As part of a proud tradition that extends back nearly 158 years, the oldest newspaper between the Mississippi River and Sierra Nevadas has changed its name yet again.

As reported by editor Joe Cannon, and as reflected in the newly configured masthead that made its debut this past Sunday, Deseret Morning News has reverted back to Deseret News.

In losing its middle name the paper has reassumed its maiden name, the one it originally started with when the first issue rolled off the press on June 15, 1850.

Later on, "The" was added, making it The Deseret News.

On other occasions the masthead read Deseret Evening News, Deseret News and Evening Telegram and Deseret News and Salt Lake Telegram.

Donald Trump's wives haven't had this many name changes.

But they didn't live to see 158 either.

· · · · ·

Through it all, though, one word has remained a constant part of the title: Deseret.

The first permanent settlers of the Salt Lake Valley, the Mormon pioneers, brought the name with them across the plains in 1847. It's an old Indian word — and we mean old — that appears in the Book of Mormon, dating to 2,000 B.C.

Translated into English, Deseret means "honey bee."

The pioneers liked the symbolism of being as busy and industrious as honey bees, so they adopted the beehive as their symbol and named the new territory they laid claim to, along with its first newspaper, Deseret.

This was no small territory. It covered more than 400,000 square miles, including parts of modern-day California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico and virtually all of what is now Utah and Nevada.

If Brigham Young had gotten his way, Deseret would have included Los Angeles — the Lakers would be a home team! — and been almost twice as big as Texas.

But the U.S. Congress trimmed the size of the territory to basically Utah and Nevada and changed the name from Deseret to Utah, for the resident Ute Indian tribe.

Even before he learned it came from the Book of Mormon, one U.S. senator, the influential Thomas C. Benton of Missouri, who was in his fifth term in 1849 — sort of an olden-days Ted Kennedy — objected to Deseret because "it sounded too much like desert."

He had a point. You don't know how many Super Bowls I covered as a sports writer with a name tag that said "Desert News."

I also almost didn't get my credential at an Olympics one time because they thought Deseret was a French newspaper.

So it was the U.S. Congress that named this place, not the Mormons.

But Deseret still stuck in the local lore and remains rather ubiquitous even today. Look in the Salt Lake phone book. There's Deseret Book, Deseret Carpet Cleaners, Deseret Dairy, Deseret Heating & Air Conditioning, even a Deseret Lounge ...

And now, after all these years and name changes, once again, a Deseret News.

Because Honey Bee News would just sound goofy.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.