This is not a good time to be named Karen. These days, the name has become associated with privilege, largely thanks to a number of memes which portrays “Karens” as entitled and demanding. “It’s usually used as a pejorative for middle-aged white women,” Matt Schimkowitz, a senior editor at online meme encyclopedia Know Your Meme, told Insider. “It’s almost like they have an entitlement, where they’re kind of lording their privilege over another.”
A “Karen” is someone who demands to speak to the manager. She may refuse to wear a face mask or exhibit racism. While the label is mostly associated with middle-aged white women, it seems that anyone can be called a “Karen” if they fit the stereotype. People labeled as “Karen” on YouTube include a woman destroying a face mask display at Target, a woman yelling at kids for picking berries in a park, and a man trying to kick a resident out of a community pool.
The name itself doesn’t have any particularly abhorrent meaning. According to Behind the Name, Karen is a Danish nickname for Katherine that became popular in English-speaking countries after the 1930s. Katherine, in turn, comes from the Greek name Aikaterine. Its origins are uncertain, but some think it could be derived from Hecate, the name of a Greek goddess. It has also been associated with the Greek term “katharos,” which means “pure.” Plenty of real life and fictional characters have been named Karen, from actress Karen Gillan to Mean Girls character Karen Smith.
Why is the name Karen getting so much hate?
So how did the name Karen become so reviled? It’s not the name itself, it’s the era that it represents. A “Karen” is typically “privileged from the system the boomers set up for them and [is] now acting entitled and working against Gen Z,” as a 23-year-old named Julia explained to BuzzFeed News.
The name Karen has thus begun to represent a generation seen as particularly stuck in their ways and dismissive of younger generations. The name has been on the decline for a while, peaking in 1965 according to Pamela Redmond, CEO and co-founder of baby name site Nameberry. “That’s exactly why the name has become shorthand for a middle-aged white woman — because it’s one of the many names that are deeply associated with one age group,” she explained to People. “Shirley is in her 80s, Jennifer is in her 40s and Harper is not yet 18. And Karen is perennially 55, even if she isn’t.”
While the name may be getting a lot of negative press, it’s getting a lot of attention on Nameberry — three times as much as it did this time last year. “Usually on Nameberry, that attention translates to babies receiving the name, though in this case I am sure it’s going in the opposite direction and Karen is going to become one of those names that no parent wants to give their child,” said Redmond.
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