Sunday, August 12, 2018

Come up with your own damn name

     Nobody roots for Goliath. Few watch Star Wars and pull for the Empire. Size and power are assumed to have a great advantage, and thus we are inclined to toss our sympathy to the Little Guy, as if it affected the outcome.
     Even though the Little Guy isn't always right.
     The disparity in size blinds us to this. Though some things are so brazen as to make us reconsider. Consider this coffee shop, noticed earlier this year by the beach in Ambergris Cay, Belize. I meant to ask the owner about the name, but he was so busy preparing drinks and breakfast and since it might be a touchy subject I let it go. 
     But really? The same circle, the same green, the same sans serif lettering. And why? In the middle of nowhere, practically on an alley. Isn't naming your place half the fun? Think of all the things you could call a Caribbean coffee shop. Call it Ishmael's, for the love of God—a sly wink instead of a rip-off. Starbucks wasn't a random name, remember: he's the chief mate on the Pequod in "Moby Dick.' Make the logo a blue square.
A Bangkok coffee house
     But no. People copy instead, all the time. Charbucks and Sambucks (in the U.S.). Illinois dog groomer Starbarks. Looking abroad it's even more frequent: Starbung (Thailand) and Star Box (London) and Xingbake, which is pronounced "Shingbucks" in China. 

      It's no mystery why I feel this way. As a creative person, I have a particular disdain for lazy imitation, for mere aping. I remember, a few years after I got out of college, an editor at Rubber Teeth, the humor magazine I had helped Robert Leighton start sent me a copy of their latest effort. Not much shocks me, but I was shocked at what they printed: pieces we had written. Our work. I was entirely baffled. I didn't care that they had used it, was even vaguely flattered. But the whole point of having a humor magazine is to run the stuff you've written, to till at the windmills that vex you. What ... could possibly be the mindset ... of running stuff that somebody else wrote years ago? I phoned the editor and raised this question, gingerly. I don't recall his reply: not memorable, which might explain why he was recycling our stuff.
The logo is ready.
     Yes, you can rip off a logo creatively. In 2014, a Comedy Central comedian opened up "Dumb Starbucks," a kind of meta parody of Starbucks, which was not amused. It wasn't genius, but there was a least a glimmer of cleverness lurking somewhere in the stunt.
     You don't need to be a genius to avoid ripping off established names and concepts. A healthy sense of shame helps, and a desire to manifest yourself instead of copying somebody else.
     I've never run a Caribbean coffee bar and never will. And maybe this is funny, and I just don't get it—Mark's witty mash-up of his name and that big Seattle coffee chain, oh so far away. But to me, anyone with any sense of spirit would create their own identity for their coffee stand. I bet we can find a better name than Marbucks right now, in 30 seconds. First, a little thinking — that must be what trips people up. So let's think: Mayan ruins are all around in Belize. The Mayan god of vegetation, which could include coffee, is ... checking, I don't know this stuff off the top of my head ... Yum Kaax. 
     Yum Kaax! How great a name is that? 


  1. I have to ask: how was the coffee?
    I like Starbucks coffee more than any other I've tasted here, but the best coffee I've ever had was "Blue Mountain" in Jamaica.

  2. How about Steinberg's Coffee Shoppe?


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