After decades of living with what Mayor Scott Walker calls a stigma, residents of this southwest Louisiana village are getting a new telephone exchange, one without the biblical connotations attached to their current 666.

Beginning this month, residents and businesses can change the first three digits of their phone numbers from 666 to 749. Walker said he's made the change on his phone; it's set to be official for City Hall Jan. 2, and Walker said he'd had "20" people contact him Friday morning — before 10 a.m. — about changing, as well.

"This boils down to, this is a very, very religious community," Walker said.

There are three churches in town, two Bible and one Baptist, and fewer than 450 homes, he said. In the Bible, 666 is depicted as the mark of the beast, and those taking the mark would be associating themselves with Satan, he said.

"It's been a 40-year battle" to change the number, he said, counting at least four failed attempts.

This year, after a resident contacted the mayor with questions about the prefix, Walker said he polled residents and found overwhelming support for a change. He worked with the phone company, CenturyTel, and the state Public Service Commission among others to make the change. He said he began publicizing the option Sunday, addressing first the local churches and then reaching out to local media.

"It's been a black eye for our town, a stigma," he said. "I don't think it's anything bad on us, just an image."

Walker said one of the biggest hangups he's had, both as mayor and as a lifelong resident of Reeves, is the reaction he's gotten when giving people his number. He describes it as a pause, followed by the admonition: "Y'all have to change that."

"That's what we're trying to get rid of," he said. "This is a good town. ... We're good Christian people."