What's in a Name?
February 1, 2023 at 8:33 p.m.
Back in the early 1970s, senior power took root. My grandfather, Gramps (Clarence Howard Roedell, Sr.), was front and center as part of that movement in Seattle.
Older adults across the nation proudly wore buttons declaring themselves a “Senior Citizen” to demand respect and proclaim to the world that they were still relevant.
New programs and services for seniors were springing up across the country, spurred by the Older Americans Act of 1965. In 1971, Seattle Mayor West Uhlman created a Division on Aging (now the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle and King County), one of the first cities in the country to do so. He urged local senior citizens to flex their political muscles and show “a united front of senior power.”
There have been many changes since the 1970s senior power movement. People are living longer; the numbers of older adults are rising rapidly. This brings challenges and opportunities.
One challenge to consider: what label do modern “Senior Citizens” prefer?
We first started publishing Northwest Prime Time – which is designed to appeal to and serve people over age 50 – back in 2000. At that time, my parents, aunts, and uncles served as guideposts for our target audience. Now my siblings and I are smack dab in the middle of our demographic. Consider this: Gen-Xers have entered our readership age, and even the oldest of the Millennials are creeping up closer to 50. If that doesn’t make you feel old, I don’t know what will.
The “Senior Citizen” moniker, now shortened to “senior,” was a big step up from the term “elderly” (no one likes that one).
But once members of the ever-youthful Baby Boomer generation entered the “senior” category, they didn’t necessarily embrace the label. (To say nothing of GenXers – are there any Xers out there calling themselves a senior?) Even senior centers were considering changing their name.
One thing is evident, “Elderly” is out, “Elder” is in. And “Older Adult” is an oft-used phrase.
What term does our “over age 50” readership prefer? Preferences seem to differ depending on how far over 50 one is—and your answer may in part reflect your own age.
We once ran a survey of readers on which term they would want to be called if they could choose just one. Some of these options may be a bit fanciful, but I let my imagination run wild. The survey offered these terms:
• Older Adult
• Mature Adult
• Boomer (for the Baby Boom generation)
• Golden Ager
• Oldnik (harkens back to the beatnik days)
• Oldster (ties in with today’s Millennial hipsters…“Hey, I may be older but I’m still with it.”)
• Oldie (an affectionate term coined by some great-grandkids for a local couple when they were in their 90s)
• 50+ (or 65+, etc.)
• None of the above (with an option to suggest an alternative).
Readers reported some interesting, lively discussions on what people ‘of a certain age’ should be called later in life. Some don’t want to be labeled at all.
Many Baby Boom-aged readers like being called boomers. Some boomers, along with their older counterparts, don’t mind ‘senior’ because it is tradition and because of all the discounts that label brings!
Some responders prefer ‘mature adult’ or age 50+ (or 65+ etc.). And many, especially women, rather liked the term ‘Golden Ager’ (or ‘Golden’ and ‘Goldeneer’ for short).
Although ‘elder’ seems to have become the term many senior organizations have adopted for use, it doesn’t resonate with our readers because it sounds too much like ‘Elderly.’ Elder, they said, should only be conferred upon much older, wiser people. Some tongue-in-cheek responses were that a senior was always at least 10 years older than their current age.
And then there were the creative suggestions – here are only a few samples: midnighter, the distinguished, old rocker, young at heart, the fine wines, T Rex, older hipster, Level 80 (or Level 70, etc.), and one man (whose wife chose ‘mature adult’) said ‘immature senior.’
Thanks to one and all who participated in that long-ago survey!
I rather like Oldster, but our survey showed that the top favorite terms amongst our readers, in order, were:
There you have it. But let’s not forget the original cry of “Senior Power!” Thanks, Gramps, for all your pioneering work way back when, paving the way for today's emboldened older generations.
Look for my next blog, harkening back to the days when everyone’s favorite humor columnist, Sy Rosen, first started writing for Northwest Prime Time. March 1st will be your chance to find out what is he’s up to now!
In case you missed them, you can catch up on past blog posts with the links below: