What, Was “Putrid Mountain” Already Taken?

When I saw an ad in today’s Wall Street Journal for a mountain resort in North Carolina, the name of the place struck me as — well, terrible. It’s called Bear Wallow Springs (that part’s okay) at Lake Toxaway. It looks like a perfectly lovely place but … Lake Toxaway? Maybe it’s just me, but the only image conjured by that name is of a lake dug on a former TOXic dump whose waste was trucked AWAY to make room for summer vacationers. (You might as well name your baby daughter Temptress.) I am guessing the name is in fact Indian, and I see that the resort has been around quite a while — but the lake was indeed manmade. In Freakonomics, we wrote that names — at least people’s names — don’t affect life outcome. But it would have been fun to run a little experiment with the WSJ ad, to take out the same exact ad but in four different versions, simply change the name of the resort and measure the response to each name. You could have called it Lake Butternut, Lake Featherduster, Lake Portugal — and I am guessing that Lake Toxaway would get the worst response.

On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong entirely. It was the name Toxaway that got me to look up the resort’s website in the first place.


Kyle S

I hope Lake Toxaway's name is successful in scaring away visitors, because it's really beautiful and fun to visit, and would become less so if it became overcrowded.

LazyButBrilliant

I would think that unique names are more effective in generating interest than generic ones.

They are more memorable and people are bound to speak of them just because of their uniqueness.

While a paper advertisement may not be the best vehicle for this type of naming convention, a web based one would definitely garner more hits if the name was sufficiently unique.

Case in point. If your book wasn't called Freakonomics, I probably wouldn't have given it a second glance.

Mango

Unique and eye-catching is good, but I don't think it will serve to override the negative association people get when they hear the name.

It is possible to be by unique and eye-catching while still having positive associations.

Bone Cancer Creek, Ebola Isle -> Bad
Lake Libidity, Ecstasy Beaches -> Good

PaulS

We have lots of odd place names in the USA. Will anybody except (1) a certain breed of economists, (2) foodies who have too much time on their hands and spend it fleeing their own shadows, and (3) environmental types who have too much time on their hands and spend it fleeing their own shadows, even notice the association?

Justin Ross

There is a terrible name for a department store at the local mall, "Proffitts." Like I am going to find a good deal at a store whose name reminds me of profits for the retailer.

smili

Or would have simply changing the spelling to Lake Tocksway or Tawksaway leave a different impression?

Mango

Maybe it was named after a loquacious local, who toxaway too much.

Craig

I think it's Cherokee for: "Place where there is free beer and naked ladies dancing on the beach."

jillyouse

I love the puns from Mango. Quite witty. Keep those coming.

ConnieH

"With A Name Like Toxaway, It Has To Be Good"?

John Heinitsh

The name "Toxaway" is Cherokee for Red Bird (Cardinal) and dates back to 1839 according to certain records. However, it is one of the most beautiful places east of the Mississippi River.

Kyle S

I hope Lake Toxaway's name is successful in scaring away visitors, because it's really beautiful and fun to visit, and would become less so if it became overcrowded.

LazyButBrilliant

I would think that unique names are more effective in generating interest than generic ones.

They are more memorable and people are bound to speak of them just because of their uniqueness.

While a paper advertisement may not be the best vehicle for this type of naming convention, a web based one would definitely garner more hits if the name was sufficiently unique.

Case in point. If your book wasn't called Freakonomics, I probably wouldn't have given it a second glance.

Mango

Unique and eye-catching is good, but I don't think it will serve to override the negative association people get when they hear the name.

It is possible to be by unique and eye-catching while still having positive associations.

Bone Cancer Creek, Ebola Isle -> Bad
Lake Libidity, Ecstasy Beaches -> Good

PaulS

We have lots of odd place names in the USA. Will anybody except (1) a certain breed of economists, (2) foodies who have too much time on their hands and spend it fleeing their own shadows, and (3) environmental types who have too much time on their hands and spend it fleeing their own shadows, even notice the association?

Justin Ross

There is a terrible name for a department store at the local mall, "Proffitts." Like I am going to find a good deal at a store whose name reminds me of profits for the retailer.

smili

Or would have simply changing the spelling to Lake Tocksway or Tawksaway leave a different impression?

Mango

Maybe it was named after a loquacious local, who toxaway too much.

Craig

I think it's Cherokee for: "Place where there is free beer and naked ladies dancing on the beach."

jillyouse

I love the puns from Mango. Quite witty. Keep those coming.