We Finally Understand Why Starbucks Always Spells Your Name Wrong

A misspelled name on the side of your Starbucks cup can prompt many reactions. Maybe it makes you laugh, maybe it makes you angry, maybe you just shrug and proceed with the very necessary caffeine consumption, or maybe you post about it on social media. And even if you are mad about it, at least the rest of us get to laugh about it. Really, is there any better viral Starbucks name screw-up than Marc, who advised his barista that it was spelled with a "c," only to get a cup emblazoned with "Cark"? We think not.

Whatever your reaction, have you ever stopped to think about why these misspellings seem to happen so often? There's a fair amount of chatter about this out there on the interwebs, and from conspiracy theories to barista confessions, we've got all the explanations — surprisingly, there are a lot of them. Here's why Starbucks always spells your name wrong. 

Your name can be spelled many ways

If you're an Emilee, Bryan, Alyson, or Zak, you've probably spent most of your life correcting people on the spelling of your name. Chances are you've been Emily, Brian, Allison, and Zach more often than not. And like it or not, according to one Starbucks barista on Quora, this is a common reason as to why you probably end up with a misspelled name on your cup.

"You have a name that has more than one spelling, so we take a chance by going with the most generic version of that name," the barista explained. "For example, writing Caitlin instead of Kaitlyn. Unless the person spells it out for us, how are we supposed to know?" She went on to offer a few words of advice, saying, "If it really really matters to you to have your name spelt correctly, just spell it out for your barista OR say no thanks when they ask for a name (just remember what you ordered and listen for it to be called out). BUT, please don't spell it in a condescending way. 'Uh, it's  K-E-R-R-I-E.' *eye roll*"

It's just too loud in there

Here's something you probably already know: Starbucks is not the library. As such, you cannot expect to be able to hear a pin drop inside the cafes. Even if you don't have a full house of customers having loud conversations, you've still got grinders grinding and steamers steaming. 

Which is why, according to more than one Starbucks barista in a Quora thread, your name might get misspelled. As one former barista explains, "If you haven't worked behind a Starbucks counter, you'd be surprised as to how noisy it is compared to the front of the counter, where customers order. Notably, the oven that we use to toast bagels and breakfast sandwiches convects hot air to warm the food items quickly, which has the side effect of sounding like there's a small jet engine in the back of the store when the oven is heating a food item. Compounding matters, oftentimes customers don't speak loudly enough to clearly project their voice over the 4 feet of countertop and till between the barista and the customer. Usually, if the customer is speaking quietly I'll ask a customer to repeat themselves once; but beyond that, though, customer are irritated that I can't hear them well — so at that point, I'm likely to just take a guess at the name I'm hearing and hope I'm right."

It's definitely not the juiciest reason, but it's certainly plausible.

You have an uncommon name

Just like having a common name with many spelling variations, if you have a hard-to-spell name, or an uncommon name, you've likely spent many hours of your life schooling people on the correct way to spell it. Why would that be any different at Starbucks when you tell the barista that your name is D'Artagnan (which will likely end up on your cup as "Dertanyan," at best).

According to a former barista on Quora, if they haven't heard a name before, there's a good chance it's getting misspelled. "If your name is Arantxa, (presumably pronounced "Aran-SHA"...), I may well spell your name as anything from 'Aransha' to 'Eransha,' since it's difficult to correctly spell a name that I've never heard before (especially if it's a name that isn't spelled phonetically!)." Another barista explained that it may be a matter of cultural differences, saying, "Your name is from a culture the barista is unfamiliar with, so they are attempting to spell it phonetically."

Again, if it's important to you, you're simply going to need to spend a few more precious moments of your life spelling it out.

It's not actually your drink

Have you ever grabbed your drink off the counter, taken one look at the name, and wondered how the barista could have gotten it so utterly and completely wrong? Your name is Katie, and somehow your cup ended up with "Marisol" scrawled across it. Before you start chewing out the barista for their lack of listening skills, you'd better ask yourself a very important question: Is that so-called mislabelled cup in your hand even your drink?

One barista on Quora explained that this is actually something that happens, saying, "Yes, honest to god I've seen people walk up, examine a drink, take it away and have a sip, and come back complaining that it's wrong. 'This isn't an extra hot caramel macchiato and my name is Debbie but it doesn't say that.' WELL DEBBIE, maybe if you actually read the sticker you would see that it is very plainly a peppermint mocha for Liam." Don't be that person. Lack of caffeine is not an excuse to be a Debbie.

Is this the real reason?

In September 2014, Paul Gale's YouTube video titled "Why Starbucks Spells Your Name Wrong" hit the internet.

Dressed in the standard-issue green Starbucks barista apron, Gale narrated, "I'm the one who writes your name in black marker on your Starbucks cup. I probably write around 500 customers' names every day. Recently it's come to my attention that people aren't always satisfied with the names I've written. In fact, many people say the names are often wildly inaccurate. They want to know why I can never get it right. Allow me to explain why: I am f***ing with you. I didn't mishear your name. I'm deliberately misspelling your name to confuse and annoy you. It's the best part of my job and I will never stop." 

