The Real "Me" Decade?
Novelist Tom Wolfe famously dubbed the 1970s "The Me Decade." He was talking about a rising focus on the self -- an individualism that had Americans obsessing inwardly, trying to understand and remodel themselves, rather than looking outward at their communities.
It turns out that he could have gone with a much more literal definition. Take a look at what happend to "Me" names in the '70s:
Melissa, Megan, Melinda, Melanie. These names swarmed the '70s, shouting "me, Me, ME!" Over the decade, Melissa alone outpaced the traditional M girls Mary and Margaret put together.
Could it be mere coincidence, that the Me- wave hit in the age of "ME!"? Umm, yeah, it could. Definitely. In fact, if you say those names aloud -- Melissa, Megan, Melinda, Melanie -- you'll find that they don't shout "ME!" at all. It was an era of short vowels. "The Meh Decade," anyone?
In truth, Wolfe's "Me Decade" was never about telling your name the livelong day to an admiring bog. The core idea wasn't attracting the attention of others. Rather, it was the age of self-help and self-discovery; of "finding yourself" within yourself, rather than as a cog in the great machine of society.
That seems a different brand of narcissism from today's "Look-At-Me" decade, in which which our inner lives become ever outer. This is the age of over-sharing, of social media and reality tv. It's also the age of the Great Baby Name Explosion, as increasingly creative name choices vie for attention.
You can see that desire to stand out in every possible measurement. The popularity of very long and very short names have both risen. Names with the eye-catching letters X and Z are at all-time highs. And "popular" has become a dirty word, as parents shy away from the top of the baby name popularity charts. Today's #1 names, Jacob and Sophia, are only one quarter as common as the #1 names of 1976, when Wolfe wrote his article.
Perhaps it's fitting, then, that this is also the age of names that literally shout "ME!" by starting with that syllable: