Monday, May 23, 2022 -
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Enough with the mean Karen meme

Editor’s Note: Meet the IJN’s newest columnist, Karen Galatz, an award-winning journalist, columnist and blogger. Her “Matzo Chronicles” column appears in California, New York, Washington, DC, Israel and now Colorado. She also writes Muddling through Middle Age, a “Top 100” humor blog that provides women (and men) of a certain age a light-hearted look at the perils and pleasures of growing older.

After naming three boys for deceased relatives, my mother was ready to rebel. Finally, having gotten her wish for a daughter (me), she refused to be tradition-bound in selecting my name. So, with apologies to the widow of my father’s recently deceased brother, Mom went wild and picked “exotic,” “foreign” names.

The result: I, Karen Michelle, joined the Galatz clan, bearing not even a Hebrew name for the late Irving — nor any other deceased relative.

My mother thought the mix of Swedish and French names was unique and lively. She knew not one Karen. And no American Michelle. And thus, she reasoned, unlike my brothers — Neil, Malcolm and Henry, I would not suffer multiple hands being raised in school when my name was called.

Little did she know that the name Karen would skyrocket in popularity in the late 1950s and 1960s. (In fact, in 1965, it was the third most popular name for baby girls in the US.)

And, of course, little did little me know that the name would crater in popularity in 2020 as a meme — a pejorative meme — for privileged, middle-aged women, who are racist, anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers, etc. etc.

But I’m jumping ahead. In the way, way back “good old days,” the name Karen had lovely, positive meanings. Keren is Hebrew and means “ray of light.” Karen is also German and means “hard worker.” It is similar to the Sanskrit name “Kiran” which means “sunbeam.”

Alas, today, Generation Z — those born in 1997 and later — lambast a whole generation of people, females in particular, by using that name.

My once oh-so-popular name is not only pilloried by Gen Z-ers, but by lawmakers too. A San Francisco elected official wanted to “immortalize” a version of it into law. He’s introduced the CAREN (Caution Against Racially Exploitive Non-Emergencies) Act to change the city’s code to punish people who call 911 and file racially biased complaints.

There’s even a play about my now problematic appellation which breaks my theater-loving heart! Titled “Karen, I Said,” the story begins with a 38-year-old white woman — Karen, of course — calling the police on a man of color for delivering a meat lasagna instead of the vegetarian option she ordered. The New York Times calls the piece, written and performed by Eliza Bent, a “wicked 45-minute satire on wokeness.”

I’m just calling it (admittedly sight unseen) wicked!

I’m pretty thick-skinned or so I thought. But these non-stop mean memes hurt and so, sadly, I’m thinking of going by a different name.

Thanks — or no thanks — to my rebellious mother, I don’t have a Hebrew name. So, that’s not an option.

I could go by my middle name, Michelle. There are advantages to this:

1.) I genuinely adore the name. When the Beatles penned the song “Michelle,” I practically wore the album down, playing it non-stop on my record player.

2.) Several people already call me versions of my middle name. My husband says Mish. My brother does too, or sometimes Michelle-o.

But at my age, changing my name seems complicated. Will my friends remember it? Will I remember it?

Meanwhile, thinking about that decades-old maternal naming rebellion makes me worry. Is this current Gen Z mean Karen meme my family’s fault?

Is it some strange sort of Ashkenazic version of Karma? Divine retribution for my mother’s refusal to name me after my late Uncle Irving? Are Irving and his late wife, Minnie, may they rest in peace, taking revenge for Mom’s failure to honor tradition?

Looking back, how awful would it have been if I had been named Irene or Imelda or Isadora — or even Ivanka?

Still, hindsight is 20/20. All I can do is hope that the Karen meme quickly becomes passé.

Till then, I take small comfort in a silly saying my father liked to say: “You can call me anything. Just don’t call me late to the dinner table!”




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