Actual Factual Georgia: Mystery of Toco Hills name revealed

If you’re new in town or have questions about this special place we call home, ask us! E-mail Andy Johnston at q& or call 404-222-2002.

Q: The area around Emory University is referred to as Toco Hills. How did it get this strange name? Was there a Mr. Toco?

—Joni Pelta, Atlanta

A: There wasn't a Mr. Toco, or at least not one who gave his name to the iconic shopping center at the corner of North Druid Hills and LaVista roads and the adjacent area. You've probably heard one of two urban legends surrounding the origin of the name, one of which I'll put to rest. There are some longtime Atlantans who will swear that Toco is an acronym for "Top of the County."

I saw several references online, but couldn’t find any substantial proof that “Top of the County” had been chopped down to Toco. Besides, it isn’t necessarily geographically true, since the shopping center is well inside the DeKalb County limits. But you have to remember that when the shopping center was built in the 1950s, it would have been considered a long way from Downtown Atlanta, even though it’s inside Interstate 285, which might help explain how that explanation came about. Anyway, that’s not the reason behind the name.

Toco came from Clyde Shepherd, a developer who was the man behind the shopping center. He built airbases in Brazil in World War II, where he learned the word from an Indian cook, who would say it to him. Toco, he found out, means something like, “have better luck than you think you’ll have.” So when he built the shopping center, he named it Toco Hill, combining the phrase and an actual hill that once stood on the land.

Shepherd’s son Clyde confirmed that story when I spoke to him last week. The area around the shopping center became known as Toco Hills in the years after it was built.

“It shocked my dad that it ended up on maps,” his son said last week.