Pub names

The sign of the Saracen's Head in Broad Street, Bath, England

Pub names are used to identify and differentiate each pub. Many pubs are centuries old, and many of their early customers were unable to read, but could recognise pictorial signs. Interesting origins are not confined to old or traditional names, however. Pub names have a variety of origins.


Although the word The appears on much pub signage, it is not considered to be an important part of the name, and is therefore ignored in the following examples.

Likewise, the word Ye should also be ignored as it is only an archaic spelling of The. The Y represents a now obsolete character ((þ, the letter Thorn, still used in Icelandic) for the th sound and looked rather like a blackletter y. It was never pronounced with a y sound.[1]

Similarly, other archaic spellings such as "olde worlde" are not distinguished below.


Names like Fox and Hounds, Dog and Duck, Dog and Gun, etc., refer to hunting (see below).[2] Animal names coupled with colours, such as White Hart and Red Lion, or of foreign or rare animals, are often heraldic (see below).

Individual animals once famous in a particular locality sometimes give their names to pubs:

Pubs may also be named after racehorses, although the connection may not be readily apparent, and the horse no longer famous. These include: Dr Syntax (Stocksfield), Alice Hawthorn (Nun Monkton), Golden Miller (Longstowe), Slow and Easy (Lostock Gralam), Windmill (Tabley), Happy Man (Manchester), Spinner and Bergamot[4] (Northwich, Cheshire), and The Flying Childers[5] (Stanton in Peak, Derbyshire).

Pub names as a brand

Some pub chains in the UK adopt the same or similar names for many pubs as a means of brand expression. The principal examples of this are The Moon Under Water, commonly used by the JD Wetherspoon chain, and inspired by George Orwell's 1946 essay in the Evening Standard, "The Moon Under Water".[6]) and the Tap and Spile brand name used by the now defunct Century Inns chain. The Slug and Lettuce is another example of a chain of food-based pubs with a prominent brand - founder Hugh Corbett had owned a small number of pubs, which he rechristened with humorous or nonsensical names, with the effect of differentiating them from competitors.

Found objects

The 'Crooked Billet', Worsthorne, Lancashire

Before painted inn signs became commonplace, medieval publicans often identify their establishment by hanging or standing a distinctive object outside the pub. This tradition dates back to Roman times, when the owners of Tabernae used to hang some vine leaves outside their property to show where wine was sold.[7]

Sometimes the object was coloured, such as Blue Post or Blue Door.[8]


The ubiquity of the naming element arms shows how important heraldry has been in the naming of pubs. The simpler symbols of the heraldic badges of royalty or local nobility give rise to many of the most common pub names.

Items appearing in coats of arms

The White Hart signboard

Livery companies

Three Compasses, Hornsey, London N8

Names starting with the word "Three" are often based on the arms of a London Livery company or trade guild :


Many coats of arms appear as pub signs, usually honouring a local landowner.


The Mechanics Arms, Hindley Green
See also Trades, tools and products below

Some "Arms" signs refer to working occupations. These may show people undertaking such work or the arms of the appropriate London livery company. This class of name may be only just a name but there are stories behind some of them.

Historic events

A 'Royal Oak' in Fishguard, Wales
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem


The Moon Under Water, Watford, named for George Orwell's description

Myths and legends

Images from myths and legends are evocative and memorable.

Paired names

Very frequently found today, the pairing of words in the name of an inn or tavern was rare before the mid-17th century, but by 1708 had become frequent enough for a pamphlet to complain of 'the variety and contradictory language of the signs', citing absurdities such as 'Bull and Mouth', 'Whale and Cow', and 'Shovel and Boot'. Two years later an essay in the Spectator echoed this complaint, deriding among others such contemporary paired names as 'Bell and Neat's Tongue', though accepting 'Cat and Fiddle'.

A possible explanation for doubling of names is the combining of businesses, for example when a landlord of one pub moved to another premises. Fashion, as in the rise of intentionally amusing paired names like 'Slug and Lettuce' and 'Frog and Firkin' (see Puns, Jokes and Corruptions below) in the late 20th century, is responsible for many more recent pub names.[20]

Personal names or titles

The Marquis of Granby, after whom a number of pubs are named.

A number of pubs are known by the names of former landlords and landladies, for instance Nellie's (originally the White Horse) in Beverley, and Ma Pardoe's (officially the Olde Swan) in Netherton, West Midlands. The Baron of Beef (now simply The Baron), Welwyn, Hertfordshire is named after a nineteenth-century landlord, George Baron, listed in Kelly's Directory for 1890 as "Butcher and Beer Retailer".


