What’s in a name?

When it comes to Tooele, the “what” and “why” behind the name has remained a mystery for generations. No one knows for sure where the name came from, or who gave the area its unusual moniker.

How do you pronounce it? There are as many ways to say Tooele as there are theories of its origin and meaning. You can say “tool,” “too-ill-ee” and “tool-ee.” But ask any resident and what you’ll likely hear is, “too-will-uh,” or its close cousin, “too-well-uh.”

The meaning of the word depends on whom you ask or what you’ve read. It has been claimed that Tooele is named after a weed, an Indian chief, a shaman, a black bear, and an Austrian village.

It’s even been thought of as a name for an area that’s “too hilly”(for the area’s hills or mountains), or “too willy” (for willow trees that reportedly grew in abundance when the pioneers arrived in 1849).

When the area was first settled in the mid-1800s, the spelling used was “Tuilla.” But before 1870 it was changed to the current spelling.

There is no official public record of who changed the spelling, nor why. However, Explorer Capt. Howard Stansbury, while mapping the area in 1849, wrote in his journal, “…This valley is called Tuilla Valley by the Mormons.” Early maps of the area feature the Tuilla spelling.

Lastly, in northern Spain there is a small town with the spelling of Tuilla. A mere coincidence? Is it entirely possible that the origin of Tooele’s name hails from the native country of Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante?

The Franciscan friar, along with Father Francisco Dominguez, explored Utah in 1776 while trying to secure a route between Santa Fe, NM and Monterey, CA. Reportedly, the two friars and their party didn’t explore beyond today’s Utah Lake before heading southwest.

But perhaps they did. Perhaps they stood on the southern shore of the Great Salt Lake before heading south. If they did, they possibly would have traveled through a verdant valley rimmed on the east and west by snow-covered peaks. And just possibly, the valley and mountains reminded them of a place back home, a place called Tuilla. A mere coincidence? Maybe? Or maybe not.