Our region is going through something of an identity crisis.
Recent transplants may say they’ve moved to Coastal Virginia. Locals often refer to their hometown as Tidewater, Virginia. Others cite Hampton Roads as their region of origin. While none of these terms are technically incorrect, they gloss over the ever-evolving growth and diversity of living in such a distinctive part of the Commonwealth.
Here’s what you need to know about local terminology – and a few recommendations for smaller sub regions worthy of your attention:
Some speculate that the goal of the Hampton Roads rebranding was to unite sister cities that were once rivals. With so many local areas bleeding into one another, it makes sense to offer an umbrella term for the region.
“I have no doubt that past bitter rivalries among our communities made the choice of Hampton Roads very politically savvy as a way to foster support for regional cooperation,” said Jim Babcock, the former CEO of the First Virginia Bank of Hampton Roads and longtime regional advocate, told the Associated Press.
People have been calling our local region Tidewater for centuries. The term refers to any place where ocean tides impact the water level in rivers and streams. This happens every 12 hours or so locally, so the name is definitely apt. But there’s nothing especially unique about the Tidewater name – no one seems to know exactly why early settlers decided on it. Over the years, Tidewater fell out of popularity and was scrutinized for being too vague and swampy-sounding to be worth investing in.
The communities on the southside of the Hampton Roads harbor – Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Suffolk, Portsmouth, and Chesapeake – referred to themselves as Tidewater for years. The cities lying on the north side of the harbor – Newport News, Hampton, Williamsburg, and York County – used the Virginia Peninsula as their name. These names are still in use today – depending on who you ask.
In 2014, residents were polled by the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission about the terminology used to describe their home region. While “Virginia Beach area” was the most popular descriptor, Hampton Roads, Southeast Virginia, and Tidewater rounded out the top 10. Though the Coastal Virginia name didn’t resonate with locals, it ended up as the name for a regional tourism marketing group (Coastal Virginia Travel Alliance) and a regional magazine (Coastal Virginia Magazine).
Other Notable Areas
While Tidewater, Hampton Roads, and Coastal Virginia all refer to the general region of our corner of the Commonwealth, there are smaller neighborhoods and towns worthy of attention, too. Here are a few names that might ring a bell:
Ocean View: Once a sleepy fishing village and the home of the former Ocean View Amusement Park, this Norfolk area is now home to breweries, coffee shops, and of course, a scenic fishing pier.
Eastern Shore: This stretch of Atlantic coast is the definition of unspoiled. Detached from mainland Virginia, the Eastern Shore is famous for its annual wild pony roundup, cotton and vegetable farms, and vast wilderness.
Chic’s Beach: Want to escape the hustle and bustle of the Virginia Beach Oceanfront? Head north to Chic’s Beach, a hotspot for locals. Home to beach bars, bungalows, and some of the region’s best restaurants, Chic’s Beach is the place to be!
The Historic Triangle: Located on the Peninsula, Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg comprise this colonial community. Perhaps best known for its archaeological sites and the College of William and Mary, this area is the perfect spot for a day trip.
So What Do We Call the Region?
Given our area’s diverse history and exponential growth through the years, it’s only a matter of time before another cute neighborhood enters our radar. The debate over Hampton Roads versus Tidewater versus Coastal Virginia will likely continue on. So what do we call the region? We prefer “home.”