An "arms" name, too, can just derive from where the pub actually is.

Plants and horticulture

The Hoop and Grapes, Aldgate High Street, London

The most common tree-based pub name is the Royal Oak, which refers to a Historical event.

Politically incorrect

The pub itself (including nicknames)

The pub building

'The Crooked House', Himley, known for its extreme lean, caused by mining subsidence

Services provided by the pub

The Farriers Arms, Shilbottle

Beer and wine

The Barley Mow, Clifton Hampden

Many traditional pub names refer to the drinks available inside, most often beer.


Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street, London

Other pub names refer to items of food to tempt the hungry traveller.

Puns, jokes and corruptions

Pub heritage: Nowhere Inn Particular, now closed

Although puns became increasingly popular through the twentieth century, they should be considered with care. Supposed corruptions of foreign phrases usually have much simpler explanations. Many old names for pubs that appear nonsensical are often alleged to have come from corruptions of slogans or phrases, such as "The Bag o'Nails" (Bacchanals), "The Cat and the Fiddle" (Caton Fidele) and "The Bull and Bush", which purportedly celebrates the victory of Henry VIII at "Boulogne Bouche" or Boulogne-sur-Mer Harbour.[32][33] Often, these corruptions evoke a visual image which comes to signify the pub; these images had particular importance for identifying a pub on signs and other media before literacy became widespread. Sometimes the basis of a nickname is not the name, but its pictorial representation on the sign that becomes corrupt, through weathering, or unskillful paintwork by an amateur artist. Apparently, many pubs called the Cat or Cat and Custard Pot were originally Tigers or Red Lions with signs that "looked more like a cat" in the opinion of locals.

Elephant and Castle pub sign near Bury St Edmunds, interpreting the name as a howdah


Lion and Lamb, Farnham

The amount of religious symbolism in pub names decreased after Henry VIII's break from the church of Rome. For instance, many pubs now called the King's Head were originally called the Pope's Head.


The King's Arms, Marazion

Royal names have always been popular (except under the Commonwealth). It demonstrated the landlord's loyalty to authority (whether he was loyal or not), especially after the restoration of the monarchy.


The Llandoger Trow in Bristol in the early 1930s, before part was bombed in World War II


Sign for the Bat and Ball, Breamore


Football club nicknames include:

Hunting and blood sports


Trades, tools and products

The Blind Beggar, Whitechapel, London E1



Hatfield, The Comet; the carving of the pillar is by Eric Kennington


A large number of pubs called the Railway, the Station, the Railway Hotel, etc. are situated near current or defunct rail stations. Five stations on the London Underground system are named after pubs: Royal Oak, Elephant & Castle, Angel, Manor House, Swiss Cottage. The area of Maida Vale, which has a Bakerloo line station, is named after a pub called the "Heroes of Maida" after the Battle of Maida in 1806.

Mainline stations named after pubs include Bat & Ball in Sevenoaks.


The Bullnose Morris at Cowley



Most common

One of the Swans, this one in Stroud, Gloucestershire

An authoritative list of the most common pub names in Great Britain is hard to establish, owing to ambiguity in what classifies as a pub as opposed to a licensed restaurant or nightclub, and so lists of this form tend to vary hugely. The two surveys most often cited, both taken in 2007, are by the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) and CAMRA.

According to BBPA, the most common names are:[50]

  1. Red Lion (759)
  2. Royal Oak (626)
  3. White Hart (427)
  4. Rose and Crown (326)
  5. King's Head (310)
  6. King's Arms (284)
  7. Queen's Head (278)
  8. The Crown (261)

and according to CAMRA they are:[51]

  1. Crown (704)
  2. Red Lion (668)
  3. Royal Oak (541)
  4. Swan (451)
  5. White Hart (431)
  6. Railway (420)
  7. Plough (413)
  8. White Horse (379)
  9. Bell (378)[52][53]
  10. New Inn (372)

A more current listing can be found on the Pubs Galore site, updated daily as pubs open/close and change names.[54] As of April 14, 2016, the top 10 were:

  1. Red Lion (590)
  2. Crown (547)
  3. Royal Oak (468)
  4. White Hart (339)
  5. Railway (323)
  6. Plough (322)
  7. Swan (317)
  8. White Horse (315)
  9. New (271)
  10. Ship (257)

The number of each is given in brackets.

Unusual names

The pubs with the shortest and longest names in Britain are both in Stalybridge: Q and The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn. The longest name of a London pub, I am the Only Running Footman, was used as the title of a mystery novel by Martha Grimes.

