Here's What the "Z" in "Gen Z" Actually Stands For

Defining a generation is difficult, and a generation's name is chosen based on the characteristics of that time period. What does the Z in "Gen Z" stand for?

Sara Belcher - Author

Nov. 18 2020, Published 8:41 p.m. ET

what does z in gen z stand for
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The generation one was born into likely bears a more significant influence on a person's upbringing than one would think. While there are plenty of media outlets and resources aimed specifically at catering to the popular Millennial generation, the subsequent Gen Z is quickly dominating online spaces and pop culture references.

But why is the generation known as "Gen Z," and what exactly does the "Z" stand for?

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What does the "Z" in "Gen Z" stand for?

While one would believe that the "Z" in "Generation Z" likely stands for something specific (ideally something that can be applied as a defining factor for the generation), the "Z" doesn't actually stand for anything specific.

Forbes attempts to explain the phenomenon of Gen Z by claiming the "Z" stands for "Zombie," though that's not completely accurate. What writer Chris Carosa is saying is that the generation was only recently defined, but it had been discussed for years before its definition.

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The term "Gen Z" actually stems from Generation X, the defined generation before Millennials. Gen X was named after some of the prominent figures and pop culture references of the time, in many of which "X" was a frequent character used. 

Originally, the Millennial generation was dubbed "Generation Y," though that was quickly replaced with the term "Millennial" instead.

Gen Z, then, follows suit in alphabetical order (and the subsequent generation, starting around 2013, has been tentatively named "Generation Alpha"). But according to Pew Research, other names were also considered, including iGeneration (in reference to the rapidly-advancing technology) and Homelanders, though Gen Z became the defined term as it took off in pop culture.

Gen Z was talked about long before it was defined, making it a "zombie" of sorts. 

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When does Gen Z start?

Typically, a generation is defined when there is a clear shift in the characteristics of people born after a certain year. There have been clear distinctions between the first and second wave of previous generations, such as Gen X (the generation before Millennials), but usually, the differences are minor and not enough to quantify defining an entirely new generation.

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This means that when looking at the past century, generally these generations are divided into chunks of around 20 years a piece. For example, the Baby Boomer generation is generally believed to consist of people born between 1946 and 1964, while Generation X is considered to consist of people born between 1965 and 1980.

That being said, because of the rapid advancement of technology happening at the beginning of the 21st century, the Millennial and Gen Z generations are trickier to define.

According to Pew Research, it's been decided that those born between the years of 1997 and 2012 are considered Gen Zers, though the specific starting point for Gen Z is a little fuzzy. Online, many who were born between the years 1994 and 1998 consider themselves "Zillennials," bridging the gap between the two generations.

"Zillennial" isn't officially defined as a generation, though many born within this time period find the term fitting, as they feel alienated from both Gen Z and Millennials.

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