forget this. I’m just going to use a fake name. I can’t take this anymore. So the next time I ordered coffee, first thing that came to mind was Sheila.

NORRIS: And Sheila stuck. You didn’t try like, Betty or Amanda, or any other name?

Ms. KULKARNI: I tried once – I think – like Sue, or something a little bit more American – if that’s appropriate. But I think -the thing is when I said Sue, the barista behind the counter was kind of skeptical, and so I just kind of – shout out Sheila, and it stuck.

NORRIS: And then you found out that lots of people use coffee names.

Ms. KULKARNI: Yeah. I just assumed I was the only one, but – I was at Starbucks maybe a month ago, and I noticed that all the coffee drinks on the barista table, they definitely had all these American names – like Tom and Sue and Joe – and I noticed the people that were waiting for the drinks didn’t really – I mean, maybe this is totally racial profiling.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KULKARNI: But they came across as not Toms or Sues or Joes. And at one point, this woman picked up a coffee and she said, oh, this is just my coffee name – to her girlfriend – and it shook me up. I was like, oh, my God, I’m not the only one. Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: How do people choose their coffee names?

Ms. KULKARNI: Well, for me, it was just a matter of something that sounded similar to my name. But I found people really took it kind of seriously. They were like, this is my opportunity to be whatever I want to be, and I think there’s no rules, really, with it. It’s whatever you want to be.

NORRIS: I’m just curious. What does your mom think of this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KULKARNI: You know, she did some work where she had to be on the telephone a lot, and nobody could understand her name, so she actually uses Sue as one of – as her name.

NORRIS: Oh, you’re kidding.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KULKARNI: So I told her about this coffee post, and she’s like, ooh, tell me, like – you should switch it up, like you should really try this name. Or, ooh, what about Stephanie(ph)? That would be kind of crazy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KULKARNI: So she was into it. She was into it.

NORRIS: Well, Shefali Kulkarni, thank you so much for speaking with us. All the best to you.

Ms. KULKARNI: Thank you so much.

NORRIS: Shefali Kulkarni is a reporting fellow at the Village Voice in New York City.

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