Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Religious place names dominate Utah

                     Angel's Landing, Zion National Park                                    photo by Liz Hafen
By Lynn Arave
IT is only fitting that as a place settled by the Mormon pioneers, Utah has a significant number of place names that are culled from the Book of Mormon or that honor leaders of the LDS Church.
But Utah also has a number of cities and geologic wonders that have biblical and other traditional religious namesakes.
Bountiful, Nephi, Lehi, Manti, Deseret, Moroni and Kolob Canyon are some of Utah's best-known names from the Book of Mormon.
Among the cities that owe their names to early LDS Church leaders are Brigham City, Benson, Taylorsville, Woodruff, Cannonville, Heber City, Hyrum, St. George and Snowville. Another name that has an LDS bent but is less obvious is Iosepa (Tooele County), the Hawaiian term for Joseph. The town was named after LDS Church founder Joseph Smith.

                              Utah's own Noah's Ark formation

Among the biblical names on Utah maps are Canaan Mountain, Eden, Ephraim, Moab, the Jordan River, and there is even a Noah's Ark.

There are a number of place names that appear to have a religious connotation but stem from nonreligious sources. The Virgin River in southern Utah is one. Historians believe it was named for Thomas Virgin, a member of Jedediah Smith's 1827 exploration party, not for the Virgin Mary.
Abraham, in Millard County, was named for Abraham H. Cannon, a Mormon leader in the area, not the biblical prophet.
There is a generous number of locations associated with angels, Hades and even the devil scattered throughout the state.
Tracie Cayford, communications director for the Utah Travel Council, said visitors to Utah expect a high number of Mormon-oriented names, given the state's pioneer heritage. After all, the LDS Church's Temple Square is the state's No. 1 tourist attraction.
And Cayford believes Utah has a higher number of religious-oriented names than other states.
"I'm not aware of any other state (that) has so many."

                              The three summits of Mount Nebo                                    photo by Ravell Call

A sampling of some of Utah's religious-oriented names include:

  • ANGELS LANDING in Zion National Park was named by the Rev. Frederick Vining of Ogden sometime in the 1920s. He believed angels would never land on the peak but would reverently pause at the foot to gaze at the nearby Great White Throne.
  • ANGELS TRAIL in Wayne County was named by early outlaw Cap Brown in the 1870s. He said only angels with wings could make it out of the Dirty Devil River and up the trail.
  • BAPTIST DRAW in Emery County, at the south end of the San Rafael Swell, received its name from early settler Joe Swasey, who reportedly "baptized" his dog by tossing it into one of the nearby water pockets.
  • BOUNTIFUL, in Davis County, comes from a city mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
  • BUTTE OF THE CROSS in Wayne County, west of the Green River, was named by men on the Powell river expedition because two buttes formed the shape of a cross.
  • CANAAN MOUNTAIN was named by A.H. Thompson, a federal government surveyor, for the biblical Canaan because it seemed so fruitful an area. It is located southwest of Escalante and is also called Canaan Peak.
  • COLLEGE WARD in Cache County, located along Highway 89 near Logan, got its name in 1877 when Brigham Young deeded land to local church leaders to help maintain the Utah State Agricultural College. A transplant of college ward residents from the school prompted the name.
  • DESERET, Millard County, comes from a word in the Book of Mormon that means "honeybee."
  • EDEN, near Huntsville in Weber County, was so named by government surveyor William Jenkins for its beautiful setting, like a biblical Eden.
  • ENSIGN PEAK, located north of the State Capitol in Salt Lake County, is Utah's own version of Mount Sinai. It was named by Brigham Young in 1847 because he said it was a proper place to raise an ensign to the nations. President Young said he had a vision of the peak while still in Nauvoo.
  • EPHRAIM in Sanpete County was first called Pine Creek and Cottonwood. It was renamed as part of a plan to honor the tribes of Israel with a Fort Ephraim and a Manasseh town on the other side of the San Pitch River. Manasseh town never materialized.
  • ETHER PEAK, located east of Springville, was named after a book in the Book of Mormon that talks of a mountain moved by faith.
  • GOG and MAGOG in Cache County, natural features located north of Tony Grove in Logan Canyon, are two rugged mountain peaks named after two evil biblical characters mentioned in the books of Ezekiel and Revelation.
  • HEBRON, a Washington County ghost town located west of Enterprise, was named after ancient Hebron of Palestine in the Old Testament.
  • JORDAN RIVER was so named for its similar drainage from a body of fresh water (Utah Lake) into a decidedly salty "Dead Sea" (the Great Salt Lake).
  • KOLOB CANYON gets its title from the Pearl of Great Price, an LDS book of scripture, that mentions a star, Kolob, as nearest the residence of God.
  • LEHI, MORONI and NEPHI are named for Book of Mormon prophets.
  • MANTI was named by Brigham Young after a prominent Book of Mormon city.
  • MOAB, which had several early names including Plainfield and Mormon Fort, eventually was named for the biblical land beyond the Jordan River.
  • MOUNT NEBO, the highest peak in the Wasatch Mountains, is named after the highest mountain in the area where Moses died.
  • NOAH'S ARK, a natural formation in Iron County about five miles southeast of Parowan, gets its name from its resemblance to an ark.
  • SALEM in Utah County, was named for either Salem, Mass., or for Salem (Jerusalem) of biblical note.
  • TEMPLE MOUNTAIN, Emery County, was so named because it looks like a temple or cathedral. With South Temple Wash and North Temple Wash bracketing Temple Mountain, it is likely the Salt Lake Temple played a role in this natural feature's title. (The three "temple" features are located northeast of Goblin Valley.)
  • THREE PATRIARCHS in Zion National Park are monoliths that represent the three biblical patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and were named by Claude Hirschi, an LDS stake president in the area.
  • VEYO, Washington County, was first called Glen Cove. The most accepted story on the current name maintains that residents didn't favor the name and asked local "Beehives" (a young women's group from the local LDS congregations) to find a name. They came up with an acronym based on the words — virtue, enterprise, youth and order. Another version said the name came from blending the words verdure and youth.
  • WARD CANYON in Davis County, east of Bountiful, was so named because the LDS North Canyon Ward had responsibility for the timber and water resources in the canyon.
Note: "Utah Place Names" by John W. Van Cott, University of Utah Press, was the primary source for names and background information used in this article.

(--Distilled from an article in the Deseret News, Jan. 8, 2001.)

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at: lynnarave@comcast.net  

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