The Sweetest Word in Any Language – The Name Game

The Sweetest Word in Any Language – The Name Game

“I’ve got a blank space baby…and I’ll write your name”

When someone donates money for a building, why is it named after them?  Why are our middle names, or entire name, named after our parents or a close relative?  Why did John Proctor, Daniel Day Lewis’ character in The Crucible, choose death over signing his name to a confession that stated an untruth?

Because names matter!

A person’s name is the sweetest word in any language.  A person’s name is the one thing that is their’s and cannot be taken away.  If you understand this, then you will stop saying, “Oh, I’m terrible at names,” and find a way to remember the people you meet from day-to-day.  Remembering someone’s name is one of the greatest compliments you can give them.  And if you’ve known them for 25 years, you still use their name every time you see them.

At our coffee shop, we take names very seriously.  We call it The Name Game.  It is quite simple in theory, but no easy feat to consistently execute.  Every cup of coffee, latte, macchiato, or dirty chai that goes out the door must have a name on it.  Sounds like no big deal, most coffee shops write names on cups.  But we see the importance in getting it right, every time.  And for us, it goes way beyond the simple task of writing the name and getting the right drink to the right customer.

Two questions that usually come along with The Name Game.

  • If it’s somebody we know well, why put their name on the cup?
  • If they are the only customer in the building, why put their name on the cup, not likely we’ll get them mixed up with anyone else?

On the surface, it may seem that we do this so we don’t mix up drinks when we are busy.  But what is the real benefit? Are you ready for the secret?  We humans LOVE seeing and hearing our name.  Instead of calling out “Iced skim latte 3 shots!!!!” across the coffee shop, we first call “Gabrielle”.  Only when they don’t grab their drink during round 1 do we move on to Round 2 “Iced skim latte 3 shots, Gabrielle!”

When we ask a customer their name we repeat it aloud as we write it or comment on it in some way. Asking them how to spell it or commenting on how much we like that name helps ingrain their name into our memory.

We hear it, write it, see it, and say it.

That’s the part of our Name Game that you can take away.  I don’t want to hear any of this malarkey “Oh I am terrible at names…”  If you say that are you are good at it, then you surely will be.  If you switch it up to “I struggle remembering names but am getting better at it…” then you will.

If you are an app person, and can’t get enough of your phone, try the Name Shark.  Its not exactly for me but I love the quiz function.  I’ve been trying it out with the summer Handlebar visitors, they usually (hopefully!) come back the following year.  So next May I can review the list for a refresher and rock The Name Game.


How We Use Names at Nantucket Bike Tours

Our staff at our bike tour company has their version of The Name Game, but we spend two hours with a customer versus 2-5 minutes at the coffee shop.  So the level of engagement is more in depth and more critical.

Before our customers arrive, we have their name memorized to the best of our ability.  If a tour has 20 people on it, we split them up by genders and heights and use acronyms if needed.  Knowing our clients’ names at the beginning sets the tone for the entire tour, which shows our interest in them and how much we are invested in providing a great experience.

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After NBT and the HB

There are times when my staff wonder why we harp on things such as writing names on every cup or memorizing 20 names for a bike tour.  We then use the Mr. Miyagi explanation.  When Danielson was tired of waxing the cars, painting the fence, and sanding the decks, he became fed up and confronted Mr. Miyagi with “Why am I doing all of this stupid stuff?”  Miyagi then sends out a quick punch and Danielson blocks it without hesitation and without knowing he could do it.  It was automatic.  After hours and hours of muscle memory, Danielson had the moves down.


I’ve used this example with some of our staff  to better explain why we are so serious with The Name Game.  Yes, it helps our engagement with our customers.  But what is even more exciting is that our staff can walk away from the bike tours or the coffee shop with a great people skill.  Chances are our baristas and tour guides will not be at either business for 20 years, so we want to teach them the people skills that will propel them to success in whatever comes next for them and have damn good customer service at the same time.

Your challenge:  Focus on remembering names of as many new people you meet this week, see if you can top 10

Feedback:  Let me know how you succeed, or don’t, with your own personal Name Game.

One thought on “The Sweetest Word in Any Language – The Name Game

  1. Great post, Jason-san! Names take effort to learn. You are right, when you are in the practice of remembering names, it comes much more naturally.

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