The ‘Karens’ of the world have been in the spotlight recently. This stereotype of the entitled, strident middle-aged white woman is to some extent a successor to the Jan of ‘not happy’ fame.

Among real Karens and Jans there’s a diversity of perspectives about the pejorative use of their names. Wendy Tuohy, however, writing in the SMH, has made the very fair point that there is no male equivalent for these terms: yet another example of the way sexism is implicit in our society and its language.

Another name in the news creating a stir of its own is that of Coon cheese. Saputo, the Canadian company which owns the brand, has agreed to change the name because of its widespread use over many years as a racial slur. The brand is named after American founder Edward William Coon, a fact which has led some to express scorn for the proposed name change: how can it be racist if it’s someone’s actual surname? Predictably, it’s another case of “political correctness gone mad”.

There appear to be some complexities in the case, however. It’s claimed that the brand was not sold in Australia from 1935, but was registered here in 1949, and that the original Coon cheese was sold in a black wax wrapping:

Coon cheese is a uniquely Australian brand, and for all the wrong reasons and its’ a nonsense to claim the brand honours Edward William Coon or his patented process as by 1949 he and Fred Walker were both distant memories. No one would have had the faintest idea who either of them was.

For a brand that is meant to be 85+ years old, I cannot find a single piece of advertising for it prior to the mid 1950’s.

The sad fact is coon cheese was a nickname given to the Kraft cheese sold in a black wax wrapping…

What has seemed perfectly innocent to many white Australians clearly isn’t to some people of colour not just in Australia, but overseas as well.

Language is powerful; names, even more so.


Disclaimer: views represented in SOFiA  blog posts are entirely the view of the respective authors and in no way represent an official SOFiA position.

Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash