The name Karen has become a moniker for bad behaviour but how did the Karen meme start?

These brave Bunnings staff members came face to face with a woman later dubbed a
These brave Bunnings staff members came face to face with a woman later dubbed a "Karen".

It's the name and meme which has dominated the airwaves for at least the past month.

Whether it was "Karen from Bunnings" or "supermarket Karen", it was hard to go online or watch the news without the name getting a mention.

So if you've been called "Karen" recently here is what you need to know.

Firstly if your name is Karen chances are someone was just trying to have a chat so no need to worry.

But, if your name isn't Karen then you've probably been caught up in the latest viral meme.

The name Karen has become synonymous for poorly behaving middle aged white women.

So how did this all start?

There is a bit of debate about that, but University of Tasmania senior lecturer in sociology Dr Nicholas Hookway said it started as a way to call out white supremacy in the United States more than a decade ago.

"The Karen label was originally about calling out racism and white privilege - those rude to low-wage works in services industries, for example," he said.

"It was about finding humour in real-world experiences of racism and oppression."

The term may have started as a way to call out white privilege or white supremacy but over the past month it has morphed into something more.

UTAS languages lecturer Dr Andy Bown said the meaning of words can change rapidly.

He said this is not the first time in history that a name has become a moniker for bad behaviour.

Dr Bown recalls the days of "not happy Jan" and old English stereotypes for people named Sharon and Kev.

"A Sharon was somebody with a sun tan who danced around with her handbag, a Kev was somebody who drove a certain type of car," he said.

"While 'Karen' might be new the idea of having a stereotype based on a name is not a new thing."

UTAS media lecturer Dr Craig Norris said memes had become a way we discuss social etiquette in a time of greater restrictions.

He said the notoriety of the "Karen" meme reflected the historical context we are living in.

The problem with using memes to discuss social etiquette and rule making is they can create a mob mentality, Dr Norris said.

Concerns have been raised about whether term is misogynistic due to lack of a male equivalent. Dr Norris said this was problematic.

While Dr Hookway pointed to the popularisation of the term through a Reddit page which featured a man complaining about his wife.

He said to reclaim the label we should use it as a reminder to not be a "Karen".

But sometimes we can't help it, just ask Dr Bown. He recalled a time he acted like a real 'Karen' after receiving the wrong set top box from Foxtel.

"When I first got to Australia I signed up for a Foxtel account and I was sent a certain type of decoder which wasn't the one I was suppose to receive," he said.

"I remember having a bit of an argument with the poor salesperson on the other end who was trying to convince me that the product I had received was the same as the advertised one.

"I probably could have handled myself then ... I think we've all done silly things in the heat of the moment."

This story Why 'Karen'? We asked sociology and language experts first appeared on The Examiner.