What’s the Matter with Hampton Roads? It’s Name.

Around the time I joined the start-up staff of Virginia Business magazine in 1986, the civic leaders of Norfolk, Virginia Beach and nearby jurisdictions decided that the name “Tidewater” did not properly describe their metropolitan area. The term also referred to the lowlands of Virginia below the fall lines and carried a rural connotation. The region’s muckety-mucks successfully lobbied to change the name of the Metropolitan Statistical Area to “Hampton Roads,” and, as editor of a Richmond-based magazine trying to curry favor with the Norfolk business establishment, I ensured that Virginia Business dutifully embraced the new nomenclature.

Now, it seems, the Tourism and Recreation Cluster Committee of the GO Virginia Regional Council for Hampton Roads has concluded that the “Hampton Roads” designation is not an asset but a liability. Some three decades after the region adopted the name, according to a new report, “Hampton Roads” means nothing to people outside of Virginia.

Reports the Virginian-Pilot:

“While challenges remain in finding consensus on both strategy and implementation of a regional tourism initiative, the single greatest impediment is the regional identity of Hampton Roads,” the report states. “Hampton Roads does not evoke any sentiment that would support a regional tourism marketing initiative. There is little value in collaborative marketing under a brand name that is ineffective.”

“I can’t say, ‘Come to Hampton Roads and vacation.’ That means nothing to anyone …” said Gold Key | PHR CEO Bruce Thompson. “ ‘Hampton Roads’ does not have a geographic identity or put any evocative notion as to where you are.”

Thompson said representatives from the Hampton Roads Chamber, Hampton Roads Planning District Commission and Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance all said “Hampton Roads” does nothing to describe the area and they have to take a significant amount of time explaining where and what the area is to companies outside of the state.

Unfortunately, no one can agree on what to call the MSA instead of Hampton Roads. The committee discussed “Coastal Virginia” as a potential brand, but apparently no formal action was taken.

Bacon’s bottom line: In my observation, the region is best known by outsiders as “Norfolk-Virginia Beach.” That doesn’t fly well with residents of Hampton, Newport News and other communities north of the James River who regard themselves as distinct from their brethren south of the river. But I live in Henrico County, and I don’t get my tighty-whities in a knot when people refer to the MSA as “Richmond.” A couple million people live in Northern Virginia, but they’re perfectly happy to tell outsiders they come from “Washington.” If civic leaders want a moniker that will stick, then they should go with either Norfolk or Virginia Beach, and the other communities just need to get over it. 

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11 responses to “What’s the Matter with Hampton Roads? It’s Name.

  1. Considering the amount of corruption down here and the groups that supposedly are against such issues but are infiltrated to be just puppet opposition, do you really think anything gets done down here?
    I use Norfolk/Va. Beach to people when they have no idea what HR is either.

    When each person is out for their own pie and doesn’t want the corruption pie to get taken by more, this is what happens.

    Could give you a few stories on the mess down here and the conflicts of interest, etc. Total agreement with you in they need to get over themselves. Waste money on that rather than doing right by the regular voters and taxpayers.

  2. Gotta love living in Virginia. Nary a day goes by without yet another absurdity. Today we have two – an apparently tied vote that will determine the future of The House of Delegates and, to a notable extent, the political future of Virginia. The matter will be decided by drawing lots apparently. Names placed into film canisters and then drawn from some type of barrel. What’s my alternative? In the event of a tie the incumbent loses. If neither of the tied candidates is an incumbent the election will be determined by dueling.

    Now, the residents of the area formerly known as Tidewater have awoken from what must have been one hell of a bender to decide that “Hampton Roads” is perhaps not the most marketing savvy name for their area. Well, it may have taken decades but I’ll give them this …. Hampton Roads as a name – sucks out loud. How they figured it was an improvement on Tidewater is lost on me. Coastal Virginia sounds great since I assume it implies that Northampton and Accomack Counties will be ceded to Maryland. Let’s be honest, Maryland has done a lot better with their part of the Eastern Shore than Virginia has done with Virginia’s section. I’d say go back to Tidewater or just make up a new name. Other than Reston it’s not like the names of places in Virginia are all that colorful or clever anyway. McLean was named after a long dead Washton Post editor who used to live there. Fairfax was named for the English lord who was the model for the dead dude on the Virginia flag. Henrico is the Spanish word for fruitcake. How about “Maritime”? Or “Oceana”? Or “Poseidon”? Or “Trident”. Get revolutionary and use “Victory” for the Battle of Yorktown. C’mon Hampton Roadies …. get creative.

