First things first –everyone always hates the name that gets affixed to their generation, largely because you mainly hear it first during your teenage and young adult years, when the immediately previous generation is complaining about you. Gen X-ers hated the name “Gen X,” Millennials despise being called “Millennials,” and Baby Boomers (and this is just a complete guess here) have probably been extremely satisfied with their generational name from the very start.
With that said, the names currently proposed for today’s young generation (no, Millennials, that’s not you anymore) are truly horrendous: Gen Z (two generations later, and they’re still biting off the Gen X brand?), Plurals (isn’t that a part of speech?) Homelanders (why?), Digital Natives (no, that’s a band name), iGen (cute, but…), and the Founders (wait, what?).
A generation name needs to have a certain amount of resonance to succeed. “Baby Boom” sounds like an unstoppable force of nature, which was demographically appropriate. And while we might have complained loudly about the “Gen X” moniker, my cohort secretly appreciated the sense of mystery it brought along with it, the idea that we were an unknown quantity capable, at any given minute, of absolutely anything. Meanwhile, “Millennials” perfectly captures that distinctive combination of forward-looking civic-minded futurism and muted, Children-of-the-Corn menace of today’s 20 and 30 somethings.
So what qualifies me to name this new generation, besides being the father of two of them? Well, I learned the fine art of Generational nomenclature practically at the knee of William Strauss, the man who invented the name “Millennial” (after having miserably failed, 20 years earlier, to make “Generation 13” stick for my generation). And what he taught me is that each generation is formed in reaction against the generation immediately before it. So it was that Gen X proud individualism (or angry lonerism, depending on your point of view) was replaced by Millennial over-sharing, social networking, standardized testing, and big-group choreography.
This new generation is far from a return to Gen X, but from observing the two in my house and their peers closely, I’ve begun to get a sense of their own funky and unique style. And the best place to see that style is on YouTube. The Planking Challenge. The Ice Bucket Challenge. The Mannequin Challenge. The Watch Me Whip Challenge. The Water Bottle Challenge. The Fidget Spinner Challenge. The Rolex Challenge.
Note how everyone does the gonzo choreography to this song differently –or rather they all make up their own, even while sticking with the same big themes. Note too, how it doesn’t look AT ALL like Michael Jackson OR the Backstreet Boys. This generation isn’t interested either in going entirely their own way, like Gen X, or in doing it all the same, like the Millennials. They want to test themselves against each other, to take a common starting point and make it all their own, to put their own stamp on everything. This is the Challenge Generation.
And, as a parent, I can personally attest that this name has an apt triple meaning, because these kids are growing up in a challenging world, but they are also interested in challenging limits, challenging boundaries and challenging expectations.
(And sometimes just plain being challenging. Well, I guess that’s how we’re raising them!
On that note, when I told my son I was going to name his generation, he said “maybe you should let someone more famous do it –like mom“).