Wow, did last week’s column open up a can of monkeys! I was on about how there’s a thing going on these days about a “Karen” being a person who is obnoxious and entitled and has a tendency to rant and rail at servers and loudly demand to see the manager in retail stores. I said I was sure we’d all seen one or two Karens. However, I did in fact point out that most people named Karen aren’t in fact obnoxious “Karens” but, whoa, my little exploration of the Karen phenomenon turned out to be a bit of an untended barrel of worms.
Now, I love to get mail from readers and I got some mail, all right. As you may guess, the email was from a person named Karen and it was long and pointed. Not like a stick, what I mean is, it was lengthy and to the point. Karen wasn’t happy with me. Karen pointed out that she “was tired of feeling attacked almost daily on social media” and that a column promoting the bad Karen image “doesn’t help”.
Good Karen went on to suggest to me that “maybe it would not bother you if every day you heard someone saying ‘Oh, he/she is such a Harley’” and she said that the Karen thing really did “hurt and bother” her. She also said that I should write a column that acknowledges how hurtful this Karen meme is to those actually stuck with, I mean, those coincidentally named Karen.
So, email-person Karen and every other non “Karen” Karen, I do heartily apologize for perpetuating an unfortunate stereotype that can be offensive to some and apparently isn’t amusing. I did email Karen back duly apologizing and also pointing out that Karens aren’t alone in this cruel world of name stereotypes. Like when people hear the name “Harley” the first thing they ALWAYS say is “Davidson! You motorcycle! Haha.” Or the name “Hay” – it’s ALWAYS, “Oh, Haystack!” Or “Hayfield!” Or (perhaps more appropriately): “Haywire!”
I also mentioned that she’s not alone in this challenging human social drama. What about Plain Jane, Lazy Susan, Debbie Downer? We’ve all met a Shrinking Violet (my Mom’s name was Violet and she certainly didn’t shrink from anything). A “Pollyanna” from the wonderful Hayley Mills movie used to refer to a person who is pathologically optimistic. A “Barbie” as in the Barbie doll, to diss a ditsy blonde female person. And a “Patsy” is a male or female person who is easily taken advantage of especially by gangsters.
There’s Big Bertha, Chatty Cathy, Negative Nellie to name a few more. And let’s not forget the gents. I’ll bet you know a Goodtime Charlie. Is your neighbor an Average Joe or a Nosey Parker? Slim Jim. Even Steven. Coffee is also named Joe (and it’s sometimes average.) To pry something open? Jimmy. To vomit: Ralph. Dumb guy (or a detective): a Dick.
I could go on. And on. But suffice to say if you happen to be named Susan or Debbie or Bertha or Cathy, or perhaps a Dick, Ralph or Joe – well, you’ve already been a card carrying member of Club Karen and you know the evil inner workings of the on-going name game. So I guess it’s pretty obvious that it’s difficult to do anything about the stereotypical generalized catch-phrase universal expression of names when they somehow enter the unshakeable idiomatic lexicon of common usage.
Except to say, perhaps, if you own one of these iconic names, try to take it with a large grain of salt. And try not to be such a “Harley”.
Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. You can send him column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.