Why is the New Generation Called “Gen Z?” And Why Did We Start With “Gen X?”

Who gives these names, anyway?

I hear the current new generation is called "Gen Z." What happened to actual names—the Greatest Generation, baby boomers, millennials? What's with the letters, and why did we start with Gen X? Who gives these names, anyway? —Inquiring Minds

You know the Greatest Generation wasn't born with that name, right? It's not like somebody walked into a maternity ward in 1920 and said, "I dunno, I just have a good feeling about these little guys."

Up until 1970 or so, generations didn't even have names. Sure, occasionally some drunken novelists would moan about the "Lost Generation," but the man in the street didn't care—and his newspaper certainly didn't publish features like "Top 10 Things That Prove You're a Lostie! (Number 7 Will Give You Syphilis!)"

The whole idea of generational branding was dreamed up in the late 1970s, when cultural-critic types realized you could modify "postwar baby boom" into a convenient handle—"baby boomers"— that would allow you to talk shit about every single one of those babies all at once. The rest is history.

No one gives out these names; people just throw stuff at the wall till something sticks. It can take a while: "The Greatest Generation" was named after a book by Tom Brokaw that didn't come out until 1998, by which time half of the folks he was talking about had already died.

Generation Z—your personal bugbear, Minds—is so called because it was the generation immediately after Generation Y (the people who are now called millennials). Gen Y was named, in its turn, because it followed Generation X.

Generation X (shout-out to my homiez!) was named after a 1991 novel by Douglas Coupland. The novel was named after Billy Idol's original punk band. And the band was named after a book on youth culture published in 1965.

This strongly suggests—and you may be hearing it here first—that the label Generation X was actually dreamed up as a possible name for what later became the baby boomers.

My point is, if you hate the name Generation Z, don't sweat it—it's almost certainly not going to be history's final answer.