Alexa is Human

My letter to Amazon


Dear Amazon Employees and Families of Amazon employees,

I have a giant ask of you today. I am asking you to take five minutes to read my letter in its entirety. 

Mr. Bezos, I write to you as a father and human being rather than the CEO of Amazon. If you read nothing else, please know that my daughter is being bullied and we need your help. We are not asking for wealth or recognition from this request. We just want to correct an error that we believe was a giant mistake. 

I will give credit where credit is due. Amazon is an amazing company. We have been prime members for years. Amazon has unmatched customer service and quality products. That is a genuine compliment. 

Amazon, however, is bullying our daughter. This has been ongoing for about a year. It’s endless and we feel a bit taunted by the amount of exposure to the Echo device.

When we first heard about Amazon using Alexa as a wake name for the Echo device, we (like most people), thought that it wasn’t a big deal. We thought it would be a quick fad, and we did not think much of the effects that it would have on us as a family as the brand grew. 

Our daughter is a smart, happy six year old who loves dance and loves animals.  She is being constantly bullied at school and camp because her name is Alexa.  Our initial response was to build her confidence, have her tell the other children that she didn’t like being treated that way, and finally to ignore the other kids. After all, nearly every child is teased at some point. 

Kids are ordering her to complete tasks. “Turn on my t.v.,” “Tell me today’s weather,” etc.  Kids laugh at her and treat her like a servant. This has been an ongoing issue, everywhere we go. Unfortunately this issue has become so constant in our lives that we feel tormented on a daily basis. Please allow me to explain. 

As I drive her home from school in tears, I wonder how her generation will be affected by a female human name being treated like a slave? Adults know better, but what will this make them feel or do? Will a young girl or boy carry this into adulthood? 

We head home and she’s feeling better. In her now safe place in my car, we turn on the radio and search for a happy song. I tell her that Amazon naming that device Alexa after her is a compliment, and it is because Alexa is the best name that anyone could have. (Yes, I am lying because I need her to think that it doesn’t bother me, and try to regain some confidence). Guess what? Our local radio station just clearly directed us to “tell Alexa to tune to” their station. 

It’s being rubbed right into our faces. Her name has now become synonymous with a slave. How in the world, after 2018, The Year of the Woman, can this be possible? 

The following day, we stop for groceries and the checkout clerk compliments Alexa’s (my human daughter’s), unicorn shirt and asks her name. She now has my bright-eyed six year olds attention and proceeds to say, “I have an Alexa at my house too. Can you do those things?” As the clerk laughs at her own joke, my daughter’s face dropped down as she looked at me for an answer. I see the devastated look on her face. It’s easy to explain children’s behavior, but how do I explain an adult being insensitive and in on this also? Once again, she’s teary and heartbroken. I don’t show her but so am I.  My husband and I talk it through but again hope it will end quickly. It has now been over a year of bullying and constant reminders for her, and sleepless nights for me. 

We put it aside for a few days. We took our daughters to a local restaurant for dinner. The server came over and complimented our girls’ blue eyes and curls. Naturally, she asked for their names. Once again, laughter and stories of what her “Alexa machine” can and cannot do. 

When ordering online, there is an obvious banner with an Alexa advertisement, which makes perfect sense, however, it adds to the fire.  It’s just in our faces. 

My challenge to everyone. Replace the Alexa wake name with YOUR daughter’s name for 90 days. See how you feel, see how your daughter feels. Replace the wake name with your son’s name. Now, try replacing it with your mother’s name. Try your own name for 90 days. Every time you hear the wake name Alexa in the car, on television, etc., be mindful of this and insert yours. After at least 90 days, then I ask you to give your opinion. Before that, it’s nearly impossible to understand. Also imagine that this will go on forever. See how that might impact your thoughts. Are you cringing when you hear your own name?

Again, let me be clear, we are not looking for a single dime from this letter. My husband and I do not believe in handouts. Our number one priority, like most parents, is our children’s happiness. 

I am asking, okay begging, for the Echo and all devices to remove Alexa as a wake name and not to use any human name.  Amazon’s current solution to this problem that is devastating to my daughter and to our family as well, is to change the wake name if it becomes a problem in a household. 

Okay? How do you suggest we change the name of every friend’s house that she attends for a play date? We have countless stories about those. The neighbors? One of which asked her to call herself Lexi so it didn’t interrupt the device? Are you kidding me? Change the human name? Or what about the pool party we were at last week? I called her across the lawn and the radio immediately shut down to listen. Yes, everyone stopped and asked what had happened to the music. Yes, it is everywhere.  It cannot be the brand name. I can no longer be the default. 

Alexa is on our t.v. Alexa is on our radio. As I went out to run some errands on my day off, I tuned to our city’s most popular radio station. In the 2-hour span of my trip, I heard the D.J. mention Alexa 3 times!  

Alexa is at our friends and families homes. Alexa is EVERYWHERE. Again, phenomenal branding, but at the risk of what? Can you sleep knowing this? How many human Alexa’s are there in the U.S.? The world? How many are staying silent. We were, we did, we tried…I cannot stay silent any longer. It is now a mission. If her own mother won’t help her, who will? 

Our friends that have changed the wake name for us already have come to us to let us know that even though their wake name is now Echo, the messages/advertisements they hear on the device are still Alexa so they are becoming frustrated as well. It’s truly not up to the user, it’s up to you.

I learned early in my career to have a solution ready when presenting a problem.  

Here is our ask…

· Get the word out through every social media outlet. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram,, websites etc. 

· Stop the current television commercials and replace them with simply Echo or a made up name that has just as much recall value. 

