The other day, I was at Panera to get my favorite soup and sandwich combo.1
It was the usual process: the cashier asked for my order, I gave her my order, and I gave her money. At places like Panera, however, the cashier asks for a name.
I hesitated. She wants to know my name?
I regained my bearing and said, “Howard.”
She smiled, thanked me, and handed me the receipt. I noticed a twinkle of suspicion in her eye. What kind of person has to think of their own name?
Apparently the kind of person named Ace.
I used to give restaurants and coffee shops my first name. Because my name is unique, I usually have to repeat myself or spell it out. Then I brace myself for the reaction.
Typically, there are three kinds of reactions when I introduce myself. I get interrogated, complimented, and/or denied.
Some reactions are easier to reply to than others—it all depends on whether someone wants to make my life difficult.
“Is Ace your real name?”
“Is Ace a nickname?”
“Like Ace Frehley?”
“Like Ace Ventura?”
“Like Ace Young?” 2
“How did you end up with that name?”
Most of these questions lead to single-word answers: Yes. No. Yes. Yes. Yes.
However, the final question requires a history lesson about my family.
Once upon a time, I had a great uncle named Asa whose nickname was “Ace.” My dad thought the nickname was neat, and I happened to receive that name. I lived happily until a cashier interrogated me.
Sometimes I don’t want to give a history lesson.
Sometimes I just want some food.
The following is not a complaint against compliments. As a culture that is obsessed with bad news and obsessed with feeling outraged towards bad news, it’s nice when we acknowledge something positive.
With that said, I don’t feel like I deserve compliments for my name.
I appreciate the thought and I always say “thank you.” But what else am I supposed to say?
I didn’t do anything to earn my name—it was given to me at birth.
Should I call my parents so you can personally compliment them on their taste in names? Should I tell you about my family history before you interrogate me? Should I make up a story about how I earned my name in a past life as a WWI fighter pilot?
Am I thinking too deeply into these compliments?
I should just say “thank you.”
The most frustrating but, thankfully, the most uncommon response to my name is denial.
I’ve met skeptical folks who refuse to accept my name. After I introduce myself, these people would assume at least one of the following:
- I’m joking.
- I’m trying to be cool.
- I’m trying to force a nickname.
It’s easier to smile and nod.
Whenever I must surrender my name, I use my last name: Howard.
I’m not a pilot, I’m not a poker star, and I don’t “ace” everything I do.
Why is my name Ace? It’s because my parents named me Ace. But unless we’re going to interact for more than a few minutes, my name is Howard.
Say my name.
1. [The Sierra Turkey sandwich and broccoli cheddar soup.]↩
2. [Thanks to the ephemeral fame of American Idol contestants, I don’t hear this one anymore.]↩