The Karen-Marites phenomenon
Karens have been once the face of memes. You know them as western women demanding to talk to the manager and several videos of them being racist and entitled circulated online. You have probably seen videos or women making a scene in public that has gone viral, and the Internet users called them Karen. We used to call women like this in our culture too. Karens are for the west to handle for a while. Until we have Marites, our Filipina counterpart, it’s a parallel archetype, but there are nuances to the characters these slangs portray. Karen is a white supremacist who demands entitlement. Marites is your local neighbor who always got some tea. Pinoys, mostly netizens call their prying neighbors Marites; their aunties pressuring them to get married and have kids because they would need someone to take care of them when they’re older; and the woman who Justine Luzares impersonates with a British accent.
The names Karen and Marites will never be the same again. This might have placed women in the names of Karen and Marites under challenging positions. But does this mean people who have these names execute such behaviors? No, there is no scientific research that could back up this hypothesis. Aside from off-putting behaviors, what do Karen and our very own Marites have in common? This Karen-Marites phenomenon is purely linguistic. We get to mold language into anything. That’s how we get to choose Karen and Marites to represent these ferocious women. It’s a process in linguistics called language change, specifically pejoration. The process can explain how the N-word became derogatory. So if you’re wondering why, out of all names, why Karen? The meanings of words can change because of many reasons and many factors.
Take the word “flex,” for example. Originally it meant “to bend.” Nowadays, it’s used in a different context. It means to show off. This may make sense because somehow, flexing your muscles is like flaunting them. The connection is not hard to imagine. The thing about these names is that they are just nouns, so how could we figure out why they were used to characterize such negative behaviors? From my thesis literature review, the name Karen has something to do with the demography of the name. Karen’s usage as a baby name began to rise in the 1950s and stayed high throughout the 1960s. In 1965, it peaked as the most popular name for baby girls. This means that most people named Karen are middle-aged in recent years before 2021. Usually, in the videos and memes that we see, these women are middle-aged, and the most common name for them would be Karen. That’s not all. Do you notice how some sounds sound rough, like the “k” sound? (Kill, kick, cuss) Karen is kind of a harsh sound that you can spit out. And that aligns with the type of person we are thinking of when we talk about a Karen.
And what about Marites? We’re no longer calling them Filipino Karen. It’s Marites. They are as infamous as Karens, but why did we use Marites out of all names? I only understood how Karen got associated with specific characteristics because I did in-depth research. If linguistics interests you, the field is vast for you to explore. (MEAGAN KENJH D. SABADO)