A very long time ago, I wore a name tag. This was in spite of my specific aversion to such things. I remembered an encounter I witnessed between my father and a waitress on one of our family road trips, in which my father noticed that, "Hey, your name tag is upside down."
To which she replied, "If you really wanted to know my name, you'd ask me."
In hindsight, this might sound a little flirtatious. Except the delivery was not the least bit flirty. It was flinty. This was a woman who had probably served a hundred fifty other clever folks that day, very few of whom had bothered to note the upside-down-ness of her name tag. And this would be a much better story if I could tell you what our waitress's name was. But it did send a message to me about the relative import of pinning a badge to your chest, and its functionality. What it does fundamentally is strip away your anonymity. It puts you in a position of vulnerability. Customers, as a practice, do not enter an establishment with their identities stapled to their fronts. Name tags are the way you can be summoned. Remembered. Held accountable.
So when I started my career at Arby's, and watched as my manager sat down at the desk in the back room with the Dymo Tape Labelmaker, he asked me "Dave or David?" I went with the former. The less formal. The four letter version. And on the polyester smock that I was issued, there were two small holes through which the pin for my newly created name tag would pass. When my shift was done, that name tag would be stuck in the cork board above the time clock, and the soiled smock would go into the laundry bag.
As I took on more shifts, I was eventually issued a second name tag, for those days when the first one was covered with grease or spatters of shake mix. As I became a featured player, I was allowed access to the Dymo Tape. I did not go with Dave. Or David. Instead, I chose to meld my musical preference with my first name: DAVO.
I didn't look back. Customers asked for me by name. When I made the big leap to management, I was awarded not only with a brown polyester vest, and keys to the register, but a fancy new management embossed name tag: DAVO Assistant Manager.
So I was trapped. They had invested in me. And I was there for the long haul. But it never occurred to me to put my tag on upside down. I wanted people to ask for me by name. My fellow managers, RAT, B.C., BABS, and our supervisor WALDO welcomed me in, and suddenly I found myself with a label maker in my hand. For one brief shining moment, I was in charge of name tags. Most of them were made with respect and care, but I started making personalized tags for front line employees. Counter help. Not their actual names.
They didn't need to be upside down.
If you really wanted to know the name of the person serving you a Beef 'n' Cheddar, you would have to ask.