Opinion: The Name Game – Times News Online – tnonline.com

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This popular saying comes from William Shakespeare’s tragic play “Romeo and Juliet,” and the reference is intended to show that the names of things and people do not affect what or who they really are.
Maybe so, but my friend, Karen from Washington Township, Lehigh County, an employee of an Allentown-area supermarket, might need some convincing.
For the past several years, the meme “Karen” has been used pejoratively throughout the social media world by unthinking people to call out certain types of behavior. They do this without apparently realizing that there are real people with the name of “Karen,” who must now share the brunt of their cruel and unthinking characterizations.
Karen wears a name tag as part of the requirements of her job. “I can’t begin to count how many times men and women, even young kids, have made a comment and have had a laugh at the expense of my name,” she said, asking that I not use her last name.
I can identify with Karen’s dilemma since I have gone through life with a problematic last name. Growing up in Summit Hill, I never thought much about my name being complex. After all, next to some of the last names of people from my hometown, “Frassinelli” seems pretty tame.
Not so to the program director at the Stroudsburg radio station where I got a job when I was a junior at East Stroudsburg University. Joe Whalen asked me my middle name. When I told him “Phillip,” named for my father, he announced: “Your air name is ‘Bruce Phillips.’” Whalen insisted that no one would understand “Frassinelli,” let alone be able to spell it.
Well, it turned out that the learned Whalen was right. I often wish I had the eloquence of Cyrano de Bergerac, whose magnificent put-down of the oaf who observed that he had a big nose, endures as one of literature’s classic moments.
In Act One of Edmond Rostand’s play, the hero with the unusually large nose is at the theater. He has just bullied a blustering actor off the stage. The audience is upset with Cyrano for interrupting the performance, and a wealthy viscount stands up and declares, “Sir, you have a very big nose.” Unimpressed with the remark, Cyrano provides nearly a score of examples of far wittier insults the viscount could have used:
“‘Tis a rock, a peak, a cape; no, it’s a peninsula.
“How kind you are; you love little birds so much you have given them a perch to roost on.
“When it bleeds, it must be like the Red Sea.”
I would love to have had similar repartees for those who, after I have spelled my name for a third time, say, “Hoo, boy, that’s a long one, isn’t it?” Or, “I’ll bet you sometimes wish you were named Smith. Ha-ha.” Or, “Wow, what a toughie! I guess you must be Eye-tal-ee-un.”
My friend, Karen, avoids any customer comebacks or confrontations involving comments about her name. “I don’t want to create a scene,” she said, “but I have to tell you that it has gotten old.”
Although the origin of the term “Karen” is not exactly known, it may have become popular because of a comedy routine. “Karens” are the ultimate policewomen. They’re selfish, petty enforcers of other people’s failures or errors, and, yes, they are always white.
Those with the misfortune to be named “Karen” are bewildered, because it was once one of the most popular names among baby girls. According to Social Security records, the name hit its peak by ranking among the Top 10 between 1951 and 1968. More recently, it was ranked 635th most popular. Quite a comedown!
My friend Karen has never considered changing her name, although a question about another Karen in the Amy Dickinson advice column in daily newspapers brought a suggestion from Dickinson that the woman could change her name tag to her middle name.
There are some famous “Karens” throughout the 20th century. Perhaps the most famous is the late Karen Carpenter, singing sensation of the brother-sister group The Carpenters. Of course, this Karen died in 1983, long before the pejorative name “Karen” became a thing.
By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com


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