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Bees have buzzed since Plato's day

How did those Californian newspapers, the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee acquire such odd names? There are even quirkier titles in other states: De Queen Bee in Arkansas and the Beeville Bee-Picayune in Beeville, Texas.

The mystery has been solved at last, thanks largely to two dedicated bloggers, Dan Brekke and Ted Shelton, from Berkeley, California, who have this year launched the most recent Bee of all, The Personal Bee, an experimental online news publication. They have investigated how the name Bee has long been associated with news and commentary.

Shelton wrote: "I believe that there are a number of different reasons for publications to have hit upon Bee as a name -- certainly one is that the Bee is viewed as an industrious insect. Also one that is social. Of course it is also interesting that news is sometimes referred to as the buzz."

Shelton traced the word back to ancient Greece, where Plato, who lived about 427-347BC, was referred to as the "Athenian Bee" for the "honeyed words" that came from his mouth. Similarly, Xenophon (about 444-357BC) was called the "Attic Bee."

In his blog, Apiculture, Brekke, who calls himself "a career news guy and lifetime nitpicker", wrote:

The image that first jumped into my head when I heard the phrase "personal bee" was of the old community bee -- say a quilting bee -- where a bunch of people get together to work on a project together.

At The Personal Bee, I've got a sense that we're each part of a growing community working on a common project: assembling our own well-informed news editions every day ("news" in as many ways as it can be defined). That picture also calls to mind bees, the insects, themselves: a group buzzing along in a big social enterprise. They make honey and keep their queen happy. We create new ways of getting at and understanding the news.

Of course, the word "bee" has a much more direct connection with the idea of news and publishing. Here's a non-definitive historical survey: Since at least the early 18th century, publishers have produced periodicals named "the Bee."

In sifting the Web search results, we happen first across Eustace Budgell, a British poet, essayist, politico, and spectacularly unsuccessful land speculator who was also something of a news pioneer. In 1733, he brought out a weekly pamphlet called The Bee...

The Bee published more than 100 issues but Budgell was forced to fold the publication in 1735 because of his habits of "quarrelling with his booksellers, and filling his pamphlet with things entirely relating to himself."

More Bees followed. Irish novelist/poet/playwright Oliver Goldsmith started a literary magazine in London in 1759 called The Bee. A little further on, and across the Atlantic, you find L'Abeille de la Nouvelle-Orléans (the Bee of New Orleans), a French-language paper launched in September 1827 and soon joined by an English counterpart, the New Orleans Daily Bee.

A few years later, François-Xavier Garneau, whom the Dictionary of Canadian Biography describes as a "notary, poet, and historian", started up L'Abeille canadienne. Garneau did not make a big splash in the world of journalism. The DCB summarizes L'Abeille's history thus: "The paper proposed to encourage 'the spread of knowledge and a liking for reading.' It was an unpretentious weekly, and ceased publication two months [after it began], on 8 Feb. 1834. ..."

But whether in French or English, why did "bee" suggest itself as a periodical name?

The best-known U.S. paper to use the title, The Sacramento Bee, came forth with an answer in its very first number. When the news sheet, then called The Daily Bee, hit the streets on February 3, 1857, founding editor John Rollin Ridge's note to readers explained:

The name of The Bee has been adopted, as being different from that of every other paper of the state, and as also being emblematic of the industry which is to prevail in its every department....

Scoopy, the cartoon mascot of The Sacramento Bee and its sister papers in California's Central Valley, was drawn by Walt Disney (the caricature is a dead ringer for Disney's better-known rodent creations)...

The Personal Bee has rich antecedents in the natural, social, and publishing worlds. We're glad to have you joining us in adding the next chapter to that story.

[Our thanks to Dan Brekke for permission to quote that lengthy extract from his website.]

Surprisingly, the Beeville (Texas) Bee-Picayune didn't take its name from bees (insects) but from a human Bee.

In The Historical Story of Bee County, Texas, Camp Ezell wrote:

Bee County was created by an act of the Texas Legislature on Decem­ber 8, 1857, when General Hamilton P. Bee, a "planter of Goliad", was Speaker of the House of Representatives. He asked that the new county be named in memory of his father, Colonel Barnard Elliot Bee, who served as President Sam Houston’s Secretary of War and as President Mirabeau B. Lamar’s Secretary of State during the days of the Republic of Texas. The request was granted.

(Two of Colonel Barnard E. Bee's sons—Hamilton P. and Barnard E. Jr.— served as generals in the Confederate Army in the War Between the States, and General Barnard E. Bee is credited with the honor of giving General T. J. Jackson the title of “Stonewall Jackson” when he declared, “There is General Jackson standing like a stone wall” in the first Battle of Manassas.)


Beeville Bee-Picayune internet edition
Monday's Internet Edition, 10:37 AM, March 6, 2006.

First Lady Kicks Off Main Street


Bee-Picayune staff - Hundreds of Bee County residents braved a hot, still afternoon to gather in between the Bee County Courthouse and the Joe Barnhart Bee County Library in downtown Beeville Thursday to welcome Texas First Lady Anita Perry and her entourage as they arrived here to kick off the three-year Main Street Program. Decked out in a bright red suit and carrying the small-town Texas charm she acquired growing up in tiny Haskell, the wife of Gov. Rick Perry spoke of the benefits of growing up in a community where everyone not only knows everyone else in town but the names of their dogs too. She poked fun at her husband, who grew up in an even smaller town and considered her a big city girl...

De Queen Bee

De Queen Bee is published in De Queen, Arkansas, which calls itself The Town With The Wrong Name. It was originally named for Jan de Goeijen, a Dutch coffee merchant. Most of the early settlers found his name (pronounced "duh hoy yen") too hard to say, so they called their town De Queen.

Naturally, the name De Queen proved a great hit with punsters. If you visit the town (population 6000), you can stay in the Palace of De Queen, aka the Palace Motel.

Meeting in Nashville, Arkansas in 1897, attorney J. W. Bishop and printer Walter Boyd heard that a railroad would be built through De Queen, 30 miles away They talked about starting a newspaper there, and one of them asked what it should be called. Quick as a flash, the other suggested "De Queen Bee", and the name stuck... like honey.


Story first posted April 2006

Copyright © 2006

Eric Shackle

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