We've all heard the terms tossed around—millennial, boomer, Gen X—but where did these names come from? Let's find out!
The use of names for generations has been around for awhile, but it is only in recent years that these have become a cultural phenomenon. Many attribute the first use of a generation name to Gertrude Stein who coined the term "Lost Generation" for those born around the turn of the 20th century who went on to serve in WWI. In response to Hemingway's 1926 book The Sun Also Rises Stein famously wrote "You are all a lost generation."
Historians and demographers (expert on the statistics of human populations) Neil Howe and William Strauss wrote a definitive book in 1991 called Generations, opens a new window that documents many of the names we use today and even coined a few of the terms we use. Of course there is some disagreement on the names and also variation on the birth years covered by each generation, depending on the source. This is a general guide to each generation.
The Greatest Generation
(born 1900 to 1924)
Howe and Strauss redefined Gertrude Stein's Lost Generation as the G.I. (short for Government Issue) Generation, but this was soon replaced by Greatest Generation with the popularity of Tom Brokaw's book The Greatest Generation.
The Silent Generation
(born 1925 to 1945)
This generation was too young to serve in WWII and were considered more cautious and conservative than their parents. A 1951 Time Magazine article, opens a new window marked this generation's unwillingness to speak out or protest, and dubbed them the Silent Generation.
(born 1946 to 1964)
A post-war boom in both the economy and birth rates gave rise to the name baby boomers—a term even the census bureau uses, opens a new window.
(born 1965 to 1980)
This generation was originally called "baby busters" because of declining birth rates after the generation of baby boomers. Author Douglas Coupland made Generation X the preferred title of those born after 1965 with his book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, opens a new window. He explained that the letter "X" was meant to symbolize the generation's desire not to be defined.
(born 1981 to late 90s)
Following suite from Gen X, this generation was originally called Generation Y. Authors Howe and Strauss introduced the term millennials in their book Generations, opens a new window. The first generation to graduate in the year 2000, this name was only fitting and caught on quickly.
(born late 90s to the 2010s)
Continuing the tradition begun with Gen X, this generation has been tentatively dubbed Generation Z, opens a new window. The first generation born with the internet, they are also sometimes referred to as the iGeneration. Only time will tell which name will stick.
Even before 2019 gave us the divisive phrase "OK Boomer", opens a new window there has been conflict among the generations. Here are some books that expand on the causes of discord and others that highlight ways to overcome this division.