The video quickly went viral. It seemed to answer the burning question that up to then we could all only guess at, and the masses were convinced that Gale's explanation was gospel. But the thing was, the video was a parody, and Gale a comedian. It didn't matter though — the seed was planted. We finally knew the "real" reason Starbucks always misspells your name. Or did we?

It actually might be...

Though it might feel like we've waded into conspiracy theory-tinged waters here, it turns out that Super Deluxe may have actually been onto something. 

At least, that's according to one Starbucks assistant manager who spilled the tea, er, coffee to Cosmopolitan when they asked if misspelling names on cups was an "unwritten barista code of conduct"?

"I don't know if everyone does it, but when I asked my manager if she does, she admitted most Starbucks employees use it as a marketing tool," the assistant manager answered. "Most people aren't going to post a photo to social media of a cup with their name spelled right. I just use it as a way to be funny, but now I get why people use it as a way to promote the business."

There you go, straight from the barista's mouth. So this bit of marketing genius must be included in the employee handbook, or explained at new hire orientations, right? Doubtful...

What corporate has to say about it

Let's be honest. If the Starbucks higher-ups really did direct their baristas to misspell names for the sole purpose of getting those customers to post pictures of their cups with that totally recognizable green logo and Starbucks hashtags and mentions all over social media, they kind of deserve a pat on the back. It's actually an evil genius level marketing move. 

But the higher-ups either didn't direct baristas to purposely misspell names, or they're just not admitting it. "We have never asked or directed any of our partners to misspell names of our customers for any reason," a Starbucks spokesperson told Thrillist. "Writing names on cups is a fun tradition born out of the relationship and interaction between our employees and customers. Our [baristas] aim to do their best when it comes to spelling the names of our customers, though at times it can be tricky." Okay, sure Starbucks, we believe you. Wink, wink.

But it does create plenty of social media buzz

Starbucks corporate might not cop to it being an official policy, but there's no doubt that those misspelled names generate a lot of buzz across social media. #Starbucksnamefail is a popular hashtag on both Twitter and Instagram, and there are even Tumblr pages dedicated to the topic. But what do all these posts and hashtags really mean to Starbucks? 

Brandwatch decided to figure that out in 2017, when they looked at how much free advertising Starbucks has gotten from the misspellings by their baristas. Analyzing Twitter data (excluding retweets) in the U.S. and U.K. between June 1 and July 18, 2017, they found 2,814 mentions of Starbucks that included a reference to the spelling of a name. Taking into consideration that the company has been putting names on cups since March 2012, they calculated that this amounts to another 75,000 mentions, and again, this doesn't take retweets into account. We can only imagine how many social media users see a viral #Starbucksnamefail tweet thanks to that retweet button. "If this is all a scheme by Starbucks to get free advertising on social media," Brandwatch says in conclusion, "it's a very good one indeed."

It even happens to celebrities

Think mega-stars are exempt from having their names misspelled on their Venti triple skim mochas? They're not. 

Apparently Reese Witherspoon's barista has never seen Cruel Intentions or Legally Blonde, because the actress ended up with "Greece" on her Starbucks cup, prompting her to post on Twitter, "Figuring out my Starbucks name... #ItsReesenotGreece."

Spoon University rounded up more celeb Starbucks cup misspellings, with basketball star Dwyane Wade becoming "Duane" for the day, singer Rita Oro being dubbed "Reita," actress Isla Fisher getting a phonetic makeover to "Aila," and Hailey Baldwin being inexplicably renamed "Amy."

Even Oprah Winfrey, the queen of daytime TV herself, has to spell her name out for baristas. She told People about an experience ordering coffee, saying, "Oh my god, I just went two days ago and the woman said, 'Name?' and I said, 'Oprah,' and she said, 'How do you spell that?'" Let's wrap our heads around something bigger than the fact that this barista didn't know how to spell "Oprah" though — she didn't even know who Oprah was. For shame.

What's my Starbucks name?

If you're a frequent Starbucks drinker and have somehow managed to get this far in life without ever having your name misspelled on the side of that iconic green and white cup, maybe you're feeling a little left out. How would a barista butcher your name, you wonder? You're in luck. There happens to be a website dedicated to this very purpose.

"What's My Starbucks Name?" will generate your misspelled moniker without ever having to step foot into a coffeehouse. And the best part is each name generated is accompanied by an image pulled from Tumblr pages Starbucks Spelling and Starbucks Name Fail, meaning these misspellings actually ended up on cups in real life. All you have to do is answer the question, "Can I get a name for your order?" and suddenly you're not Amber, you're Anger. And you're definitely not Marcus anymore, you're Mitus. It's hours (okay, maybe minutes) of entertainment.