Say My Name

Panera Bread

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.

Thankfully, I don’t have to interact with these people for more than a few minutes. It’s not worth the effort to convince them otherwise, especially if I never see these people again.

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. ^

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