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Ask Mister Manners, Thomas P. Farley: Help! I’m Karen — Not A ‘Karen’

I’ve always liked my name, until it became synonymous with white privilege and rage. What’s a Karen to do in this divisive climate?

Etiquette tips on how to interact in today’s world. Have a question for Mister Manners? Send your queries to info@whatmannersmost.com and look for replies in the coming weeks. 

A KAREN WHO CARES

Q: I’ve gone my whole life very happy with my name. But almost overnight, the name Karen has become slang for a particular type of woman who believes the world must bend to her wishes. She complains to managers. She takes out her smartphone to film interactions if things don’t go her way. And in general, she’s very unpleasant to be around. None of those things apply to me, and yet, here I am, feeling as though the name I received at birth suddenly has unfortunate connotations. What can I do when someone makes a joke about being scared to meet me once they learn my name?

A: A fashionable selection for girls born in the 1950s and 1960s, Karen reached peak popularity in 1965, hitting number-three on the list of names American parents were choosing for their girls. And though the name experienced a steep drop-off in popularity through the 1970s and up to the present, that original generation of Karens had a half-century’s blissful use of their name without any issues. In the late 2010s, however, social media appropriated the moniker for its own purposes. 

Try as I might, I can’t think of any other name that has been so cruelly and unjustifiably singled out. Sure there’s the “Average Joe,” “Peeping Tom,” “Smart Aleck, “Plain Jane” and “Chatty Cathy.” But a name that can stand sans adjective to represent a thoroughly hateful personality? Not even “Karen” runner-up “Becky” (memorialized in the Beyoncé song “Lemonade”) or their male counterpart, “Chad,” even come close to the popularity of Karen in social media shorthand.

As arguments over mask-wearing have raged in big-box stores around the country, pitting customer against customer and customer against manager, any woman who fits the demographic profile described herein risks doing further damage to Karens everywhere. It matters not that her name may actually be Meg or Grace, Adelaide or Samantha. If she’s awful, she’s a “Karen.” Recent events have proven that not even politicians are immune to the temptation to further sully the name Karen by using it in hashtags.

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So what are Karens to do? They could wait and hope the trend fades on its own. But I imagine it will be years before Twitter tires of it. Until that time, I advise Karens to grin knowingly when someone goes for an obvious joke and simply say: “If I actually were what you think Karens are, I’d already be complaining to the manager.” Follow that up with: “Rather than report you, I’m pleased to meet you.” Perhaps by taking the high road, Karens can reclaim their good name, one which has been around since Medieval times and which, in Danish, means “pure.”

Groomsman Epically Faints During Wedding
Photo by Tiko Giorgadze via Unsplash

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

What are your thoughts about wedding-shower etiquette during COVID-19? Since our daughter’s wedding reception will most likely be much smaller than planned, we don’t want to see her missing out on having a shower. Can we invite people who would have been invited to the wedding but now won’t be due to distancing guidance?

Oh for the year 1996 when Alanis Morissette could sing of rain on one’s wedding day and wrongly call that weather letdown “ironic.” This summer, I’ll bet most couples would happily forego sunshine—irony or not—if it meant being able to proceed with their weddings exactly as planned. And yet, thanks to the coronavirus, weddings and showers alike are getting rained on in a torrential fashion. Postponements abound, and smaller celebrations are the only seeming alternative for those who decide to proceed with their chosen date. 

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I’m all for boosting your daughter’s spirits by means of a wonderful consolation celebration, but could you not invite just a few close friends to attend in-person with the balance joining virtually? Providing those who are onsite are responsible—and ideally, if the celebration is held outdoors—you should be able to toast the forthcoming nuptials in a manner that is meaningful and memorable. I would not hesitate to take the same approach with the guests she planned to invite to her wedding.

In circumstances such as the ones we now face, etiquette is adapting as quickly as possible to accommodate scenarios we never imagined. The good news is, we are in such uncharted waters that no one can feel slighted—even if, on occasion, they are uninvited. Imagine that….breaking a rule of etiquette to be more considerate. Now that, Alanis, is ironic.

Mister Manners, Thomas P. Farley, is a nationally regarded expert who appears regularly in the media to discuss modern-day etiquette dilemmas — from how to split a check fairly to how to get a word in edgewise. Follow Thomas on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And for more insights, listen to his brand-new podcast, “What Manners Most,” which will be focused exclusively on Coronavirus-related etiquette for the foreseeable future.

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