What is a Karen? The dreaded ‘white lady’ meme nickname explained (2022)

Are you the type of gal who demands to speak to the manager when you feel you’ve been wronged? You just might be a “Karen.”

Sure, there’s a growing list of internet memes poking fun at real-life stereotypes — names such as Kyle, Becky and Chad are shorthand for this or that trope — but in 2020, “Karen” is the queen of them all.

The K-name has been co-opted to call out many a “white-lady-with-a-bone-to-pick” socio-cultural faux pas online. Think . . . calling the police to shut down a kids’ lemonade stand — because they don’t have a permit — spurring slangy put-downs like, “Calm down, Karen.”

The most infamous “Karen” of late is Amy Cooper, a white woman who called the police on black birder Christian Cooper when the two ended up at odds in the Ramble at Central Park while she was walking her dog. She “pulled the pin on the race grenade,” according to Christian Cooper.

When Mr. Cooper asked her to leash her dog, “Karen” promptly told authorities an “African American man is threatening my life,” while appearing to accidentally strangle her dog. The viral clip was taken only a day before disturbing footage of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police was released, sparking civil unrest and global protests over racial justice.

Oh, when Karens take a walk with their dogs off leash in the famous Bramble in NY’s Central Park, where it is clearly posted on signs that dogs MUST be leashed at all times, and someone like my brother (an avid birder) politely asks her to put her dog on the leash. pic.twitter.com/3YnzuATsDm

— Melody Cooper (@melodyMcooper) May 25, 2020

After the video racked up millions of views, “Dog Park Karen” was firedfrom her investment firm job, temporarilyforced to surrender her dogandcharged with one count of falsely reportingan incident in the third degree. The viral clip alsospawned new hate crime legislation.

She could face up to a year in prison — but the Karen-ing shame doesn’t end there. San Francisco politician Shamann Walton has introduced the CAREN Act — it stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act — to make it illegal to falsely report crimes in a “racially biased” manner.

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But of course not all “Karens” count under “CAREN,” and others don’t fit the bill at all. While the internet directory is fun, real-life Karens (or Beckys, Debbies, Chads and Kyles) bear the brunt of the jokes. Other names have become so entangled in pop culture that they’ve taken on a new meaning: Who can think of anyone but the Kardashians when they hear “Kim”?

Here are some of the names ruined by the internet, where they came from and what the people named before the meme think about their online personas — starting with Queen Karen:


“Karen” has become social-media shorthand meaning a middle-aged white woman — potentially with an asymmetric haircut a la Kate Gosselin, circa 2009 — who makes a big fuss, and is not-so-blissfully ignorant. Recently, a fake American Girl doll ad for “Karen” caught the eyes of Twitter: The doll mock-up is of a sweatsuit-wearing, gun-wielding shopper who “refuses to wear a mask in public places.”

The origins of “Karen” are oft-debated; some point to Dane Cook’s 2005 bit about the lamest gal in a group of friends being named Karen, while others point to the “Mean Girls” character played by Amanda Seyfried who is admonished for asking pal Cady (Lindsay Lohan) how she can “be from Africa if she’s white.” Some view it as a righteous motivator for the creation of Black Twitter.

Regardless, the World Wide Web knows Karen when it sees her.

One recent example? The New York mom who freaked out at the dancer-come-TikTokker strutting her stuff on Freedom Lake in a string bikini. “Do you need a pair of shorts? Because I have an extra pair,” says the pissed-off (and mask-less) Karen in the clip.

COVID Karens are a special breed: The woman brawling with the Red Lobster staff, reduced because of the pandemic, because she had to wait too long for her food on Mother’s Day is a perfect example.

In California, a bitter Karen is suing a Starbucks employee who raised over $100,000 online in “tips” after being berated by the mask-less Karen for refusing to serve her. She thinks she’s owed half of the dough considering her “underlying health issues” that exempt her from wearing a mask including “asthma” and “mask-acne.” Karens have recently been spotted throwing fits over masks in Target, Dairy Queenand Home Depot, too.

Or how about the dude (there’s no male version of the insultyet) who raged on behalf of his Karen-y wife when restaurants reopened? “Waiting for shredded cheese as it’s the only way she can eat fajitas. We’ve asked 4 people, going on 18 minutes now. Just unreal at Allen, TX location. We gotta quit blaming #COVID19 for crappy service,” the man wrote on Twitter, accompanied by a pic of his forlorn, shredded cheese-less wife.

Even Chicago’s mayor has gotten in on the slang. Chi-town boss Lori Lightfoot referred to White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany as “Karen” in a recent tweet. Another particularly touchy Karen moment: when “San Francisco Karen” Lisa Alexander called the cops on her neighbor for stenciling “Black Lives Matter” — on his own property. She later apologized.

