How Millennials Got Their Name

The GI generation, baby boomers, Generation X, Millennials, iGen ... All of these labels are punchy and catchy, but where do they come from? And why are they necessary? Some say they're created for marketing purposes just as much, if not more, than for sociological reasons. "In terms of market research, marketers and brands like being able to have labels to describe people," writer Matt Carmichael told NPR in 2014. "It helps to be able to communicate with them and to them."

Some people criticize the use of these labels because they promote stereotypes and lump individuals into one oversimplified, homogenous mass. "We're also constantly reminded that decades define us," John Allen Paulos wrote for The New York Times in 1995. "Is there anything more vapid? In the free-love, anti-war '60s, hippies felt so-and-so; the greed of the '80s led yuppies to do such and such; sullen and unread Generation X-ers (Roman numeral Ten-ers?) never do anything. We should brace ourselves for the millennial fatuities to come in the year 1999."

So how did the millennial generation end up with their label?

Millennials were named in reference to the new millennium

The first people to label the "millennial" generation were Neil Howe and William Strauss, who co-authored the 1991 book "Generations." "We thought that an upbeat name would be good because of the changing way they were being raised," Howe told NPR in 2014. "They would be the first to graduate high school in the year 2000, so the name millennial instantly came to mind."

The "millennial" label has led to stereotypes of the generation as tech-obsessed, self-involved, and entitled. A 1994 article in The New York Times discussed "millennial thinking," an infatuation with new technologies. The article compared the rise of "the pursuit of computer technology's outer edge" to individuals in the 1960s who "staked out the frontiers of sex, drugs, and rock."

While the new millennium ushered in technological innovations and appreciators of those innovations, which continues with the so-called "iGen," some argue that defining an entire generation by their pursuit of the latest smartphone alienates those who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. "If we identify the next generation solely by technology we're forgetting about the low-income young people who don't have the access to technology that higher-income young people have," Erica Williams Simon, a communications strategist, told NPR. "It's very hard to label something in a way that reflects everyone's experience."