Generational Names in the United States

In the United States, social groups born within a specific time frame and have comparable cultural features, attitudes, and interests are referred to as generations. Most Americans currently identify as Millennials, Gen Xers, or Boomers. Although generational names have been used sometimes for many years, this is a relatively new cultural phenomenon.

A Brief History of Naming Generations

The majority of historians agree that generational naming started in the 20th century. For instance, the late American author Gertrude Stein used the phrase “Lost Generation” in writing. She gave this title to those born about 1900 and gave their lives to serving in World War I. Stein famously penned “You are all a lost generation” as the epigraph to Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” released in 1926.

The 20th Century

What about the remaining generations? In their 1991 book “Generations,” generational theorists Neil Howe and William Strauss are generally recognized for establishing and naming American 20th-century generations. Although the dates that define them are relatively changeable, most of these designations persisted. The G.I. Generation—short for “Government Issue”—was the term used in this research by the two historians to describe the World War II generation, although it would soon be abandoned. Tom Brokaw’s best-selling cultural history of the Great Depression and World War II, “The Greatest Generation,” was released less than ten years later, and the term is still in use today.

Generation X

The Baby Boom generation was named after the Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland, who was born in 1961 near the conclusion of the Baby Boom. As a result of chronicling the lives of 20-somethings, Coupland’s 1991 book “Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture” and subsequent works came to be recognized as a realistic portrayal of that generation’s youth. Coupland unknowingly gave Gen X a permanent moniker.

Did You Know?

Neil Howe and William Strauss, two-generational theorists, proposed the name Thirteeners (for the 13th generation to be born since the American Revolution) for Generation X, but the moniker was only sometimes used.

Most Recent Generations

Little is known about the antecedents of generations that came after Generation X. Media sources like Advertising Age, which coined the phrase in 1993, often referred to the children born after Generation X in the early 1990s as Generation Y. The name “Millennials,” which Howe and Strauss initially coined in their book, began to be more often used to describe this generation by the mid-1990s, during the uproar around the dawn of the twenty-first century. There are current generations known as Generation X and Millennials.

Even greater ambiguity exists in the naming of the most recent generation. While some like the catchier names like Centennials or the I Generation, others prefer Generation Z, which continues the alphabetical tradition started with Generation X. Nobody can predict what the future will bring, and more significant disagreement arises with each new generation.

Generation Names and Dates

Some generations, like the Baby Boomers, only have one name, but others have a wide range of names, which is a significant source of debate among academics. Below are a few different classification and naming schemes for generations.

From 1900 forward, Neil Howe and William Strauss defined generational cohorts in the United States.

  • 2000–: New Silent Generation or Generation Z
  • 1980 to 2000: Millennials or Generation Y
  • 1965 to 1979: Thirteeners or Generation X
  • 1946 to 1964: Baby Boomers
  • 1925 to 1945: The Silent Generation
  • 1900 to 1924: The G.I. Generation

Population Reference Bureau

The Population Reference Bureau offers a different listing and dates for each generation’s names, demonstrating that the borders dividing each generation are only sometimes well defined.

  • 1997 to 2012: Generation Z
  • 1981 to 1996: Millennials
  • 1965 to 1980: Generation X
  • 1946 to 1964: Baby Boomers
  • 1928 to 1945: The Silent Generation

Center for Generational Kinetics

According to the Center for Generational Kinetics, the following five generations are presently represented in the American workforce and economy. The dates of each generation are established using changes in parenting, technology, and the economy.

  • 1996–: Gen Z, iGen, or Centennials
  • 1977 to 1995: Millennials or Gen Y
  • 1965 to 1976: Generation X
  • 1946 to 1964: Baby Boomers
  • 1945 and before: Traditionalists or the Silent Generation

What About the Youngest Generation?

The youngest generation, which other systems exclude and fail to update, may be credited to Australian researcher Mark McCrindle. He termed individuals born between 2010 and 2024 Generation Alpha.

The offspring of millennials are called “alpha” in McCrindle’s book “The ABC of XYZ: Understanding the Global Generations” which references the notions advanced in Howe and Strauss’ study because they would likely grow up in a time of rebirth and recovery. The first generation wholly born in the twenty-first century, Generation Alpha, represents a new beginning for the economy, political atmosphere, ecology, and more.

Generational Naming Outside of the United States

While generational naming is more common in the West, the idea of social generations is not. Although they are more often impacted by local or regional events and less by covert social and cultural zeitgeists, other countries also name their generations. People born after apartheid in 1994 are known as the Born-Free Generation in South Africa, for instance. The Revolution Generation refers to Romanians born after communism fell in 1989.

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