We Asked Generation Z to Pick a Name. It Wasn’t Generation Z.
Posted January 31, 2018 3:08 p.m. EST
When The New York Times asked readers to suggest new names for the generation after millennials, we received thousands of replies, both from those we had called on (22 and under) and those we hadn’t (everyone else).
Hundreds wrote in only to ask why we had bothered. They argued that this was an empty exercise.
Kiernan Majerus-Collins, the 22-year-old chairman of the Democratic party in Lewiston, Maine, wrote: “Don’t call us anything. The whole notion of cohesive generations is nonsense.”
It was the second-most popular comment on our Facebook post. He has a point. Malcolm Harris, the author I interviewed for the original reader callout, described those jostling to coin a lasting name as hacks and salesmen. (He’s 29, a year older than I am.)
Harris, an editor for The New Inquiry, is more amenable in his book, “Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials,” which makes a case that these labels help explain the political, economic and social trends that shape our lives.
“I do believe that it is useful, or can be useful, clearly,” he said. “It can also be less than useless.”
We’ll get to some of the least useless suggestions below, but first here are some of the broad trends revealed by the approximately 3,000 responses submitted on Facebook, Twitter, our website and directly to my email.
There was plenty of support for widely publicized names already coined for the generation born, roughly, between 1995 and 2015: Generation Z, Homeland Generation, Post-Millennials and iGeneration.
A significant minority had grown comfortable with “Generation Z,” including Racquel Glassner, 22, of Olympia, Washington.
“I’ve never heard iGeneration before, but that is really horrendous,” she said. “Our whole generation shouldn’t be branded by Apple. Gen Z is the final generation of the 1900s, and a generational title using the last letter in the alphabet seems fitting.” The youngest respondent I tracked down was Mari Sobota, 8, a third-grader in Madison, Wisconsin, who wrote in to say that her generation would be known for “girl power!”
Mari, 8, could identify an obvious generational difference between her and her 12-year-old sister Cassandra, and their mother, Carousel Bayrd. “We both like cotton candy, and my mom hates that,” she said.
The oldest respondent to give her age was 91-year-old Annette Benedict, of the Bronx. “I figure you’re not an ageist,” she wrote, a gambit that all but ensured her inclusion. Her suggested name was The Thumbies, for the digit used to operate smartphones. “I think that suits them,” she said, chuckling, when I called her.
A significant number rejected the age ranges we selected, especially 22-year-olds who consider themselves millennials, like Zach Witkin, of Providence, Rhode Island, who said he could clearly recall Sept. 11, 2001, an unforgettable day for many older respondents. He was 6 then.
“Maybe we could make a firm cut-off just beyond 1995?” he suggested.
Others were glad to escape a generational label so tarnished by, yes, the media.
The most popular Facebook comment came from Alexandra Della Santina, 22, an engineer at Boeing in Philadelphia.
“I wouldn’t mind being called Generation Scapegoat,” she wrote. “It would be kind of the tongue-in-cheek dry humor that I see in this generation. And when baby boomers and Generation X or Y or whatever decide to start using us as punching bags instead of millennials, it’s gonna be much harder to whine about us if they’re forced to call us The Scapegoats.”
Roshan Mueller, 11, was one of many to suggest the Meme Generation.“I think it goes with how our generation goes through life,” he explained in a phone interview, with his mom listening in. “We go through life fast. And just like that, memes spread fast.”
We also heard from multiple people suggesting Memelords, Memennials and Generation Snap. Also, the Hopeful Generation, the Anxious Generation, Generation Fix-It and The Cleaner-Uppers. Some simply wrote “Doomed.” The Last Generation and the Final Generation were also popular. Andrea Habiba, 15, of Houston, suggested the Sisu Generation. “Sisu is a Finnish word that roughly translates to determination in the face of adversity, and my generation will be facing many adversity such as fixing the economy, global warming, the threat of terrorism and so on,” she wrote.
Benton Molina, 21, of Athens, Ohio, suggested we call the new youngs Spimes. The term, coined by the science fiction author Bruce Sterling, refers to an objecthooked into the internet of things: aware of its environment, constantly documenting itself, its existence mirrored in the cloud.
“Post-millenials share these characteristics,” Molina observed. “They are central units in small, personal clusters of technological nodes (made of both people and machines) who leave a data trail throughout their entire lives.”
But we had a favorite. Four separate people suggested Deltas or the Delta Generation. Kelsy Hillesheim, a 22-year-old New Yorker, provided the most thoughtful explanation.
“Delta is used to denote change and uncertainty in mathematics and the sciences, and my generation was shaped by change and uncertainty,” she explained, mentioning terror attacks, wars, the Great Recession and the 2016 election. “I do not have much memory of a sustained time of stability, and I’m on the older end of what you’re looking for, though I imagine this is also the case for younger deltas.”
“We take nothing for granted,” she continued. “We were kids when our parents lost their jobs in the recession. We also are a generation of demographic shift — we are more diverse than any in American history. We generally see it as something to embrace, and welcome changes that could make for a more inclusive and just America.”
Delta also implies members of this generation will be agents of change, not just people reacting to it, she said. “We are not passive products of circumstance, but active members of society with agency to affect the course of history, and will to build each other up to make things better,” she added. “We know all too well that adults aren’t doing so today.”