NORTH WILDWOOD – One of the four towns that make up the Wildwoods wants to drop Wildwood from its name to create a unique identity.
Residents submitted a petition Tuesday asking city council to change North Wildwood back to the resort’s original founding name, Anglesea.
Edward Wheaton, 58, of North Wildwood, collected more than 100 of his neighbors’ signatures on a petition he submitted asking council to honor the town’s roots. His great-grandfather, Harry C. Wheaton, was mayor of North Wildwood when it was called Anglesea and won election as a state senator in 1912.
The town changed its name to North Wildwood in 1906 but the senator’s campaign posters still proclaimed him a resident of Anglesea six years later.
“We’d like to go back to the roots of the city and create our own identity,” Edward Wheaton said.
His father, James Wheaton, 84, of North Wildwood, agreed.
“Anglesea is a lot prettier a name than North Wildwood. Also I think it breaks the image of North Wildwood being in the shadow of Wildwood,” James Wheaton said. “It makes people think North Wildwood is a part of Wildwood. It should stand on its own.”
Council members were receptive to the idea of changing it.
North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello said council will consider whether to place the question on the ballot by non-binding referendum in November. The details are still being worked out with the city solicitor, he said.
North Wildwood was founded in 1885 as Anglesea before adopting North Wildwood in 1906.
Today, city residents refer to Anglesea as a neighborhood on the city’s inlet, home to the Anglesea Volunteer Fire Company, the Anglesea Pub and the First Baptist Church of Anglesea.
“I think we’re a long way from a name change. We shouldn’t jump to any conclusions,” Rosenello said. “But we did have more than 100 residents asking for the change.”
With 566 municipalities in New Jersey, some occasionally change names, said Mike Cerra, director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.
This happened when Dover Township became Toms River Township in 2006 to reflect its largest and most well-known hamlet. Likewise, the borough of South Belmar in 2004 became Lake Como to distinguish itself from Belmar.
And Mercer County’s Washington Township in 2007 changed its name to Robbinsville Township. But this change was intended to end confusion in a state with five other Washington Townships.
“It’s an identification issue. It’s an opportunity to re-craft an identity or distinguish oneself,” Cerra said. “It’s also about branding and marketing.”
Cerra said whether a name change reaches the general public is largely up to execution.
“If they follow through on this, the challenge will be to market themselves in a way to maintain and expand the tourism industry,” he said.
The name change did not sit well with Wildwood officials.
“If they want to change their name because of the historical context, fine,” Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said. “If they want to change their name because they don’t want to be associated with Wildwood, I would be dismayed.
“It would be safe to say I’d take great umbrage to that. I’d be willing to cut the S right off that Wildwoods sign,” he said of the city’s giant Boardwalk icon.
The four communities share a common identity because they share an island, a tourism economy and the challenges that go with them. Wildwood trucked 150,000 yards of sand from its beaches to North Wildwood this year to protect the Anglesea neighborhood on Hereford Inlet, he said.
“Every community on this island needs each other,” the mayor said. “Every community is different. That’s what makes up this island.”
Marketing the four towns might be harder if one of the towns gave up its Wildwoods identity, said Tracey DuFault, director of the Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce.
Many tourists don’t make any distinction among the four towns when they book vacations on the island. Not even all residents can say with certainty where one town begins and the other ends.
“We are all one island. It would certainly make a marketing nightmare for our businesses and the people who work hard to bring the tourists here,” she said.