It is generally believed that the suburb is named after Karen Blixen, the Danish author of the colonial memoir Out of Africa; her farm occupied the land where the suburb now stands. Blixen herself declared in her later writings that "the residential district of Karen" was "named after me". And Remy Martin, the developer who bought the farm in 1931 and converted it into residential lots for Nairobi's fast-growing population, confirmed that he named the neighborhood for Blixen.
The provenance of the name may in fact be more subtly complex. Blixen herself was known to her friends in Africa not as "Karen" but as "Tanne". The farm, a coffee plantation, was officially incorporated as the "Karen Coffee Company", and was owned by her extended family, most of whom lived in Denmark. The chairman of the board was her uncle, Aage Westenholtz. Westenholtz may have named the company after his own daughter, Karen.
It is possible that Martin gave the area the name "Karen" because he thought the name of the coffee company came from Blixen herself; he may not have been aware that the farm's official name was derived from a different Karen. Either way, in 1975, Martin confirmed for Judith Thurman, Blixen's biographer, that in calling the district "Karen", he was thinking of the farm's famous resident.
The suburb of Karen borders the Ngong Road Forest and is home to the Ngong Racecourse. It is also known for its large European population. Karen and Langata jointly form a somewhat isolated area of high-income suburbs.
Blixen's home is still standing and is a local tourist attraction. The Nyumbani Orphanage is also located in Karen.
Karen includes international schools, a commercial centre, religious congregation headquarters, charity associations, and a country club with golf facilities. There is a branch of the Red Cross in Karen.
As of 2010, there are larger numbers of Americans, Germans, Japanese, and Scandinavians and smaller numbers of Kenyans of British origin. The property in Karen now belongs to Kenyan people and the foreigners are tenants. Until 1980 the residents of Karen were mainly British.
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- De Lame, Danielle. "Grey Nairobi: Sketches of Urban Socialities." In: Charton-Bigot, Hélène and Deyssi Rodriguez-Torres (editors). Nairobi Today: The Paradox of a Fragmented City. African Books Collective, 2010. p. 167-214. ISBN 9987080936, 9789987080939. The source edition is an English translation, published by Mkuki na Nyota Publishers Ltd.  of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in association with the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA)  of Nairobi. The book was originally published in French as Nairobi contemporain: Les paradoxes d'une ville fragmentée, Karthala Editions (Hommes et sociétés, ISSN 0993-4294). French version article: "Gris Nairobi: Esquisses de sociabilités urbaines." p. 221-284. ISBN 2845867875, 9782845867871.
- Includes a section on Karen and Langata, titled "Karen and Langata: Gardens and Suburbs", p. 174-179 (In French: "Karen et Langata, jardins et faubourgs", p. 231-237).
- Dinesen, Isak, Shadows on the Grass, from the combined Vintage International Edition of Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass, New York 1989, p. 458
- Thurman, Judith (1983). Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller. St. Martin's Press. p. 141.
- De Lame, p. 177. "Karen was earlier an integral part of Ngong County. Nairobi acquired the status of City in 1950, which led to a redefinition of the counties, and in 1962, Karen was placed under the administration of the City Council."
- "NAIROBI JAPANESE SCHOOL." (map to the Nairobi Japanese School) (Archive) Rosslyn Academy. Retrieved on August 27, 2013.
- "image1.jpg." (Archive) Nairobi Japanese School. Retrieved on August 27, 2013.
- Muhumuza, Ahumuza. "In the footsteps of Karen Blixen." The East African. Monday, March 14, 2011. - Available at AllAfrica.com