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I Am A Karen And I’m PO’d That My Name Is A Meme

Here's the change in name I'm suggesting.

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Stone Karen monument, people throwing, tomatoes, illustration, elly rodgers
Elly Rodgers
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Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved my first name. It’s always been somewhat unique — until college, I had encountered only one other Karen in school — and its meaning, namely “pure,” has resonated with me for many reasons.

So, when my name became synonymous in 2020 with a white privileged woman, who, by the way, wasn’t named “Karen,” I shrugged it aside. You know, sticks and stones and all that. Besides, it was only one incident, right? I figured the attacks on my name would be a passing trend. How wrong I was.

The Karen meme is now firmly rooted in American culture. It even has its own entry in Wikipedia, which defines “Karen” as a “middle-class white woman who is perceived as entitled or demanding beyond the scope of normal.” (Thank you, Merriam-Webster, for not making this an official word — yet.) In other words, a privileged, selfish b----, which is exactly why my hackles — and blood pressure — go up whenever I hear “Karen” used in a derogatory way, especially now that the associations are worse.

I may be white and middle-aged, but I’m the polar opposite of “that” Karen. And I’m tired of having my name destroyed.

The roots of the latest Karen meme

Flashback to 2020, to an incident that happened in New York City’s Central Park. A Black man was enjoying a peaceful bird-watching experience when a white woman came by with her dog. The dog was off leash in an area where leashing is required to keep wildlife safe, and when the man asked her to leash the dog (something, by the way, I would have done also), the woman went ballistic. She even said she would call the police to tell them that “There’s an African American man threatening my life.” None of it was true, as proven by a video of the event that went viral, the racial undertones glaring.

That woman, whose real name is Amy, served as the model for what’s now a nefarious, vindictive Karen personality type. It garnered so much attention, in fact, that Domino’s Pizza in Australia and New Zealand ran a promotion offering free pizza to “nice Karens.” The chain was eventually forced to issue an apology. (For the record, I would have gladly taken a complimentary pizza, had there been one suitable for vegans.)

Turns out, this isn’t the first time the name “Karen” has been dragged through mud. In 2005, comedian Dane Cook joked that there’s always one person in a group whom nobody likes. The example he gave? “Karen is always a douchebag,” he said. “Every group has a Karen, and she’s always a bag of douche.” Some articles point to that as the start of the Karen jokes.

Yet what’s happening today with the Karen meme isn’t funny. It’s downright disturbing, especially given the latest version. Just a few months ago, #KlannedKarenhood popped up on social media to portray the Moms for Liberty. This, by the way, follows iterations such as Coronavirus Karen, referring to a middle-aged white woman who opposed social distancing during the pandemic, and #AndThenKarenSnapped, which refers to white women who lose their tempers. Karens have also been mocked as anti-vaxxers and as someone who’ll call the police to report her neighbors for minor things, to name just a few.

It’s so serious, people are no longer naming their newborns “Karen,” for fear of retaliation. HuffPost reports that “fewer newborn girls in the U.S. were named Karen in 2020 than any year since 1932.”

“Karen,” of course, isn’t the only name attached to negative connotations. Although I might argue that the vindictive rhetoric around the name “Karen” is significantly higher than it is for others, the Debbies, Cathys and Nancys of the world have also been victims of similar name-calling. What gives? “People often attach names to personality types as a cognitive shortcut to simplify complex human behavior,” says Bayu Prihandito, founder of Life Architekture and a certified psychology expert and life coach. “Our brains are wired to categorize information quickly to process it more efficiently, and using names as labels falls into this category.” This oversimplification, however, can lead to harmful stereotypes and biases.

Notice, though, what all these names have in common? The gender bias is intentional. “Historically, women have had less social value than men,” notes Whitney Coleman, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist in Washington, D.C., who specializes in working with women of color experiencing life transitions, anxiety and trauma. “If you are going to give demeaning and demoralizing nicknames to people, it makes much more sense to use a woman’s name rather than a man’s.”

Why it’s not just name-calling

While the Karen meme should cause anybody to question its purpose, the attacks are particularly unnerving when you’re named “Karen.” Way back when, I used to laugh it off as a lighthearted joke. Not anymore.

As I learn from a fellow Karen, I’m not alone. “I was given the name ‘Karen’ by my beloved parents, and I’m proud of it, but every time I see it associated with a whining, complaining and entitled female, it stings,” says Karen Messier of Ontario, Canada. “But mostly it’s deeply disappointing that so many people parrot terms and words they read on social media without a single thought as to how they are unfairly targeting so many good people.”

I agree, but I still wonder if I’m overreacting. It’s just a name, right? So, I ask Prihandito why it’s eating me, and he assures me it’s understandable. “Names are a significant part of our identity, and when they become associated with negative traits, it can feel like a personal attack,” he explains.

Of course, I realize my gripe is minor, given all the other issues people are struggling with. Yet I worry that attacks on names are the sign of something bigger, something Coleman mentions as soon as I ask her why it’s important not to promote this type of name-calling. “These names are a way to cause self-esteem issues and fractures within an already fractured society, as they do not promote tolerance or inclusivity,” she says.

I’m not about to change my name, but I do want to change the narrative around “Karen” (and all names that get stereotyped). When you use or refer to the Karen meme, you’re contributing to the divisiveness and hatred rampant in society. So please, world, can you just stop?

William Shakespeare once asked the question “What’s in a name?” What’s in a name is an identity, a person, a soul. Think about that the next time you use the Karen meme, and then please contact me if you want to meet a different Karen, namely #KindKaren.

What do you think of the whole Karen meme issue? Let us know in the comments below.

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