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When to Capitalize Generation Names

Generations are tricky. The cut-off dates are fuzzy and you capitalize some (the Greatest Generation, Generation X, and Generation Z) and you keep others lowercase (baby boomers and millennials).

By
Mignon Fogarty,
July 13, 2017
Episode #577

Page 2 of 2

Single Letters Are Usually Capitalized

Further, because we usually capitalize a lone letter, like X in “X-ray” and T in “T-shirt,” the capitalized X in “Generation X” put further pressure on capitalizing the word “generation.”

So, for these reasons, there’s some inconsistency in whether you capitalize generation names. Keepbaby boomer” and “millennial” lowercase. You’ll see more variety in how publications treat “the Greatest Generation” and “Generation X,” but they’re often capitalized.

‘Generation Z’ Needs a Better Name

Oh, and so far, the generation after the millennials seems to be going by “Generation Z.” Follow the style of “Generation X” and capitalize “Generation Z” too. The reason I say “so far” is that millennials were originally called “Generation Y,” but then they got a better name, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Generation Z’s prospects.

What Years Were These Generations Born?

Another tricky point is how to actually define these generations because, aside from the baby boomers (who get all the good stuff), people don’t agree on the definitions.

Everyone seems to agree that baby boomers are the people who were born after World War II, between 1946 and 1964. The AP Stylebook says that span is defined by the Census Bureau. Boomers have also been called theme generation.”

But then Generation X is defined simply as the generation after the baby boomers, and millennials are defined as two generations after the baby boomers. 

If the baby boomer generation ends in 1964, then Generation X must start with people born in 1965. When it ends is the fuzzy part, but most sources say the last Gen Xers were were born in 1980, plus or minus a couple of years. Generation X was also sometimes called “the MTV generation.”

Given the uncertain end-date of Generation X, the millennial generation is even less well-defined. Their start date is whenever you agree that Gen X ended and there’s an even broader range of when people say the last millennials were born―anywhere from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. 

I’m not even going to try with Generation Z. Ethnographic studies from the Census Bureau say that we’ll only know the best boundaries for younger generations after more time passes.

So generations are trickier than you might have thought. The cut-off dates are fuzzy and you capitalize some (the Greatest Generation, Generation X, and Generation Z) and you keep others lowercase (baby boomers and millennials).

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