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Courants, Messengers, And A Plain Dealer

June 2024
3min read

How your paper got its name

Is your newspaper a Gazette ? A Journal ? Do you read a Gleaner or a Quill or a Bee ?

Newspaper names are a catalog of history and motive. Some were chosen because they seem traditional, like Gazette or Journal ; others reflect a sentiment of the namer. A Journal originally was a work that contained extracts from a recent book, while a Gazette , according to Voltaire, was “a relation of public affairs.” The distinction between the two was soon lost, and both journals and gazettes came to contain both political and cultural information.

Many names, like Courier or Dispatch , refer to old means of disseminating news. When the Hartford Courant was founded in 1764, Courant was a fairly common newspaper name, for a courant was someone who ran from village to village spreading the news. Later the runner carried a written message, and eventually the message itself became known as a courant. (Hence the French phrase for being up on things: au courant .) Messenger and Mercury also refer to someone who carries news.


Commerce entered the newspaper world in the 160Os in France, where Théophraste Renaudot decided that people who had goods and services to sell needed an effective way of making contact with potential buyers. The result eventually combined news of warfare and politics with solicitations for employment, trade, and barter. In England Marchamont Nedham, a pragmatic fellow who changed sides twice during the Civil War, participated in “Offices of Intelligence,” which essentially sold information on goods and services. Thus the name Intelligencer for a newspaper.

The advent of mail service enabled newspapers to be more regional. Post-Boy , Post-Man , and Flying Post in the early 170Os told Londoners their papers were up-todate. The name Post is still used, of course: St. Louis PostDispatch , the Washington Post , and the New York Post .

The Western Telegraph.

The telegraph enabled newspapers to carry recent news from beyond their immediate region, and newspapers with Telegram , Telegraph , and Signal reflected this competitive stance, while World and Globe heralded the papers’ new, wider orientation.

Commercial news became increasingly important as an element of competition. In the mid-1700s Advertiser began to replace Post in newspaper titles, and by 1820 more than half of all newspapers in seven of the largest U.S. cities featured Advertiser , Commercial , or Mercantile in their titles.

Sometimes the origin of a name is shrouded in anecdote. According to Peter Bhatia, former managing editor of the Sacramento Bee , “Truth be told, the origin of the Bee ’s name isn’t officially known. But the common wisdom is that the paper’s founders more than a century ago sought a newspaper with the industriousness of a bee.”

The South Bay Daily Breeze (Torrance, California) was begun in 1894 by S. D. Barkley, who is said to have remarked, “I’m going to start a newspaper in this town tomorrow and call it the Breeze, because the breeze always blows here.”

Naming isn’t always that casual. The sponsors who named the Blade (Toledo, Ohio) made a deliberate choice that worked on several levels. Blade referred both to swords, the most famous product of Toledo, Spain, and to a boundary war between Ohio and Michigan over the Toledo area. The paper’s initial editorial made the brave declaration that “we should prefer to keep our blade always in its scabbard and hope not to be compelled to use it often in the offensive. . . . But we hope it will always leap from its scabbard whenever the rights of individuals or of the community shall be infringed.”

Of course, politics are often suggested in newspaper names— Republic, Democrat, Independent, Patriot —and the wrong one can be a problem, as the proprietor of Milledgeville, Georgia’s Federal Union discovered during the Civil War. After Fort Sumter the paper changed its name to the Confederate Union . After Appomattox it reverted to the Federal Union .

Richmond Planet.

Names often reflect editorial statements, and few can have enjoyed a grander explanation than that offered by Brainard W. Maples in the inaugural issue of his Norwalk, Connecticut, paper The Hour on May 6,1871: “When we had decided to commence the publication of this paper, our first perplexity was for a name. Like young parents, we have been puzzled what to christen our offspring....

“A name must be appropriate, expressive and in harmony with the object which it is intended to imply.

“Our paper will give an epitome of the occurrences of The Hour, making thereon such comments as may seem called for and proper. With The Hour come our duties and our responsibilities, to The Hour they are confined, and within The Hour must be completed. Beginning with time and continuing to eternity, The Hour embraces all that is of interest to humanity here and affords the opportunity to prepare for the hereafter. The Hour is our theme, our opportunity and our limit, and we have selected it as a name.


“Our duty now is to make THE HOUR a pleasant, useful Hour, that may not pass unheeded or unread. . . .”

The final word on titling a newspaper must go to A. N. Gray and J. W. Gray, the two brothers who took over the Cleveland Advertiser and renamed it in 1842: “We offer no apologies for changing the name of this paper but the Scripture command—’Put not new wine into old bottles, lest they break.’. . . We think the good taste of our readers will sanction the modest selection we have made. Had we called it the Torpedo , timid ladies never would have touched it. Had we called it the Truth Teller , no one would believe a word in it! Had we called it the Thunder Dealer or Lightning Spitter , it would have blown Uncle Sam’s mail bags sky high. But our democracy and modesty suggest the only name that befits the occasion, the PLAIN DEALER .”

The name has always intrigued people, among them that indefatigable correspondent Winston Churchill, who said, “I think that by all odds, the Plain Dealer has the best newspaper name of any in the world.”

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