What’s in a name?

Do the names we give certain groups of people matter? I for one have to argue that words are powerful. The labels we place on others can end up becoming part of someone’s identity and impact the way they are viewed and treated on a personal and social level. People need to have the power to choose their own identity and not have others telling them who or what they are. So this brings me to an important question we should be asking ourselves.

What do people who are 65 and older prefer to be called?

The labels I currently hear and see that seem to be accepted in our society include senior, older adult, elder, and the newest of them all, perennial. In social work graduate school I was taught to use the term older adult when speaking about people who are 65 and older. I never questioned what I was taught until recently attending a Denver Public Library Re-imaging Aging Program called, Connected & Creative Aging Open House.

The moment I questioned the use of older adult.

I went to my local library branch to gather information and resources on community organizations and programs for future clients of Denver Senior Care. One of the organizations present was asking those in attendance to sign a pledge promising to remove the word senior from their vocabulary. They wanted people to start using the term “older adult” instead of “senior” when describing those individuals who are 65 and older. A woman beside me refused to sign, arguing that she in fact likes to be identified as a “senior” and prefers that label versus an “older adult”. As she continues addressing the group, I learned that the word “senior” reminds her of being a senior in high school. As a senior in high school she had privileges including: power over the freshman, sophomores, and juniors, and a feeling of transitioning into an adult. After listening to this particular woman’s argument, I looked around the room and noticed that the majority of organizations and programs that were in attendance had the word “senior” in their business name.

Does a right label even exist?

I would like an appropriate term to identify individuals who are 65 and older that is not ageist. I want to be able to utilize a term that will promote respect, dignity, empowerment and well-being of people 65 and older. The age demographics of our world are changing and growing, therefore we need to discover a new way we identify those who are of older age. The word choice one uses will impact the baby boomers but will also impact our entire aging society for decades to come. We are living longer. Longevity is becoming the norm.

Future Generational Labels

So for those of us who are not 65 and older, we need to start being proactive and think about how we would like to be addressed as we age. Your word choice today will impact your future. So if you had to choose a label, what would it be? If you could create a new term for the future aging society, what would it be? How do we make this change and what word will have the most positive impact on our generation?