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Calling the cops, usually on black neighbors, is a calling card of a host of obnoxious sub-Karens such as “Pool Patrol Paula” and “Dog Park Debbie,” who enlisted the help of the police when a man’s dog humped her own at the park. Sometimes Karens will take matters into their own hands, like in the case of the St. Louis couple who decided to defend their palatial balcony themselves when BLM protesters marched through their upscale neighborhood.

Road rage is another feature of this viral type, on full display on the West Side Highway earlier this year when an angry mom, nicknamed “Kidz Bop Karen,” lashed out at a Lyft driver and his passenger.


This one comes from the incel subculture, which is often described as involuntarily celibate and comprised of mostly men who lack sex and romance in their lives. Per incel lingo, “Chads” are the guys who get laid.

These hyper-masculine, sexually active dudes have chiseled jaws and bulging muscles. According to the internet etymology bible “Know Your Meme,” the term began in the ‘90s in Chicago to describe an affluent frat boy, but quickly exploded on online forums reddit and 4chan.

“My parents named me after the African country,” one DC-based Chad, who resents the recent re-brand, writes on Twitter. “But my name has now become culturally synonymous with bland, Aryan-looking MAGA dudes.”

Others see it as an opportunity: “The memes give me something to prove I’m not,” says Chad Stark, 30, of Brooklyn. “I was so aware of how my name works against me, I think it helped me to land my girlfriend,” adds Stark, who calls the memes “funny.”


This name has been co-opted by both disgruntled online men like incels and social justice warriors calling out oblivious white women, like “BBQ Becky” who called the police on a black family’s cookout.

The opening monologue in Sir Mix-A-Lot’s 1992 song “Baby Got Back” is one of the origins of the disparaging “Becky.” The hit kicks off with two pals commenting on another woman’s behind: “Oh my God, Becky, look at her butt! It is so big. She looks like one of those rap guy’s girlfriends.”

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Beyoncé gets some of the credit for revamping this Rebecca nickname: On her 2016 song “Sorry” she sang, “You better call Becky with the good hair,” which threw the internet into a tailspin of speculation on whom she could have meant.

Now it’s expanded to reference any snobbish or out-of-touch woman, which poet Becky Lavarn, of Texas, does not relate to.

“For one, I am not white American and most memes are related to a white American Becky,” says the 26-year-old. Still, she says she doesn’t resent the use of her name, and even adopted it as part of her brand.

“I use Beyoncé’s ‘Becky with the good hair’ as my podcast tagline to break the ice,” she says.


The caricature of Kyle is an angry, young white man with a love of energy drinks. This name originated from a foul-mouthed video posted in 2015 on the now-defunct video platform Vine. Titled “White kid fight,” it had over half a million views, and showed a tatted-up teen antagonizing an imaginary “Kyle.”

Punching drywall, being obsessed with extreme sports such as paintball and BMX, and opting for wraparound polarized sunglasses are all tropes of the Kyle meme, though Kyle Leonard doesn’t relate to any of those.

“My personality is not at all like the memes,” the University of Vermont medical student tells The Post.

The 23-year-old has a good sense of humor when it comes to the unflattering meme. “After it gained popularity I found myself making jokes about it” — but he might not be far off from the gag.

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“While studying for my board exams, I drank about five to six cans of Bang Energy a week to caffeinate for long study days, so I guess I kind of became one with the meme,” he says.


Stacy also comes from the world of incels, go figure, they’re famous for being online 24/7, and is basically a hotter version of Becky.

The hyper-femme Stacy, according to chat rooms and countless posts, is the female equivalent of Chad. She is oblivious to her own sex appeal, she lives the life of luxury and is always being courted by slobbering guys.


This viral meme has a definite genesis: the 1995 comedy “Friday,” starring Ice Cube. In it, a character called Felicia tries to mooch off of Ice Cube and Chris Tucker’s characters. “Bye, Felicia,” says an unimpressed Cube.

While the name isn’t a stereotype so much as a cold send-off, it has become closely associated with the meme, causing real Felicias grief.

“I used to love my name, but when social media became a huge thing my name got thrown in the bunch of the ‘Bye, Felicia’ memes. I started to hate it,” Felicia Ornelas, 24, who lives in Washington, tells The Post. “When I meet new people and they find out my name, they’ll say, ‘I’ve always wanted a friend named Felicia so I could tell them bye,’ which can hurt,” she adds. “I hate being the center of a joke.”


Comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele ruined the name Aaron for a ton of dudes with the moniker. In their viral sketch “Substitute Teacher,” Key mispronounces all the names of the white kids in the class. He fumbles Aaron, imploring the class, “A-a-ron!?”

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Real-life Aarons apparently have to endure the intentional botch all the time. “If I could erase every copy of that sketch from the planet I would,” wrote one Aaron on Twitter. A New Jersey Aaron also moaned online, “Every time I meet people and tell them my name is Aaron, they ask me if I’ve seen that ‘Key & Peele’ skit.”


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