Story at a glance

  • A new ad for Starbucks features a transgender student being dead-named, or called by his birth name.
  • The coffee company has partnered with Mermaids UK to raise money for a helpline as well as awareness of transgender issues.
  • The ad, which aired in the United Kingdom, has gained traction on social media around the world.

If you’ve ever been to Starbucks, they’ve probably spelled your name wrong — and there are some people who theorize that’s even on purpose. But a new ad for the popular coffee company is showing that there’s a reason they ask for it anyway. 

“At Starbucks, writing your name on a cup and calling it out is a symbol of our warm welcome. It’s a small gesture, but it's symbolic of what we believe in: Recognition and acceptance, whoever you are, or want to be. We welcome everyone,” the company said in a caption for their new ad on Youtube

The ad introduces you to a young person, struggling with their name. They’re repeatedly called Jemma — by a delivery person, at the doctor's office, his father — but seem uncomfortable with it every time. At the end of the ad, they’re shown at a Starbucks, where they give the barista the name James. As James walks away with a smile and a cup of coffee (name spelled correctly), the ad says, "every name's a story."

The theme of Starbucks’ #WhatsYourName campaign may be unfamiliar to cisgender people, but for the many in the transgender community, it is all too familiar. 

Transgender people sometimes choose to adopt a new name that better aligns with their identity, but the process of changing your name can be difficult. Being called by a dead name, or the name a transgender person was given at birth, can make them feel unaccepted and trigger feelings of dysphoria, all with serious consequences. 

More than half of transgender male teens and about one-third of transgender female teens in a 2018 survey reported attempting suicide during their life. About 40 percent of nonbinary youth also reported attempting suicide at some point in their youth. 

The Starbucks ad, which premiered in the United Kingdom, seeks to establish their stores as a safe space for transgender people to use their new names in public. The company is also partnering with Mermaids, a charity that raises money for gender-diverse youth, to raise money for their helpline through the sales of special edition cookies. The charity says proceeds will help expand the services team and increase their webchat opening hours from only evenings to full days, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Starbucks has committed to contributing almost $130,000 (or 100,000 pounds).

“The funds raised through #whatsyourname will allow us to make a meaningful change to our helpline that supports young trans people and their families who are so desperately in need of access to information and reassurance," said Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids, in a release.

James' story is one of five that Starbucks has created featuring transgender people who have changed their name. Another, Cairo, remembered testing out a new name at Starbucks.

“I remember they wrote it wrong on one of the cups but then they corrected it and put a little smiley face. We just had a little laugh and a joke and I remember just feeling on cloud nine, just getting my name on the cup,” they said. 

Published on Feb 04, 2020