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Southeastern Virginia Has An Identity Crisis

Southeastern Virginia Has An Identity Crisis

If you live in a place like Omaha, Jacksonville or Baltimore, consider yourself lucky.

You actually know where you are. You don’t have to watch as your bungling burgermeisters try to cook up phony nicknames to make your area sound more attractive to outsiders.

Those of us in southeastern Virginia are not as fortunate.

Our local leaders are at it again: Trying to invent a new moniker for the region after making a balls of it several decades ago with “Hampton Roads.”

They never learn.

Those who caught the “state of the city” address by the Virginia Beach mayor this week - I didn’t, I saw highlights on Twitter - noticed that he carefully used  “Coastal Virginia” several times to  describe our region. 

They've been trying to foist this on us for six years. Here’s part of what I wrote in 2012, when this yawn of a name was unveiled:

When I moved here in the early 1980s, the region was still known as "Tidewater." A romantic sobriquet that suggested saltwater, gentle breezes and sandy beaches.

You could close your eyes, whisper the "T" word and immediately feel the sun upon your face and smell the salt in the air.

Yet even then, "visionaries" were working to change the region's appellation to "Hampton Roads." 

When asked why, they offered tedious historical explanations about it being more accurate than lyrical Tidewater. 

Eventually they succeeded, pushing a reluctant region into the adoption of a clunky nickname no one wanted.

One thing's certain. These technicians had no poetry in their souls.

It's worth noting that The Pilot's own editorial board was complicit, lobbying in favor of the change and pushing for a "Hampton Roads" postmark, which would ensure that those on our Christmas card lists would have no idea where we lived.

To find out why this regional rebranding didn't catch on, I sought out an expert. My brother, founder of Stealing Share, an international branding company based in Greensboro, NC.

I asked Tom why Hampton Roads never seemed to connect with folks. And why some of us still stubbornly stick to "Tidewater" in conversation.

"Brand is an emotional connection..." he said. "The reason Tidewater worked was because it was emotionally evocative. It denoted a place in one's heart as opposed to a geographic place. 

“Hampton Roads does none of that. It feels like a place rather than a state of mind."

"Any thoughts on 'Coastal Virginia?' " I asked. 

"It lacks heart," he replied. "Feels like marketing.”


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