Dear Miriam | Name Stirs Discomfort, Raises Questions

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Dear Miriam,

I recently went to a drive-thru window to pick up coffee while out of town, and the person who served me had a nametag that read “Kike.” The young man was perfectly pleasant to me, but I was extremely uncomfortable and taken aback. I barely managed to stammer a thank you before driving away. Could this really be his name? Is there something else I could have done either to hide my shock or handle the situation more gracefully?


Hello My Name is WHAT?

Dear Hello,

Drive-thru windows are rarely opportunities for meaningful interactions, even in your hometown, even under the best of circumstances, even when someone’s name is nothing remarkable. You get what you ordered, you say thank you, you drive off. You held up your end of this exchange, and so did the person serving you.

So, no. I don’t think you should have or could have done anything differently. Maybe the server noticed you staring at his nametag, or maybe not. I feel confident that this young person has had more jarring or disrespectful exchanges during his time in this job. Nor do I think there was any opportunity for you to have any semblance of a conversation that included any question about his name, the fact that it’s also an anti-Jewish slur or the confusion you experienced because of his nametag.

Of course, I was curious, so I Googled it. Kike, I learned, is a nickname for Enrique. Apparently, this made a small amount of news in 2017 regarding a Chicago Cubs player named Enrique Hernandez. Also, it is important to note, that the nickname is actually spelled Kiké, and it’s pronounced KEE-kay. It took me about five minutes of fiddling with my computer settings to figure out how to add that accent over the e, but my guess is the nametag printer at your standard American fast-food drive-thru is pretty limited in its options.

If circumstances ever dictated that you needed to spend more than 10 minutes with someone whose name read to you as a racial or ethnic slur, it would be within your rights to say, “I’m sure you’re sick of questions like this, and I really don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but I’m curious about your name if you’re willing to tell me something about it.” Also, if you were at a party with this person, you would have heard how it was pronounced first rather than reading it, so your reaction would have been very different.

In other words, I have no great solution for you, but in a world where people who speak many different languages are fortunate enough to coexist, some combination of sounds and letters are likely to share multiple meanings, and sometimes those meanings may be funny or surprising or off-putting. The Hebrew names Osnat and Dror come to mind.

Rather than focus on this experience as one of discomfort and offense, try to find the silver lining of learning something about another language, and try to find compassion for anyone who needs to try to fit their name into someone else’s culture.

Be well,




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