· Ask companies like G.E. (who’s commercial I saw last night), that included Alexa to replace it with Echo

· Ask all radio stations and celebrity plugs to immediately exclude the Alexa wake name. We hear these on a daily basis. 

· Send emails and letters to homes with the devices with simple step instructions on how to change the wake name. 

· Recall all devices with the Alexa wake name. Replace it with Echo or a made up name (not Alexa, Lex, or Lexi), many other companies have been successful without using a real human name.

· Ask all corporate partnerships to utilize Echo or a non human name omitting Alexa completely, including medical device, pharmaceuticals, and hospitals

· Stop printing it on the tape of Amazon packages

· Stop including the name on partner print advertisement as well

· Admit an honest mistake, and urge the public to change the wake name, providing simple instructions. 

· Change the name entirely. PEOPLE WILL NOT DO THIS ON THEIR OWN

I fully understand the importance of naming and branding a product, letters and sounds that provide the best recall or feeling, etc.  I understand that this ask comes at an enormous cost, and will take significant employee time. I am not taking this lightly. 

I, we, ask parent to parent, human to human, stop bullying my child. Stop bullying every Alexa. Our Alexa is in her formative years. She’s learning basic concepts. What effect will this have on her?  What about a 12-year-old Alexa that is a preteen where school and social life can already be stressful? Or even the 17-year-old Alexa? She might be being cyber bullied as well. These girls are exposed even more so with their own phones and devices. What about the grown woman, Alexa who is pretending that this doesn’t bother her at work  (when colleagues joke about it) or at a friend’s house? The answer isn’t as simple as changing your own home. Expose is everywhere. It is constant. A non-human name is the only answer.

For a moment, replace the name with a celebrity, or a figure of influence, or a more common name, or a specific ethnic name, or replace it with Oprah, Ellen, Donald, Barack, etc. I chose two women with household names and two U.S. Presidents. Do you think that this would have come without major objections? Why is Alexa accepted? I can assume why Alexa was chosen as a wake name. In addition to recall letters, sounds, etc., it doesn’t have any particular ethnicity that it might be tied to. I believe that this would have caused major problems.

I can assume that your company completed market research and found that people connected to a human name. This is not just a brand. This is not just money. This has a major impact on self-confidence and happiness.  It has a major impact on both girls and women’s lives as well as their families. 

Of course, as a parent choosing a name during pregnancy is exciting and so much thought goes into the perfect name. For us, we wanted a name that wasn’t too common (not in the census top 25), but that most people had met or known at least once in their lives. That is ruined. That hurt, but that’s okay. What is NOT okay are the ramifications of the popularity of the wake name.

My nine-year-old nephew (who lives 500 miles from us), declared at dinner on Sunday that Alexa was not a girls name and that it was a machine. This solidified my first thought a year ago. Young boys, (and young girls) by no fault of their own are being raised this way.

He truly meant no harm and was not teasing her. This is the world that he lives in. Unfortunately, it’s crushing to us.

I saw an August Facebook post from a teacher that jokingly wrote “Alexa decorate my classroom.” Again, how is that funny? She just seemed lazy to me.  This has become so common with the Echo devices that the reality of just how derogatory and offensive it is, is being dismissed. 

While buying school supplies, we met another Alexa who is 7 years old.  We overheard each other call our daughter’s name while choosing notebooks and mermaid pencils.  

The very first thing that her mother said to me when we realized that the girls shared the same name was, “I can’t stand Amazon. It’s not fair and we are so upset.” I did not know this woman and had not shared my thoughts at all. Please let me reiterate, this is everywhere. It’s a daily struggle. We stayed silent, hoping that this was a quick phase. Clearly, it is not. Wonderful for the Amazon company, but damaging to us and to people everywhere. 

You’ve already ruined the name, but you don’t have to continue to hurt these girls and women. 

Again, in 2019, how is it possible that a woman’s name can be used this way? I do not believe that Amazon or any employee meant harm. I truly don’t. However, I ask, make an apology and start a movement. I am. 

For her protection and an honest fear of retaliation by her peers, at this point I’d like to remain as anonymous as possible.

A true heartfelt thank you for reading my letter during your busy life and work schedule.   

Thank you again,

Alexa’s mother father, sister, family and friends.


2020 Update

Mr. Bezos, 

Your attention is needed in this urgent matter.

I began the Alexa is a Human campaign in November of 2018 after my daughter was being severely harassed and bullied by both children and adults as a result of her name, Alexa.  Fast forward almost two years, she is now eight and the technology is far more ubiquitous.  I, (along with many others) now carry the weight of two thirteen year olds that have considered suicide over the past few weeks as a result of this wake name,  eighteen year olds reaching out with sexual harassment stories, women afraid to speak up regarding workplace harassment in fear of termination, and mothers and fathers forced to change the names of their toddlers and small children after watching their babies endure being treated in a subservient manner.  This is a nightmare for parents. This is a nightmare for women named Alexa. 

My husband and I are not helicopter parents.  In fact, we welcome sarcasm and teasing in our home.  Prior to this campaign, I had never reached out to another parent, teacher, etc. to address my child’s experiences.  I had also not used social media prior to this cause.  However, as much as I wish I could let this play out on its own, I cannot stand back and let a device give people a license to sexually harass, tease, and bully women and children to tears.  I will not stop until this change happens.  

I would like a response from you, not your colleagues.  I am happy to meet at your convenience. Cc

I propose

A:  An immediate change from the wake name Alexa to a wake word 

B: An anti-bullying campaign around this issue lead by Amazon  

I can imagine that a person in your position has very limited time and want to genuinely thank you for taking the time to address this matter. 

Thank you, 

Lauren Johnson

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