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I am a Karen

There’s a famous quotation by Dale Carnegie that states “Remember that a person’s name is to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”  My name is Karen.  When I was born my parents gifted me with that name because they liked it.  They thought it “fit” me.  The Hebrew meaning of Karen is pure or fire.  According to allhebrewnames.com, Karen “represents people with high verbal expression, understanding and intuition. Gifted, charismatic and kindhearted.  They tend to be innovative, dynamic, supportive and understanding.  Often, they think about others and not about themselves.  They are kind, sympathetic, generous, they are supportive and helpful, direct, and are confident.  However, they may come across as being too stubborn and dominant at times.  Guilty.  That’s me.

In the last few years, there has been a trend using the name Karen as a negative description for a woman who is determined to “speak to the manager.”  She tends to be a privileged, white female who gets caught amid “angry freakouts, colossal triggerings, and lengthy tantrums.”  I have seen the use of “Karen” in captions by newscasters, politicians, social media and even friends.  I’ve heard it used by people in general conversation standing near me whom I don’t even know.  Dave Ramsey, the financial expert, even posted a list of the five “Other fun things you’ll have time to do after you finish your taxes.”  Number five, after “make a dentist appointment” is “Call your aunt Karen back.” 

When the media shows videos of women who are throwing tantrums or behaving angrily or erratically, not one person has gone up to them to ask them their name.  You can read articles that report on the bad behavior but never revealing the true name of the woman being called “Karen.” My bet is that her name is not Karen. But reporting that “Stacy Jones” threw a tantrum and assaulted the coffeeshop manager doesn’t fit the popular cultural narrative.  Yet to all the people who are not named Karen it’s funny or entertaining to malign the name.  Now here’s the catch.  If I try to defend my name to someone who is using it as a negative, then I have made myself a Karen.  It’s the perfect set-up to be defenseless.  It keeps those named Karen from being able to defend their name.  A friend of mine and I have talked about this topic often.  We discussed the possibility of me setting up a Facebook page where Karens can defend themselves.  Or approaching a group of people maligning the name and asking them the real name of the woman they are gossiping about behind her back.  But in so doing, it would be perceived that I am being a Karen.  I am not the Karen the media portrays.  I am the pure, gifted, charismatic, often too stubborn Karen that my name really means.  Because of this, I have had to uncomfortably learn the power of silence.  When those individuals call someone a Karen, it tells me more about them than my name says about me.  I realized the silence is not an acceptance of having my name slandered.  It’s a moment of internal galvanization.  I don’t owe them any explanation, nor do I need to prove anything.  The choice to remain silent is a moment of self-introspection.  I know who I am.  They don’t.  Nor will they get the privilege.

Don’t get me wrong.  When I see or hear someone use my name to define bad behavior it hurts my feelings and my heart.  It’s difficult to describe the feeling.  You can almost feel it in your ears.  Like fingernails down a chalkboard.  It’s not funny.  I have had clients in my business refer people to my office and share with me that one of the questions that they will get asked is “Is she one of those Karens?”  Without much recourse, this trend has prompted me to know who I am.  I can’t change other people’s behavior. But I can still be me.  The media trend doesn’t have to define me unless I allow it to.  Truthfully, I wish that people would be more sensitive to how that kind of labeling can hurt someone.  Especially since our culture is aggressively focused on inclusion and not offending people, it doesn’t make sense why the use of the name Karen as a marker for bad behavior is acceptable or tolerated.  Simply put, it’s offensive to all women named Karen.  Who I am has nothing to do with how other people define me or use my name.  It is up to me to know who I am.  I am the Karen my parents named.  I believe their choosing my name was divinely lead and prophetically gifted.  I am a Karen.  I am proud of it.  My mom and dad used that name to tell me they love me, to get my attention or to distinguish me from my sister and brothers.  All my degrees, diplomas, and accomplishments bear the name Karen.  In front of a packed room of family and friends, my husband said “I take you, Karen…” when we were married. When I introduce myself to a new friend or acquaintance, I tell them “My name is Karen.”  For me, the name Karen has a deep and interesting history full of life experiences and memories.  It is the summation of all the years I have spent on this earth.  The name Karen will be forever etched on my tombstone.

You see, words create a reality.  They create a perception.  Turning a name into an insult creates a stereotype that unfairly and undeservedly denigrates a group of women.   

Simply conducting a YouTube search for the name Karen will return numerous videos demonstrating outrageous behavior.  It is culturally believed that “Karen symbolizes an outburst stemming from undeserved pride and self-righteous indignation.  Their outrage is self-serving; they protest injustices that inconvenience them through victimization.”  

A derivative of the name Karen is the Hebrew term keren.  It “symbolizes the emerging coalescence of a nation’s commitment and sacrifice to fulfill its destiny to shine light and justice to the world.  It describes a radiance that comes from genuine achievement and hard work.” Think of that.  A commitment and sacrifice to fulfill my destiny to shine light and justice to the world.  A radiance that comes from genuine achievement and hard work.  I’ll take that.  I’ll proudly be a Karen.

Last year, I was on a customer service call with a guy whose company had erroneously charged me more than what I should have paid.  The transaction was complicated by the fact that their website had just been redone.  The customer service representative was having trouble figuring out what had happened or why the system “glitched” while I was trying to make a purchase.  Working together over multiple phone calls we finally figured it out.  At the end of the process as we were finishing our last call, the rep says “I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but I’m glad you weren’t one of those Karens.  I appreciate your patience.  It was so nice working with you.”  While he meant it as a compliment it still stung a little bit.  It’s like being declared guilty until I prove my innocence.  When people hear that my name is Karen they immediately assume the type of person that I am.  When I don’t live up to this culturally accepted indictment, people are pleasantly surprised. 

I was recently in a conversation with a person whom I just met.  We were in a Zoom meeting.  Our topic segued into how I felt about people using my name to describe bad behavior.  After I was done sharing my perspective, the gentlemen on the video just sat there.  For a brief second, I thought the video was frozen.  Then I saw him blink.  His immediate response was “I am so sorry.”  He told me that he had never given any thought to how using someone’s name as a negative would make the bearer of that name feel.  He said my perspective really got his attention and he realized how unfair and cruel this trend is. 

Truthfully, I shouldn’t have to defend myself against something I never did.  And most likely, neither did another Karen.  Moreso, I shouldn’t have to brace myself when my name is mentioned in anticipation of someone’s facial expression or comment because they heard I am a Karen.

I recently heard a newscaster talking with his coworkers on air.  He explained that, years before this Karen trend, he and his wife had planned to name their daughter Karen.  For reasons he didn’t mention, they chose another name. But he shared how relieved they were that they didn’t use the name Karen.  Because if they had, he joked, then they would have to move to Canada. 

A Wikipedia search reveals that this trend started because of a man embroiled in a very bitter divorce from his wife, whose name was Karen.  A female reporter began propagating the use of the name Karen as a pejorative and it took off like wildfire.  Sadly, when researching how this trend began, I read that the use of the name Karen is now considered a genuine slur.  How very unfortunate.  I predict that there will be fewer parents willing to name their daughter Karen because of this.  It’s not easy being a Karen in an anti-Karen culture.  But I still proudly wear the name my parents gave me because I am unique; I am not defined by insensitive, cruel trends; and most of all I know who I am.  I am a Karen.  

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