08/13/2013 04:09 pm ET Updated Oct 13, 2013

I Am Not My Name Tag

Hello, my name is none of your business.

Actually my name is Jacob Tomsky. And I've spent my entire life working in hotels, standing in front of you, wearing a name tag. Some of them have been silver. The better ones have been gold. I've damaged multiple suits by piercing the coat pocket with those old-school name tags that use a straight pin. Then they invented magnets and the first models hung so heavy that the pocket lip sagged, my name drooping toward the ground, making it look melancholy and downtrodden, as if to say:

My name is Jacob :(

One morning, because I (accidentally) snapped mine in half, I wore one that said Joe. Another morning, on a bet, for a full shift, I wore one that read "Sandra." I earned ten dollars wearing a woman's name on my chest all day and guess how many people called me Sandra that day.


Guess how many people, on the day I had to be Joe, called me Joe.


"Hey Joe! Great day out there, right? Listen, you think you could have my room cleaned while I'm out at dinner instead? I want to relax and watch the game. So just send the maid up around, say, 6:30 tonight. You can do that for me, Joe?"

Joe cannot. Joe will not. And Jacob doesn't want to. Room service attendants leave around 4:30 and getting a room cleaned after 5:00 p.m. is a lot more difficult. Joe, if he hadn't gotten fired two weeks ago, wouldn't want to arrange this special housekeeping request either. It goes beyond the fact that housekeepers go home hours before this guest wants full service; it might have been because the guest just up and called him Joe, out of nowhere. And now here he was calling me Joe. And he would have been calling me Jacob had I not (accidentally) snapped my own name tag in half that morning. He would have asked Jacob to do this. And I'm not even Jacob. I'm Jake. If you meet me in a bar I'm going to shake your hand and introduce myself as Jake.

So Jacob isn't very interested in stressing the housekeeping staff and adding late-night work for them either.

The name tag, and this is a little known fact, was invented in 34 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Nero and was initially designed as a form of punishment. Thieves and murders were forced to display their names on their tunics so that all of Rome could spit curses at them, using their family name to increase the severity and personal nature of the insult.

OK, that entire last paragraph is bullshit. I'm a front desk agent not a goddamn historian! Couldn't resist, though.

However, could it not be seen as a form of mild punishment? Offering up your first name so that random hotel guests may spit requests at you and kick dust on your tunic?

Do you walk into a fast food restaurant and start rifling off names there? Do you say, "No, Sandra, I'll take it to go. Bag it up so I can take it to the car and eat it in shame, Sandra."

Name tags do have a purpose in this world but they should not be used to assert mandatory familiarity. Because, in service-related situations, it can imply subordination. I don't get to use your first name, and you feeling free enough to use mine means you're cool with being overly familiar when it's not mutually available to me. And being cool with that is not really being cool.

Now, if we've already had a personal interaction and maybe I've gone out of my way to help you, then, and pretty much only then, as a thank you, will it sound right coming from a guest.

"Hey, thanks for checking me in so early, Joe."

Sure. You're welcome. I might even want to use your first name there too, but I can't. I'm not allowed. Emperor Nero has threatened to kick me to death (as he did his wife) for overstepping my bounds as a servant.

He did kick his wife to death, historically. Apparently because she was infertile.

Hello, my name is Wikipedia.

I'm just saying let's not jump to the name tag. Let it happen naturally. My first name should be the last thing that comes out of your mouth, not the first. I'm just trying to go home with my rent paid and a wallet full of dignity. The first thing I do when I'm done with my shift, part of the "I'm done with my shift" ritual, is to pull off that name tag. I slip it inside the coat pocket, where it will remain, until I must snap it back on and offer its use to everyone in the agora who feels like using it.

Name tags are a strange part of our world. They are necessary, no doubt. If I offered great service, customers have the name they need to inform management I've done a decent job. If I gave poor service, customers have the name they need to inform management I've done a terrible, terrible job. Or if I said I'd hold your shopping bag for you and that was the last anyone has seen of it, it's good to have my name so they can call me at home and I can say, "OH NO. I am SO sorry. I put it in the back office. On the top shelf next to the key packets. Tell the guest I am super sorry."

That's a situation in which wearing a name tag was good for everyone.

Hello, my name is Sandra Joe.

Goodbye, my name is Jacob Tomsky.