KB, KC, and the Karens of the world

Karen in Calligraphy, Karen Craven Studio Art 1989
Karen in Calligraphy, by Karen Craven Maria High School Studio Art 1989

My Aunt Karen called me last night. And did we have a gab! I am named after her, a point of pride for me, and at some point in the conversation, we talked about our shared name.

I love my name! I love how both Karen and Craven are two syllables and how each start and end with the same consonant sound. Before I even came to appreciate those things, I first loved that I was named after my mom’s younger sister. None of my siblings held that distinction.

I didn’t always love my name. Nor did my Aunt Karen. In grammar school, I was one of four Karens and in high school, the ubiquitous nature of my name continued. My Aunt attended a small high school on the South Side, whereof the entire 200 students, there were eight Karens. “I might as well have been called Mary,” she remarked.

In addition to sharing the name with so many of our contemporaries, Karen isn’t a great name from which a nickname is derived. My Dad was the only person to successfully give my Aunt Karen a nickname: KB. And my friend Jonathan, from City News, used to call me KC. That was the extent of our nicknames.

Then there was the literal meaning of craven to deal with. In grammar school: craven was an annual vocabulary word, which brought on an annual hazing by the bullies who said my name meant I was a coward. That died down in high school, replaced by a recognition of the unique union of my first and last name when Mrs. Tenbroeck used my name as an example of an alliteration. That’s when I really start to love my name. That affection grew when I first saw my name appear in my byline at the Northern Star, and later on my weekly column. I liked the way it sounded and looked.

Karen and Craven belonged together. They represented my identity, neither my name or identity did I wish to lose through marriage. I declined to fully assume my first husband’s name; my compromise included Craven joining his surname with a hyphen. A decision that later required a formal request to divorce me from that name. With the second marriage, I didn’t change my name.

Apart from sharing my name with Aunt, I recently made a new friend, Karin. I didn’t realize how excited I was about my new friend, until Bridget recently said, “Mom, you’ve told me a hundred times about your friend Karin, with an i.”


Names are important. They represent our identity and in my case, I think mine represents my personality, too. When I am feeling down, I often look to this description, reading it through the end to be sure to remind myself that “Karen is a winner.”

I am so grateful for my Grandma’s name choice for my Aunt Karen and equally grateful to my parents for carrying on the name. Separate from its union to Craven, and its popularity in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Karen on its own is a great name. Bridget recently told me I have an old name. “No one is named Karen anymore,” she said. And to which I replied, “Well there aren’t many Bridgets out there either.” As unique, as I think my name is, many women are named Karen Craven. A Google search of “Karen Craven” yields  524,000 results. It remains ubiquitous, after all; finding its uniqueness is up to the individual.

Last night we talked about how my Aunt Karen retreated from her name for a period and reclaimed it a few years ago. She wanted to own it again. And speaking with her last night, listening to her own journey, she is owning it. She has come into her own, and I mine, and we get to share our name on this journey. Who knew our that names would be one of the life’s greatest gifts? What a unique and special gift we share.

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