    • Wanting to rename HRVA is nothing new/they didn’t wake up this week and decide they want to lose it.
      More importantly, residents don’t want it changed/don’t particularly care, it is the developers that run the oceanfront that want it mostly.
      Hampton Roads may suck to you, but name any other place in the country that it can be confused with….you can’t, because there is only one HRVA.
      Coastal Virginia is a marketing ploy and a poorly implemented one @ that: the coastline of Virginia is made up by Virginia Beach, Accomack and Northampton Counties. All the rest is shoreline, rivers, etc.
      The marketing ad wizards behind COVA did not go with the correct coastline, they went with some random hybrid that includes Central Virginia localities, and the Eastern Shore, but excludes the entire Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula.

      Not sure how Reston is more creative than McLean, they may as well be the same name.
      But along your naming convention suggestions, the correct term is the state of Albemarle, and it consists of HRVA, Middle Peninsula, Northern Neck, Eastern Shore, and the Albemarle Sound.

      • Reston was named after the man who designed that planned community and led the development effort to build it, Robert E Simon. The RES in Reston are his initials.

        I travel all the time, have done so for decades. Hampton Roads would not be confused with any other place. Mainly because if I told somebody outside Virginia about Hampton Roads they’d ask, “What or where the hell is Hampton Roads?” They might recognize Norfolk or Virginia Beach but Hampton Roads? Not a chance.

        ” … the correct term is the state of Albemarle, and it consists of HRVA, Middle Peninsula, Northern Neck, Eastern Shore, and the Albemarle Sound.”

        The state of Albemarle? Did you tricksters secede while nobody was paying attention? Also, I lived in a place called Albemarle County for a few years and I don’t recognize any of those other areas.

        Ha ha. Happy holidays.

  3. If it weren’t already taken I would suggest “Mosquito Coast”.

  4. Having watched the local maneuvering for years, Babel comes to mind….Imagine what it would be like if all the cities had not merged with their related counties! (Princess Anne, etc.). The poor recognition of a regional moniker might be a bit better if there actually was a marketing effort, but there never has been, really.

    I vote for Tidewater, although technically the tide reaches to near Richmond and Fredericksburg, or Coastal Virginia or Virginia Bay (no way VA Beach would fly). It is the “Roads” that gets everybody confused.

  5. My bet is that if you showed a map of Virginia to people who lived outside the HR MSA.. most people would not know where to put it and if you further asked them to name the biggest tourist attractions …they’d be naming stuff not in Hampton Roads… so yes.. the locality vanity is a big fail.. and especially for the so-called developers.. people outside that area are not going to know what exactly is in a Hampton Roads that they should consider buying…

    But listen – those yahoos down that way could not ever reach agreement on what to do about tunnels and bridges.. decades went by … and finally VDOT had to step in and do it so there is way too much inability to think regionally down that way.

    And I have to wonder if the concept of “independent” cities plays into that kind of thinking. How many people actually can name the counties and towns that are part of Greater Houston.. Ditto Austin Texas or Chicago.. or LA.. most folks know these places by their “Greater” Name … but not down Hampton Roads way… in no small part – because they themselves cannot agree so it’s futile for others to “suggest”.. all it does is cause more rump rumbling down that way.

  6. People do not go to vacation in Dade County, they go to Miami Beach. They don’t got to Tampa but to the Gulf Coast or St Pete. They don’t go to Hampton Roads or Newport News but to Virginia Beach or Williamsburg. Good Lord, why can’t an area have two names associated with it, one for work and one for play?

  7. Its Its Its Its Its Its Its

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