All the Generation Names Explained: Millennials, Gen Alpha, and More
Find out which generation you belong to and the history behind its name.
There's Generation X, and there's Generation Z, which is also sometimes called the iGen. You've also maybe heard of the G.I. generation, along with the Alphas and the Joneses. But are you familiar with the Lost Generation or The New Silent Generation? There's a lot to unpack as to how generations get their nicknames, why, and where each generation starts and ends. If you're feeling confused, read on. Below, you'll find a thorough breakdown of who belongs where and how these generational classifications got started.
Who Comes Up With Generation Names?
A generation is a group of people born around the same time who are often referred to collectively. Those given the same generational label are believed to share cultural traits and live under similar financial conditions. While most of us are familiar with buzzier titles like Baby Boomer or Millennial, different organizations have different names to describe each generation.
Howe and Strauss
Generational theorists Neil Howe and William Strauss wrote the book Generations: The History of America's Future, which was first published back in 1991. The seminal text offers a breakdown of generational cohorts within the United States. They define each group as follows:
- 2000–Present: 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, a non-profit research organization, has also offered up their own list of dates and generation names. They break it up like so:
- 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
The Center for Generational Kinetics studies generations still active in the American workforce. Instead of birth windows, the organization relies on parenting, technology, and economic trends to categorize each generation. Here's their breakdown:
- 1996–Present: 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
A Brief History of Generational Names
1. The Lost Generation: Born 1883-1910
The idea of naming each generation didn't take hold until the 20th century when author Gertrude Stein began referring to people who came of age during the First World War as "The Lost Generation." Her intention was to capture the disillusionment present in post-World War I society. According to friend and fellow author Ernest Hemingway, Stein picked up the phrase in conversation with a French farmer, who dismissed the younger generation as a "génération perdue." Hemingway later used the same epigraph in his first major novel, The Sun Also Rises. Other famous names from this generation include James Joyce, C.S. Lewis, and Ezra Pound.
2. The Greatest Generation (GI Generation): Born 1901–1927
The next generation would not receive their designation until 1991 when Howe and Strauss hit the scene. In Generations, they refer to the generation tasked with fighting World War II as the G.I. Generation—G.I. standing for "government issue."
Less than a decade later, however, journalist Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation, a book about those who survived the Great Depression and World War II, hit shelves. His term began to supersede Howe and Strauss' in popular culture, though the "G.I. Generation" is still recognized as an appropriate title.
A few famous members of this generation are John F. Kennedy, Rosa Parks, and Elvis Presley.
3. The Silent Generation: Born 1928 to 1945
Time first introduced the term "Silent Generation" in a 1951 article that read, "By comparison with the Flaming Youth of their fathers and mothers, today's younger generation is a still, small flame. It does not issue manifestoes, make speeches, or carry posters." Born into great uncertainty, individuals from this group were often written off as unimaginative and withdrawn. Famous individuals born in this decade include Robert DeNiro, Julie Andrews, and Anthony Fauci.
4. The Baby Boomer Generation: Born 1946 to 1964
The Baby Boomer Generation are the individuals born during the U.S. baby boom that followed World War II. The term first appeared in a 1941 issue of LIFE Magazine in an article detailing the dramatic spike in births following the Great Depression and the Peacetime Draft of 1940 and claiming that "the U.S. baby boom is bad news for Hitler."
According to data collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 76 million births occurred between 1946 and 1964, including those of Bill Clinton, Billy Joel, and Steven Spielberg.
5. Generation Jones: Born 1955 to 1964
Unlike the other groups listed, Generation Jones is considered a "microgeneration," or a group of individuals born at the end of one generation and the beginning of another. The term was coined by television producer Jonathan Pontell, who later published a book with the same name. According to Pontell, the title aptly describes the competition these individuals felt with the Baby Boomers and the sense that they needed to continue "keeping up with the Joneses." It also lends itself to the perceived increase in drug use during that time and the associated slang. Some public figures that fall into this age group are Madonna, Bill Gates, and Barack Obama.
6. Generation X: Born 1965–1980
Howe and Strauss originally suggested the name "Thirteeners" to describe this generation, but it didn't stick. (They were the 13th generation born since the American Revolution). Instead, Canadian author Douglas Coupland was the one to give Gen Xers their most popular title. In 1991, his novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, a story about a group of 20-somethings looking for better meaning in life, was published. Famous members of this generation include Elon Musk, Eminem, and Kurt Cobain.
7. Xennial Generation: Born 1977 to 1983
The Xennials are the second microgeneration on our list. This term was first introduced by writer Sarah Stankorb in an article titled "Reasonable People Disagree about the Post-Gen X, Pre-Millennial Generation." She explains that the generation of people born between 1977 and 1983 "serves as a bridge between the disaffection of Gen X and the blithe optimism of Millennials." Xennials in pop culture include Kourtney Kardashian, James Franco, and Macaulay Culkin.
8. Millennial Generation (Generation Y): Born 1981–1996
The Millennial Generation marks a shift in naming conventions. While it's difficult to pinpoint exactly who came up with the title, here's what we do know: During the early '90s, media outlets often used the term "Generation Y" to describe those born immediately after Generation X. Howard and Strauss include the term "Millennial" in their book to describe the cohort, while Advertising Age is credited with using the term in a 1993 editorial.
It wasn't until 2015 that the Millennial generation officially outnumbered the Baby Boomers, and in 2020 they became the country's most dominant generation. Millennials are also known for bringing about a "baby bust," or a sharp decrease in the birth rate. A few famous representatives of this age cohort are Taylor Swift, Mark Zuckerberg, and Beyoncé.
9. Generation Z (iGen): Born 1997–2010
Most assume that Generation Z received its nickname as part of the alphabetical naming trend, though Jean Twenge, Ph.D, helped coin another popular moniker in her book, iGen, which explores the rise of the first generation to grow up with smartphones. A few notable names from this generation are Millie Bobby Brown, Greta Thunburg, and Billie Eilish.
10. Generation Alpha: Born After 2010
Gen Z may have had early access to now-ubiquitous technology, but Generation Alpha is the first to be growing up in a fully digital world. This term was first introduced by Mark McCrindle, founder of the Australian consultancy firm McCrindle Research, who explains, "It conforms to the scientific nomenclature of using the Greek alphabet instead of the Latin alphabet and there was no point in going back to A, after all they are the first generation born fully into the 21st century and therefore they are the start of something new, not a return to the old." Members of Generation Alpha include Prince George, North West, and Blue Ivy Carter.
Generational Naming Outside of the United States
The names listed above are specific to the U.S., but there are plenty of generational titles used in other parts of the world.
For instance, in South Africa, individuals born in 1994, or after the end of Apartheid, are commonly referred to as the Born Free Generation. There's also the Revolution Generation in Romania—those born in 1989 and after the collapse of communism.
That's all we have on generation names, but be sure to check back with us soon for even more awesome trivia. You can also sign up for our newsletter so you don't miss out on what's next.