The municipality itself has long owned the nickname “The Friendly City” and most recently “The Wheel,” and marketing slogans like “The Place to Play” have been used to draw tourists to the Northern Panhandle’s largest city.
But what about the citizens? What are we called? Pittsburgh residents are often referred to as “Pittsburghers” or “Yinzers,” and Charleston folks are usually called “Charlestonians,” but Wheeling’s people?
I listened intently to Mayor Andy’s McKenzie’s “State of the City” address last month to see how he referred to us, and not once did I hear a moniker used to refer to the 29,000 folks who live within the borders.
“That’s because I cannot remember anyone consistently referring to Wheeling’s citizens with a nickname,” said McKenzie, whose second and final term will come to end on July 1. “But if there’s one that I have heard, ‘Wheelingite’ would be the one.
“And that includes 12 years in the state Senate and almost eight years as mayor,” he added. “I’ve heard some during the past year, but I think that’s because a few people are trying to force something to stick, but I seriously doubt that ever happens.”
Frank O’Brien, now the executive director of the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau, first arrived in Wheeling from Washington County, Pa., in 1985 for a media job. “And in all the years since then I really don’t think I have ever heard anything other than resident of Wheeling,” he said.
“As a journalist I covered so many speeches and events, and I have heard all the public officials talk about the city and the people here, but I don’t think I have ever heard someone like Sen. Byrd or any of the mayors refer to the residents by a nickname,” O’Brien continued. “And, with all of the conferences I attend around the country, I can’t recall a nickname at all.
“And I don’t think ‘Wheelingite’ really works either,” he continued. “It’s not like ‘Bostonian.’ I’ve heard that a lot, and the people from Boston really seem to identify with it.”
Wheeling Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge, soon to retire from public service after representing Ward 1 for the past 12 years, concurred with O’Brien.
“I think it’s silly to give our people some nickname that really wouldn’t mean anything to them,” she said with a laugh. “That stuff is more for marketing, and that’s fine, but I don’t think the people who live here really care about that. I think they care far more about the condition of their roads and how much they have to pay in taxes, especially at this time year.”
“What’s that supposed to be?” Delbrugge replied.
“OK, I have heard that one before, but I don’t like it,” she concluded.
Puzzled, I decided to poll Facebook members on my own Timeline and on the “Memories of Wheeling” page, a forum created by Columbus resident Jamie Stahl Bowsher.
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What is the nickname for the citizens of Wheeling that you have heard the most? What do you call yourself as a native of the Wheeling?
And which nickname do you prefer the most, and why?
Now some of the folks suggested a few of the negative monikers, like “Virginians,” “Townies,” “Ridgerunners,” “hicks,” and “Rednecks,” and of course those natives of Wheeling Island expressed their continued appreciation for being called “Island Rats.”
A few suggested “Hoopies,” but those posters were quickly reminded that the term was initially used for those who manufactured the rings that fit around whiskey barrels.
So what was Jamie’s answer?
“I say ‘Wheelingite.’ But outsiders call us hillbillies.”
An uneducated country person? In Wheeling? Not impossible but such a nickname is most often reserved for the good folks from remote areas of Appalachia and not for those of us whose neighbors, for the most part, live at least within a whiffle ball homerun from each other.
Here are the rest I collected from both threads:
Earl Davis – When someone says hillbilly, I say I’m a “hillwilliam.” They usually ask, “What’s that ?” I say, “I’m a high class hillbilly!!!”
Tori Jo Prostinak Calvert – Wheelingite.
Karen Schlosser Corona Merritt – Wheelingites.
Christie Companion Varnado – Based on sound and ease of pronunciation – Wheelingite.
Wendy Tronka – Because I was transplanted to Ohio, albeit only 5 miles away, I usually say “native of Wheeling.” But I guess everyone’s suggestion of Wheelingite is familiar and sounds right.
Henry Hercules – Wheelingite.
Andrew T. Rock – At WVU we were called Wheelingites, Valley People and N.J. residents at WVU called us Hillbillies!
Alicia Rae Torrance – I can’t say I know of any, other than a certain few that are rude and stereotypical and should never be used.
Glynis Louise Board – I call them Wheelonians. I also call Charleston people: Chucktonians. Berkley Springs people: Berk-Springers. Big Ugly – BigUgliers (that ain’t right). I have a lot of others figured out, too, just fyi. (Morgantown: Morgonians; Bluefield: Bluefielders; Fayetteville: Fayette-villains ; Texas: Textonians; Moundsville: Mound-towners; Clarksburg: Clerkbirds).
Donna Zwick McDowell – I have lived in Wheeling for 57 years, and I honestly do not remember Wheeling citizens being referred to by a nickname.
Larry Wiethe – Wheelinger
Danielle Reece Seabright – Wheelingite
Michele Powell-Braman Well, when I moved to work in Charleston, W.Va., they considered us outsiders because we came from a city north of the Mason Dixon Line. They called us Yankees.
Ged Young – I was a Wheelingite for 12 years
“I think I’ve heard ‘Wheeling Peeps’ a bunch of times,” said Delbrugge.
Peeps? You mean those marshmallow Easter bunny things?
“No, no, no. Ya know, peeps — People?”
(Photos by Steve Novotney; thank you to Antiques on the Market))