Where Did the Term ‘Nones’ Come From?

The term “None” has come to describe atheists, agnostics, and even those who believe in God without subscribing to a particular religious faith. It’s one of those words we would never use to describe ourselves, but researchers and media types frequently use it to describe us.

Wendy Thomas Russell spoke with Barry Kosmin, the man who coined the term to represent “[t]he irreligious, the unreligious, the anti-religious, and the anti-clerical”:

… As the founding director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and a professor at Trinity College, Kosmin had been helping to conduct the American Religion Identification Survey for nearly three decades. Once they’d evaluated data from the 1990s, Kosmin and his team were determined to name a new category.

“Nonreligious” was a possibility. So was “non-faith” and “non-affiliated.”

But Kosmin rejected all of these. The “non” part bothered him. “Non-affiliated” would be like calling people “non-white,” he said. “We didn’t want to suggest that ‘affiliated’ was the norm, and every one else was an ‘other.’”

“Nomenclature,” he added, “is quite important in these things.”

So Kosmin began calling this group the “nones,” a shortened version for “none of the above” — which is what people often said when asked to name their religion. He never thought the term would stick.

“It began as a joke,” he said, “but now, like many of these things, it has taken on its own life.”

Much like the “God Particle,” the accepted meaning of the term has significantly warped from its intended meaning, and it looks like we’re stuck with it for now.

Unless one of you can come up with a better label to describe those of us who don’t believe in God.

I’ll just grab some popcorn while you hash this out…

(Thanks to Richard for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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