The name “Karen” is derived from a Greek word that means “pure.” In the mid-1950s, nearly two percent of baby girls being born were given the name. But now the name may go extinct.
There was a 75 percent drop in popularity for the name.
The name Karen was only registered once in the United Kingdom in 2022, according to the popular site BabyCentre. Four babies were registered as “Karen” in 2021, meaning there was a 75 percent drop in popularity for the name.
We know what’s responsible for this abandonment of a very good name. It’s become a slur for a certain type of middle-aged White woman—one who is stereotypically brash, rude, racist, and loves complaining to store or restaurant managers. In some versions of the meme, a Karen has a bad haircut, but ironically the style usually associated with the name was actually worn most famously by Kate Gosselin.
Legal Name Change
“As someone named Karen, when you go home and turn on the TV or go on the internet, you’re as likely as not to see your name being misused,” Karen Taylor, a 56-year-old small business owner, told the New York Post. “You walk around with a tag that says ‘racist.’”
My whole goal in changing my name is to escape being unfairly and inaccurately labeled.
She’s constantly seen her name dragged through the mud since mocking Karen memes went viral in 2020. While vacationing in Florida, she spotted a “No Karens” sign at a bar and once canceled her order at a local coffee shop that sold “No Karens” stickers.
“I’m not the sort of person who goes around looking to be a victim,” said Taylor, who is legally changing her name and asked to withhold her new name, her hometown, and business because she’s afraid haters will come after her. Really? Has it come to this?
“Anything connected with the name is a target for harassment these days,” Taylor explained. “My whole goal in changing my name is to escape being unfairly and inaccurately labeled with all of the negative qualities that are being poured onto my name. I don’t want them to follow me now.”
The Karen History
NextTribe has written before about the history of the unfair tarnishing of a nice name and the sexist and ageist overtones. Every time we do, we get letters from women named Karen who report on the pain this meme has caused them.
Every time we write about the meme, we get letters from women named Karen who report on the pain the trend has caused them.
It started as a joke by the comedian Dane Cook in 2005. “Every group has a Karen, and she is always a bag of douche,” he said. From there, the idea was taken up in the Black community as shorthand for problematic White women.
It wasn’t until May 2020 that it became widely used. That was during the analysis of racism and racist micro-aggressions that followed the murder of George Floyd. So many women not named Karen got that name on social media for acting badly. Amy Cooper in Central Park and also, Patricia McCloskey, who along with her husband waved guns at Black Lives Matter protesters who marched by their St. Louis home.
Not Just Fun and Games
The meme may seem fun and cheeky to some people—in England, there is a chain called Karen’s Cafe where patrons are encouraged to act as obnoxiously as they want—but when it makes life difficult for innocent people, then it’s really gone too far.
I’m sending a message about the power of memes and why we should be concerned about homogenizing everybody.
“Initially I thought it was a fad that would go away,” Karen Gross, an author and educator from Massachusetts told the New York Post. “Then I started seeing articles in reputable publications about the meme—using it as a platform to discuss White privilege and rude and socially obnoxious behavior. I realized it had a stickiness.” Suddenly people were poking fun at Gross’s name and stereotyping her constantly.
So, Gross decided to distance herself from the name, ultimately deciding on just going by “K.” She’s also speaking out about how a demeaning joke can do real damage. In fact, it’s such an issue that Karen-centric support groups, Karens United and Karen Is My Name, have popped up across the internet.
“I’m sending a message about the power of memes and why we should be concerned about homogenizing everybody with a certain name in a negative way,” she said. “As an educator, I saw that happening all the time with children. We should be cautious about how we tease people and harass them over their names. It isn’t a joke. It’s serious business.”
So, starting now, can we do our part to put the Karen meme to rest? Let’s call racist, entitled people “racist” and “entitled.” The danger of using a code word like “Karen” is that it tends to obscure the sin behind it. It almost lightens it to a joke. And what good does that do anybody, especially women named Karen?