The Weird Nicknaming Practice Starbucks Uses in South Korea

A blog about business and economics.
July 1 2014 9:53 AM

Starbucks Thinks It’s “Friendly” for Korean Employees to Have English Nicknames

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A Starbucks worker at a coffee store in Seoul, South Korea.

Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Since we haven't written about Starbucks in at least a week, here's a Tuesday-morning update. In an effort to maintain an egalitarian culture, Starbucks encourages employees at its stores in South Korea to put English nicknames, written in the Latin alphabet, on their name tags.

The goal of the policy, according to the Korea Times, is to keep workers from being ID'd by formal titles, such as "boo-jang-nim" (manager) and "dae-li-nim" (midlevel manager). Better to be known by "Kat," "Bean," or even "Candy," apparently. A spokesperson for Starbucks Korea told the Korea Times that "this horizontal name culture creates a more natural environment for our partners and is part of an evolving culture that considers everyone from our customers to our partners."

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OK, sure, but why does this horizontal name culture only seem to produce westernized nicknames? A spokesperson for Starbucks said the company does not require employees in South Korea to use such nicknames but that "most of them choose to include their English nicknames on their nametag as a friendly practice." The company declined to address whether workers are specifically encouraged to use English-language names versus ones in their native language.

Considering that Seoul beats out New York City for having the most Starbucks locations of any city in the world, many employees may be looking for a friendly new moniker. Should they need inspiration, we suggest they consult this Tumblr of hilarious name misspellings by Starbucks baristas.

Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.

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