What’s in a name? Four hundred years have passed since those words were famously attributed to Juliet in her plea to Romeo, but the question is timeless. And you don’t have to be William Shakespeare in order to divine an answer. The question is one we all must consider from time to time. Be it a child, a business, a product, or any number of other things to which we attach a moniker, most of us would agree that establishing a good name is not just important but critical.
A name speaks volumes and is an essential step in creating a brand. The name may not impact the character of what is being named, but it should certainly be the best fit for what is being named. That’s why the name of U.S. Highway 41 through East Ridge—“Ringgold Road”—is puzzling to me. That stretch of highway is the very backbone of our proud community, yet its name says absolutely nothing about East Ridge. In fact, it promotes a much smaller city in a different state rather than the community to which it is so vital.
As you might have guessed, the name “Ringgold Road” has been with us for many years. In the latter half of the 1800s, the cities of Chattanooga and Ringgold were municipal neighbors separated only by geography. The two towns were connected by a stagecoach road, known by residents of Chattanooga as the road to Ringgold, or the Ringgold Road. Obviously, a lot has changed since then. The City of East Ridge was established in 1921, taking in a large portion of land immediately to the east of Missionary Ridge that included much of the coach road. Over the last 94 years, our hometown has grown up and then grown stagnant, but is most assuredly on the rise again. Yet somehow, the name of our commercial corridor is stuck in 1880.
One needs to look no further than the most recent federal census data to see one of many reasons why the name just doesn’t fit. The population of East Ridge was a shade under 21,000, while the population of Ringgold was 3,580. In other words, East Ridge has almost six times the population of our good neighbors to the south. It simply is no longer true to say the most important thing about our city’s main thoroughfare is that it will eventually take you to a town in Georgia. That hasn’t been true for a long, long time.
It is my firm belief that the time has come to explore the renaming of Ringgold Road. Yes, change is difficult, and old habits die hard. However, our city is already in the midst of rebranding itself with tremendous economic development, community enhancement efforts, infrastructure projects, and the like. Failing to take action on this issue may undermine the revitalization efforts occurring all around us. We would continue to send the message that getting to Ringgold, Georgia is why people need to travel on US-41 in East Ridge.
Identifying the problem is often easier than offering up a solution. Certainly we will have issues to work through involving governmental entities at all levels as well as our own business community, but it can be done. The adoption of a 12- to 18-month “phase-in” period would ease the transition for everyone, reducing hassle and expense. The details of that transitional phase can be worked out in the days ahead, but starting the conversation needs to happen now, which is the point of this letter. Will East Ridge be home of the road leading to Ringgold or home of the Pioneer Parkway? The answer to that question will tell us exactly what’s in a name.