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Cultural Criticism: Generational Names and Identity Thesis

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Updated: Jun 14th, 2022

Names are supposed to reflect and crystallize the most prominent qualities of generations to which they are ascribed. Yet, they can be limiting and narrow down historical understanding of a specific period. Fisher (2020) states apropos of the subject that “generational names are largely the creations of social scientists and market researchers” (7). Sometimes they are a product of pop-culture, alteration in the population, historical occurrence, or even a mere change in the calendar (Fisher 2020). Nevertheless, generational names potentially help build group identity for people born roughly during the same time.

Being born at the dawn of a new millennium, the current twenty-thirty-year-old received their generational name because of this one coincidence. Although many characteristics are attributed to this generation, such as technological proficiency, autonomy, individualism, and focus on achievements, their link to the name itself seems rather feeble (Olsson et al. 2020). The rapid advancement of the technology that occurred around the beginning of two-thousandths became a prominent marker of the period, creating associations between time, the people born during, and the name. It is logical to assume that millennials might have a lot in common among themselves and less in common with baby boomers, for instance. One such example would be the rise of private transportation usage documented over the last decades and the increased need for autonomy among millennials (Olsson et al. 2020). Still, the generational name itself does not reflect these particularities – they are propagated by media discourse and become associated with the name over time.

Generational names can serve as a useful tool to establish one’s identity and relate to peers based on some characteristics. Nonetheless, they are often arbitrary and cannot reflect historical, social, and economic circumstances that potentially render each generation unique. Moreover, while some names manage to capture the perceived essence of a period (The Silent Generation), others rely on the turn of a calendar (Millennials).

Works Cited

Fisher, Peter. “Generational Replacement and the Impending Transformation of the American Electorat.” Politics & Policy, 2020, pp. 1–31.

Olsson, Lars, et al. “Travel and Life Satisfaction – From Gen Z to the Silent Generation.” Journal of Transport & Health, vol. 18, 2020, pp. 1–15.

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