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Back Buzz - February 14, 1997

pumping heart Gee Whiz, 1925 Fifth Avenue, Downtown

The first thing that attracted me to this place wasn't the name -- it was the neon coffee cup with angel wings that caught my eye as I was riding by on the Monorail. Normally I wouldn't seek out a place called Gee Whiz, any more than I would willingly eat at a place called The World Famous Totally Fabulous Clam Factory or The Best Darn Rootin' Tootin' Little Calzone Ranch.

But Gee Whiz is quite inviting, from the dreamy waffle painted on their sandwich board to the rich old-Seattle quality of the shop itself. And the winged coffee cup, which seems to be their logo, reappears everywhere you look.

I haven't had anything to eat here, although they offer an inviting breakfast and lunch menu. But I have had their double short cappuccino, which is what I'm here to talk about, anyway. They use Caffé Vita beans, which is a very good start, and they make a good and simple drink. My order of "dry" was perfect: strong and undiluted, yet with plenty of milk foam on top. It was what I'd call a no-nonsense double cappuccino. The window seats are very nice, too, and you can watch the Monorail pass overhead and contemplate how many riders have wondered about the neon coffee cup with angel wings...

I'm not sure if this story is true or not, but I overheard an employee telling a customer how the name of the place came about. According to his story the owner was telling a friend he was thinking of opening an espresso cafe, and the friend said, "Gee whiz -- another espresso cafe?" I'm sort of hoping this story is true; after all, I'm not really the type to frequent places with cute names like Caffé Gosh Darnit or Dad Blameit Espresso or Chez Dag Nabbit. I'm also a little suspicious of pretentious names like Café Paris or Caffé Riviera -- even Caffé D'Arte (although D'Arte is one of the two best espresso roasters in Seattle). But what's in a name, after all? I like Gee Whiz, and it's easy to pronounce.

Actually, I'd like to see more espresso cafes named after simple, easy-to-remember things. How about Caffé Lawnchair or Caffé Bus Route? Why not Caffé Staplegun or Caffé Erroneous or Caffé Dipstick or Caffé Toothbrush or Caffé Imminent? I mean, it's not like people are going to flock to a cafe with an actual name, like Caffé John or Caffé Cathy, or even a name that's completely self-descriptive, like Caffé Coffee And Scones or Caffé Workweek Lunch or even Caffé Latte 'n' Laptop.

Which brings me to the subject of baby names. Doesn't it seem like too many kids these days are getting named after pieces of scenery, like Sky, River, Brook, Tree, Dirt, Compost Heap? I'm hoping the Puritan craze -- Joshua, Jason, Sara, Jediah, Abraham -- is fading out; but I suspect it's simply being overwhelmed by the Pop Culture craze: Dylan, Julian, Darren, Madonna, Elvis, Prince, Gidget, Mr. Ed. I recently read an article citing a currently existing individual named Pliny. So why aren't there more Socrateses and Platos? How about Genghis? I did meet a young Clio last summer, but I didn't think to ask her if her real name was Cleopatra.

A couple of weeks ago I was telling Max how as a small child I had a stuffed dog which I named Sandpile. I was only four years old; Sandpile seemed as good a name as any. My brother talked me out of naming my stuffed squirrel Station, however, claiming the name was nonsense. I didn't think so -- I'd probably just learned the word, and I liked the sound of it! Max agreed with me; he thought it was a fine name for a boy, and he could have a sister named Errand. "Would you like to see pictures of my children? Here's Station, and here's little Errand..." And then we came up with all kind of great names for kids. Let's see, we've got John and Helen and their children Satellite, Balcony, and Foyer; the twins, Bedroom and Bathroom; young Caravan and his little sister Pantsuit; and then there's the Johnson triplets -- Linoleum, Enamel, and Ceramic.

According to the 1994 Census list, the five most popular girl names were Mary, Patricia, Linda, Barbara, and Elizabeth, and the five most popular boy names were James, John, Robert, Michael, and William. But further down on the list were the more interesting names. For girls I found Krishna, Love, Saran, Dakota, Eura, Maxima, Golden, Junko, Pasty, Deja, Cleotilde, Gala, Porsche, Ping, Sparkle, Marvella, Bong, Monet, Sunday, Tijuana, Argentina, Maryland, Genesis, Virgen, Beata, Winter, January, Pa, Mignon, Dimple, Echo, Tequila, Exie, Pandora, Liberty, Maple, Dung, Yang, Tiny, Hee, Dreama, So, Angle, Son, Desire, Angeles, Cherish, Lady, Faustina, Sari, Santana, Darnell, Jesus, Diamond, Spring, Stormy, Kum, Jettie, Danica, Sabra, Star, Nada, America, Mercy, Vita, Tierra, Florida, Novella, Nova, Albina, Easter, Natividad, Ivory, Raven, Roma, Aura, Trinidad, Tiara, Una, Santa, Sun, Destiny, Ma, Sierra, Pansy, Kenya, Autumn, Summer, Ebony, and Ivory. For boys I found Man, Long, Fausto, Modesto, Milan, Dong, Paris, Noble, Trinidad, Royal, Major, Chance, Houston, Hung, LaVerne, Numbers, Ulysses, Son, Kermit, Brain, Heath, Harley, Wm, and - believe it or not -- JC.

For other name lists, check out Names.Org or the Baby Names Page.