On a recent trip to Sedona, AZ, my husband and I were taking a group Jeep tour of the red rocks. As we bumped across some of the most beautiful landscape on the planet, the tour guide asked us all to introduce ourselves. As each guest gave their name, he bantered back and forth with them in a friendly manner.
Then it was my turn. When I told him I was named Karen, all the laughter in the Jeep suddenly stopped. It was like one of those scenes in a gunslinger movie where one guy says something to the gunslinger, and everyone pushes back from the table to get out of the line of fire. Things got very quiet for a beat. It was... awkward.
Then the Jeep driver spoke up. "Aw man. I'm sorry for what the world has done to your name."
That broke the tension. As soon as I laughed, everyone else did, too, and we were once again enjoying our shared adventure.
I Get Interesting Reactions When I Say I'm Named Karen
My dad used to say, "May you live in interesting times," and his wish for me has definitely come true. It's an interesting time to be a middle-aged white woman named Karen.
I get reactions like the Jeep driver's quite a lot when I tell people my name. Some people hide their reactions better than others.
Sometimes, there's a swift intake of breath. Sometimes, an expression crosses their face as if somebody farted. Sometimes, someone makes a joke. Often, it's this: "Oh, I'm sure you're not THAT kind of Karen."
The moments pass awkwardly but quickly, and I always counter any visible reaction with a smile or a quick joke in order to make others feel comfortable. In truth, the only thing about the reactions that bothers me is that my name makes others feel uncomfortable.
I Don't Plan to Use a Nickname
I come from an age when there were many of us — girl babies born to parents who proudly named us Karen. Several of the Karens (that is, people with the actual name Karen) I know have shifted to nicknames or using their middle names in the past few years, and I get it. It is a little startling to hear your name used as an epithet.
But I've been Karen all my life. While it's never been a name I particularly loved (as a kid I always thought Susie was the coolest name in the world and couldn't understand why my parents didn't bless me with that beauty of a moniker), it's my name, and I'm going to keep it for a few reasons:
- My dad's nickname for me was Flooglemeier, and I feel like that would just be too hard for people to pronounce.
- I already know how to spell and pronounce my name backwards without having to think about it and that, my friends, is an important skill to have.
Just Because My Name Is Karen Doesn't Mean I Want the Haircut
We all know the Karen haircut and its variations. It's an actual thing, and I'm not quite sure why it isn't called the Kate (with all apologies to the Kates I know with fabulous hair), since as far as I can tell, it's Kate Gosselin who popularized it back in the early aughts. But I digress.
I've always said that breaking up with your hairstylist is harder than getting a divorce, but in 2021, my lovely hairstylist Edward left the profession and became a teacher. Great news for the kids, terrible news for me.
It was as difficult as you can imagine, trying to find a new person to be the one. I wear my thick, wavy hair shoulder length with long layers to give it shape, which I explained to a new hairstylist who turned out not to be the one. SHE GAVE ME A KAREN!!! (I'm sorry for shouting. It's shocking when something like that suddenly appears on your head.) I'm not even sure how she managed to do it without me noticing, but it happened and I spent the next year growing it out.
I know my name is Karen, but please leave my hair out of it.
Sometimes, People Use the Whole Karen Thing as a Power Move
In 2020, a rich developer decided to build on a virtually un-buildable piece of land next to our house. Our driveway, which we own, runs along said piece of land, and the developer had an easement to drive across it. He took the opportunity for his workers to block it for hours at a time any time of day, which was a problem if we wanted to come or go.
Naturally, this created a bit of a dispute, with us continuously asking them not to block and them continuously blocking us in our home. It was escalating, so I invited the builder to our house (front porch only — it was 2020) so we could sit and work it out civilly. The first thing he said after he took a seat and I poured him some homemade lemonade was, "Please tell me you're not that kind of Karen."
I've encountered this a few times. It always comes out of left field, and the person making the statement is always a person in a position of power and influence. It's their effort to get me to comply with what they want or to silence me simply because my name is one that is used in conjunction with difficult people.
It has happened enough that I've developed a canned response to it. I smile sweetly and without breaking eye contact say, "You'd better hope not." That usually ends it.
It Bothers Others More Than It Bothers Me
I'm a big believer in laughing my way through things. So the whole Karen thing has never really bothered me, and it has even been a good source of humor in my life for the last few years.
But I do see that it bothers the people who love me. It upsets my husband when people use my name that way, even when they're not talking about me. And my good friends are always quick to jump in and defend me if someone reacts to my name, even though I don't need them to. I'm okay and always will be. Other people's words will only hurt me if I allow them to, and I just don't take myself that seriously. But I love and appreciate my friends for caring enough to try.
You Can Bet I'm Going to Be Nice
I've worked in the service industry, and I have friends and family who still do. Serving the public is hard. Usually, the pay is far less than the workload would indicate, and people can get a little... well, Karen-y to be quite frank.
So even before the whole Karen thing took off, I was always nice to people in customer service. I believe they're doing their best to do their jobs, and they don't need me or anyone else making their work more difficult by shrieking at them about things they often have very little control over.
And now, I'm even nicer. Not just because my name is Karen and I need to represent for all of us, but also because customer service has become even more difficult in the past few years. People in customer service deserve to be treated like we would want people to treat us if we were in that situation — with basic human kindness.
I'm So Relieved I Didn't Marry My First Grade Boyfriend
I get it. That sounds like a weird thing to say, but hear me out. His name was Jimmy Carron. Can you even imagine?
If you can't imagine, allow me to spell it out. I'm from the 80s. Back then, it was common for women to take their husband's last name, and my name right now would be Karen Carron. Karen. Carron. The name so nice, I said it twice. Double the awkwardness. Double the double takes. (Would that make it a quadruple take?)
Fortunately for the future of humanity, the relationship didn't make it to second grade. Because I'm pretty sure the name Karen Carron would've created a tear in the fabric of space-time, and I wouldn't be here writing this article right now.
We're All in This Together
My name has been Karen for a long time — over five decades. And even as a kid, people were playing with my name... Karen the Red Baron, Karen should be sharin'... heck, even my dad called me Karen McFaren when he wasn't calling me Flooglemeier. But it's just a name, and it's not who I am (although truth be told, I might be a little bit Flooglemeier).
Instead, I show who I am with how I present in the world — in how I treat others, in the care and compassion I bring to the world, and in how I live my life. And just from a human perspective, two things I would never do are treat someone poorly because I'm in some sort of position of power the way we now perceive "a Karen" would do, or reduce anyone to a stereotype, including someone who is having a very bad day (and possibly a very bad hair day).
Because in the end, we're all human beings, and we're all fallible. All we can do is do our best to treat one another with dignity, kindness, compassion, and fairness, because ultimately, we're all in this together. And that's what Karen wants you to know.