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How Many Ways Can You Spell Karen?

Updated on December 05, 2016
Whoopi Goldberg's birth name is Caryn, one of the many ways to spell Karen.
Whoopi Goldberg's birth name is Caryn, one of the many ways to spell Karen.

Karen is a female given name in Japan, the English speaking world, and most of Europe. It is also a male name in Persian and Armenian speaking regions. As a feminine name in English, Karen and its spelling variants is a diminutive form of Catherine that has become a formal name in its own right. In Japanese, Karen is a female name unrelated to the European name.

Typical spellings of this name in the US and Canada are Karen, Karin, Karyn, Caren and Caryn. But there are also many unusual spellings such as Karran, Cairynn, and Keren. Just how many ways to spell Karen are there? If you tried to count them by writing down all the spellings you could think of, you might miss a lot of them. However, there is a more systematic mathematical approach that yields a total of 396 ways. (In comparison, there are 176 ways to spell Kristin.)

Using Combinatorics to Count Name Variations

The easiest way to count all the ways of spelling Karen is to break up the name into different sound components. In the name Karen we have the "ka" sound, the "r" sound, the unaccented "e" sound, and the final "n" sound. Then, for each sound component, come up with all the different ways to spell it. These are given in the following table.

"Ka" sound
"r" sound
unaccented "e" sound
"n" sound
total = 11
total = 2
total= 6
total = 3

The total number of ways to spell Karen is the product of the totals in each column. Since 11 x 2 x 6 x 3 = 396, there are 396 plausible -- though not necessarily normal -- ways to spell Karen. To come up with a spelling, simply take one element from each column. For example, take "Khe" from the first column, "r" from the second, "u" from the third, and "nn" from the last to get the bizarre spelling "Kherunn."

Most Common Ways to Spell Karen

Despite the large number of mathematically possible spellings, only a handful are in use. According to US census data, the seven most common ways to spell Karen are

  1. Karen -- Approximately 1 in 299 people in the US is named Karen.
  2. Karin -- Approximately 1 in 10,260 people in the US is named Karin.
  3. Karyn -- Approximately 1 in 20,264 people in the US is named Karyn.
  4. Caryn -- Approximately 1 in 23,359 people in the US is named Caryn.
  5. Caren -- Approximately 1 in 30,457 people in the US is named Caren.
  6. Carin -- Approximately 1 in 62,829 people in the US is named Carin.
  7. Keren -- Approximately 1 in 75,597 people in the US is named Keren.

By far the most popular version is "Karen," the classic Dutch form of Katherine. In total, about 1 in 278 people in the US has one of these seven names. The peak popularity of Karen was between 1955 and 1965, while Karin peaked in 1970.

Nicknames and Related Names

Catherine/Katherine is the ancestor of Karen in Europe. Some nicknames and alternative forms of Karen in English are Carrie/Keri, Care, Karina, and Karenna.

The etymology of the Japanese name Karen is more obscure, but some experts say it is derived from a Japanese word for cute. There are many ways to write Karen with kanji, hiragana, and katakana.

Famous People Named Karen

American astronaut Karen Nyberg
American astronaut Karen Nyberg

There are many famous people with the name Karen, Karyn, Caren, and other spellings. Here is a sample of notable women.

  • Karen Nyberg -- American astronaut
  • Karen Tanaka -- Japanese composer
  • Karin Alvtegen -- Swedish author of crime fiction
  • Caren Kaye -- American actress
  • Caryn Johnson -- birth name of American actress Whoopi Goldberg
  • Caryn Navy -- American computer scientist and mathematician
  • Carin Greenberg -- American children's television writer
  • Keren Woodward -- English pop singer and songwriter


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      Sondra 3 months ago

      Wow I can't believe there are 396 ways to spell Karin but I like your way to count them. That's really clever I would never have come up with that. What about Qaren? I have seen it with my own eyes but I notice you didn't include any Q versions.

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