The Real "Me" Decade?

Feb 27th 2014


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 consonants. "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:

Comments

1
February 28, 2014 12:51 PM

Do you perhaps mean "short vowels"? The term "short consonant" isn't in use, although perhaps one could consider plosives short as opposed to fricatives which can be drawn out indefinitely (well, as long as breath holds). Anyway the consonant in question in this post is a continuant and therefore could be considered long (although that term is not applied to it). BTW English no longer has long and short vowels. although once it did. It now has tense and lax vowels.

2
March 2, 2014 7:32 AM

Anyone here might enjoy this bit of fun looking at first names and party affiliation, aking with other information provided by registered voters:
http://www.claritycampaigns.com/names

It analyzes names of registered voters only, it should be noted, and a major flaw is that the graphs do not offer what the overall percentages are. What am I to make of the fact that half of the people with my first name own and who are registered voters own a gun in their home? It would help to know that overall, 25/50/75%??? of registered voters do the same. Much more telling than the name I was given, though, was looking at the the stats for *my* children's names, names I selected. 

So, Laura, how would you improve upon this?

3
March 10, 2014 10:45 AM

It looks like Mia was already on the rise when "Pulp Fiction" came out, at which point it shot up in use.

I can't imagine the movie didn't give a boost to this name that already had the makings of a hit.

At this point, the name Mia is so well known that I'm sure few people associate it with the movie anymore. But at the time, it was a pretty novel choice for Uma Thurman's character.

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The 90's will always be the best decade for me. - Naperville Cosmetic Dentists