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New York State Votes to Change the Names of All Finger Lakes

 This story was originally posted on April 1, 2015 :)  As in April Fools day.   
Confusion among Tourists Cited as Primary Reason for the Change - Many Disagree

In a move that is sure to prove controversial, the State of New York passed a law that requires each of New York's 11 Finger Lakes to be renamed within 90 days with names that are easier to understand for the increasing number of tourists to the region.  How this change came about, and how it happened so quickly is a lesson in New York State politics, tourism funding and ego. 

An Embarrassed State Senator Starts the Process

According to sources, the process for the name changes began after a downstate tourist visited the Finger Lakes region with his family....and confused Cayuga Lake with Keuka Lake.  While attempting to meet friends for dinner in Ithaca (on Cayuga Lake) he stopped into the Olney Place Deli (on Keuka Lake) looking for directions. "He was obnoxious and rude to start with, and when I told him he was on the wrong lake he absolutely blew his top. After listening to about 30 seconds of this jerk, I told him to get out of my store and never come back...along with a few other choice words" said Seth Olney, owner of the Olney Place. "He left in a huff, shouting 'Keuka, Cayuga, Shmyuga..do you know who I am?' as he sped away in his Cadillac."

Unfortunately for the Finger Lakes Region, this wasn't just some random loudmouth, it was a State Senator Donnie Mazuli from Long Island, who also happened to be the head of the NYS Council of Tourism.  And upon returning to the statehouse, the Senator immediately set upon making changes - and since he held the purse strings for tourism dollars in the state - he had a lot of power to make things happen. 

above: Senator Mazuli

 
Cayuga v.s. Keuka - Spelling Tests and Surveys
While Senator Mazuli was dead set on changing the lake names - he needed something to give him cover in what he knew was going to be a political hot-potato. His committee contracted with Farini, Olnick, Oppenheim & Lourdes,  a New York City based branding firm to run an analysis of the lake names. Focus groups were conducted that included tasks where people who had never visited the region were given a map and asked to find "the south end of Cayuga Lake". This study (officially known as the Finger Lake Awareness Knowledge Exam - F.L.A.K.E.) showed that 4.1% of those sampled picked Keuka Lake instead of Cayuga Lake. In another exercise, 87% of respondents couldn't spell "Skaneateles". At the end of the F.L.A.K.E., each lake was given a "Likelihood of Confusion" (L.O.C.)  rating of either High (H.L.O.C.) , Medium (M.L.O.C.) or Low (L.L.O.C.). 

Finger Lakes L.O.C. Ratings:
High Likelihood of Confusion - Keuka, Cayuga, Skaneateles, Canandaigua, Honeoye, Conesus
Medium Likelihood of Confusion - Owasco, Otisco, Parilloofs,  Canadice
Low Likelihood of Confusion - Hemlock, Seneca, 

These results were all the Senator needed - if he could show the names of the lakes potentially hurt tourism (and in turn tax revenue) - he had a case. 

 
An Increased Budget Used as Leverage
Armed with the survey data, the Senator Introduced the name changes as a part of the 2015-2016 State Tourism Budget (S.T.B.). And he played his hand well -  by actually giving the Finger Lakes region the largest budget increase in 25 years, he made it difficult for upstate politicians to fight the move. "The funding is so critical to the region, especially as we try to eliminate the invasive Bolivian frogs - we had little choice but to go along with the move" said one Seneca County lawmaker who declined to be named for this story.  

Interim Lake Names Unveiled

Effective immediately, each lake in the region has been given a temporary name that counts from West to East. Conesus Lake (the Westernmost lake) is now FL-1 and Otisco Lake (the Easternmost lake) is now FL-11. Finger Lakes Name Monitors  (FLNM) have been assigned to monitor each lake to ensure that signage reflects these new names and that the former names of the lakes are not spoken aloud by residents.

        

above: The original exit for Keuka Lake & the new sign put up today


The Finger Lakes Naming Review Board (FLNRB) is currently accepting proposals for the permanent lake names.  Requirements of the new lake names include:

  • 1) Lake names must be simple to pronounce and spell, even for stupid people.
  • 2) Lake names may not rhyme with other lake names
  • 3) Lakes must all begin with a different letter  (the branding agency wrote "4 lakes starting with the letter C goes against commmon branding guidelines")


New Names Proposed - Controversy Begins

New suggestions for lake names have begun pouring in, and already hint at the controversy sure to come.  

On Cayuga Lake proposed names such as "Deep Lake" and "Long Lake"  have been shot down by Ithaca residents for "potentially hurting the feelings of people, animals, plants or geographic areas". Ithaca resident Avril de Poisson defended these moves saying "If you give a lake a name referring to it as long or deep - how does that make other lakes feel that may not be as long or as deep? You don't want to trigger emotional issues for other bodies of water that may not have the physical attributes of FL-8". 

The leading name proposed for Skaneateles Lake is the descriptive acronym - SCWARP Lake -  an acronym for "Super Clear Water and Rich People". 

Keuka Lake quickly submitted the traditional name "Crooked Lake" , but that was quickly rejected by the F.L.N.R.B. because "the word crooked is offensive to many people in Albany". 

Residents Furious with the Change, Politicians Respond
Ben Hahl, a resident of Geneva (located on the north end of FL-7) is furious. "I screw up Keuka and Cayuga once in a while myself, and I still for the life of me can't figure out what bonehead named the lake Skaneateles - but this is the place we love, and I don't want to start using dumbed down names like "Napa"...we have to stay true to our roots and can't let these changes stand. "

 
Jack Travolta, president of the FLNRB responds "I understand that people don't like change, but the fact of the matter is that the F.L.A.K.E showed that many of the lakes had a H.L.O.C., which means that many FLX visitors would be S.O.L. when navigating throughout the region. So we'll work with the FLNRB to find a solution that meets the needs of everyone in the FLX and N.Y.S."  

 
Can Anything Be Done?
At this point only Senator Mazuli can stop these changes from being enacted. You can email him at senatormazuli@gmail.com

Wine Labels Have Already Been Changed

 This story was posted on April 1, 2015.