What is in a name? Shared from Mercy Morganfield

For White Girls Who Considered Suicide When Being Called Karen Was Too Much
I hopped on Facebook and responded to two posts this morning. One response was about Ahmaud Arbery. I had to remind people to say his name. And the other was a response to this whole white girl, Karen debacle. Some feminists equated being called Karen to being called the N-word. And a white friend wanted to know the difference between a Karen and a Becky. As for me, I want to know why the men who shot Ahmaud Arberry are not in jail. You see, we all have our priorities.

What’s in a name—why don’t we start there. To so many black women the offense over the name Karen seems a bit frivolous when we have to remind America to say the names of unarmed black people gunned down by law enforcement or white vigilantes. But being called Karen is what keeps you up at night? At least you are still alive to get offended. Sandra Bland is dead. But okay. I’ll play along.

What is the difference between Karen and Becky? Well, I dunno—what is the difference between Lakisha and Lawanda? What is the difference between having a family name and having to take the name of the plantation where your ancestors were enslaved? Really, when we get right down to it, what’s in a name?

I teach classes to large corporations on interviewing and hiring. I always have a segment on conscious inclusion. Instead of looking at differences—can we look at who is being left out—what perspective are we not looking at? It is almost always the perspective of the people least represented in the workplace in a power position. So Becky and Karen will be included Lawanda and Lakisha will be left out.

In that same class I talk about unconscious biases—we all have them but for some of us an unconscious biases can deny us opportunities while to others it opens doors. A research study took identical resumes and only replaced the names. They found the resumes with traditionally white-sounding names like: Susan, Sally and Brandon were moved forward in the interview process while traditionally black-sounding names like: Lakisha, Tyrone and Lawanda were put on the reject pile. So really, what’s in a name?

Black folks have been using the name Becky to describe that cute, blonde white girl for years—just like white folks use Lakisha and Shanaynay to describe that loud, gum-smacking black girl. Think of all the sitcoms and late night shows where white people make fun of Spanish sounding names or stereotype the black or Spanish person. But you got your Patagonia athletic briefs in a twist over being stereotyped as a Karen?

My grandmother watched a young white man physically remove her grandmother off the sidewalk so white people could pass. He didn’t know her name he just called my great, great, grandmother, Auntie and called my grandmother Gal. You see we have been stereotyped with names since before Karen was a twinkle in Marge and Bob’s eyes. But you are offended by a name?

So funny how those same offended white women don’t think about names until someone is not using theirs. They didn’t give it a thought until someone stripped away their humanity and triaged them to a compartment called annoying white women. People have been striping away our humanity and triaging us to compartments all of our lives. We are followed around in stores because we are stereotyped as thieves, denied loans because we are stereotyped as broke, denied rape kits because we are stereotyped as promiscuious. We feel your pain, Karen, but do you feel ours. For the record, Becky is ditsy and Karen is annoying. That is why the white cat argues with her all the time.

These same women ask to shorten your African or Spanish sounding name when remembering it is just too inconvenient. You can pronounce spaghetti but you can’t pronounce Carmencita. ‘Can I call you Carm?” I don’t know; can I call you Karen? What’s in a name?

Do you know some black people will not name their children black-sounding names. They can’t name their child after their great-grandfather or after their mother because their names sound too black. It took an episode of Blackish to get us to understand the tyranny behind not being able to name our own children what we want to name them. We have to think about the way white society will view them for the rest of their lives. Do you have that problem, Karen? Is that your reality?

So until being called Karen costs you a job, a promotion, makes you get paid less, makes you not get a mortgage or a loan, makes you name your children something else, makes you get chosen last—until that happens—I think you can suck it up, Karen.

Grit your teeth and put on your big girl briefs the way we, in the black community, have done from the minute we got off a slave ship from Africa and you refused to use our African name—instead you called us Kizzy—or lazy—or stupid—or the N-word. Because, afterall, Karen—what’s in a name?

Stereotyping feels dehumanizing doesn’t it Karen. Use this experience to recognize the humanity of others. The fact that you think being called Karen is the equivalent of being called the N-Word is the most Karenish thing a Karen can say, Karen.

I got my first and middle name from my father and I got my last name from the plantation my fathers ancestors were enslaved on. So until you live that experience Karen—until you understand that struggle, you are not oppressed you are just mildly inconvienced. I have to wear the last name of my ancestor’s enslavers all of my life. My enslaver’s name will be on my tombstone. How about you, Karen?

And that is exactly what’s in a name.


  1. Problem is : no woman owns her own name. Your last name is from the plantation your ancestors were enslaved on. My last name – and pretty much any woman on earth – is from the man who enslaved my mother, and her mother before her, and her mother before her…
    The first slaves brought to the Americas were… women. But the trade of women wasn’t triangular, it wasn’t slave ships from the coasts of Africa. It was the quiet kind of trade, where one family sold a woman to one man. It went unnoticed. And the benefits men made from that trade didn’t turn into money, unlike the trade of slaves. Women produced offsprings, and women worked, for their slavers/husband, but since no money materialized it, it’s like this reality never made it into history.

    So yeah, you’re right. Summarizing all black women or girls under “Lakisha” is oppressive. It’s racist. You don’t own your name.

    But summarizing women – who have historically been slaves, just a kind of slave where money wasn’t cashed upon, just work, invisible work – under “Karen” is oppressive. It’s misogynistic. Now, you can tell yourself that it’s fine, because those women you are reffering to are white. And if you don’t want to do the work of caring about that issue, fine, it’s completely understandable and justified in my opinion. But don’t pretend white women own their names. Just don’t.


    • I was really so close to expressing how crazy your whole rant sounded comparing marriage to the brutality of the Atlantic slave trade and how your “oppressed” mothers and foremothers were able to build wealth and status for themselves and their children while being in these partnerships wanted or unwanted. Black people’s “partnership” with the US to build an economy for a whole country however left them with no monetary gain, familial stability or standing to give their future generations. I wanted to get into the whole Irish indentured slaves and how at it’s worst it’s served them better than is has black slaves but its not worth my time.

      All this to say you do own your name and today for your excellence in white feminism your name is Karen.

      Liked by 1 person

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