There is a "pub with no name" in Southover Street, Brighton.[55]

The Case is Altered, an early comedy by Ben Jonson, gives its name to several pubs.

The Salley Pussey's Inn at Royal Wootton Bassett is said to have been named after Sarah Purse, whose family owned The Wheatsheaf pub in the 19th century. In the 1970s the name was changed to the Salley Pussey's.[56]

See also


  1. "Ye". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Saunders, Elain (2008). "A History of Britain in Its Pub Signs". TimeTravel-Britain. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  3. "The Pub". Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  4. Website history page
  5. Website history page
  6. Waterhouse, Keith "The Moon Under Water goes under" Daily Mail
  7. Johnson, Ben. "Pub Signs of Britain". Historic UK. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  8. Dictionary of Pub Names. Retrieved 26 July 2009.
  9. 1 2 The Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Wordsworth Editions. 2001. p. 883.
  10. Dunkling L, Wright G (1994) [1987]. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Pub Names. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Reference. ISBN 1-85326-334-6.
  11. see pub website, history page
  12. "The Dolphin - Wellington, Somerset - Home".
  13. Rennison, Nick (2006). The Book of Lists, London. Canongate. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-84195-934-4.
  14. "Hobbit pub in Southampton threatened with legal action". BBC News. 13 March 2012.
  15. Lass o'Gowrie
  16. Moody, Paul; Turner, Robin (8 December 2011). "What's your perfect pub?". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  17. Rowan (1995). "The Temples of John Barleycorn". White Dragon. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  18. "The Silent Woman Inn - Welcome to The Silent Woman". Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  19. 1 2 Dictionary of Pub Names. Wordsworth Editions. 2006. p. 354. ISBN 1-84022-266-2. Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  20. Jacqueline Simpson (2010). Green Men and White Swans. Random House. ISBN 978-1-84794-515-0.
  21. Dictionary of Pub Names – Google Books. Retrieved 26 July 2009.
  22. "Guy Earl Of Warwick". Pubs Galore.
  23. "London (South) 1896 Suburban Publicans directory listing - G".
  24. "Great Expectations".
  25. "Real ale pubs and Inn's serving the finest pub food in Dartmoor, Devon".
  26. History of the Twelve Pins (brief). Retrieved on 2009-04-05.
  27. "The present sign is the innocuous replacement for one that became the centre of a storm a dozen or so years ago. As readers may remember, the original illustration was of a white couple trying to scrub the blackness off a black child in a tub. It was deemed by many to be in poor taste and potentially offensive, but there was an outcry when it was removed following a protest by two schoolgirls."
  28. Is Historic Black Boy Inn Racist?
  29. Was Scotty a Black Bitch?
  30. 'A place of this kind used as a cellar or storeroom for provisions or liquors.' Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition, 1989; online version June 2011. <>; accessed 1 September 2011.
  31. Saunders, Elaine. "British Pub Signs - a short history". Britain Express. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  32. Brewer, E. Cobham (1898). "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable". Retrieved 17 October 2008.
  33. Dictionary of Pub Names – Google Books. 10 September 2006. ISBN 978-1-84022-266-1. Retrieved 31 August 2009.
  34. Congleton history website
  35. "The Steveston - Buck & Ear - Hotel - Liquor Store - Cafe".
  36. "Case is Altered".
  37. "E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898". Retrieved 17 October 2008.
  38. Chaplin, Patrick (2009). "The Goat and Compasses". Pub History. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  39. Lloyd, John (1972) The Township of Chorlton-cum-Hardy. Manchester: E. J. Morten; pp. 104–06
  40. Bruderer, Adam. "The not Oxford Road pub survey, October 2008" (PDF). Retrieved 13 July 2010.
  41. 1716, Dog and Duck sign from tavern on land belonging to the Bridge House Estates at St George's Fields: Image <> from the Bolles Collection (MS004) at the Digital Collections and Archives, Tufts University.
  42. The Chemic Tavern
  43. "節税ノウハウ~交際費などわかりやすい".
  45. Unusual names of pubs
  46. Bill Bryson, Mother Tongue, Penguin Books p169
  47. The Shroppie Fly website
  48. "Pubs in Birdlip - The Air Balloon - Old English Inns".
  49. "The Rusty Bicycle, Oxford - Cowley pub/food/functions - Arkell's Brewery Swindon".
  50. "British Beer and Pub Association Fact Sheet, 2007". BBPA.
  51. "Article at Solihull CAMRA site, 2007". CAMRA.
  52. In 2008 it was claimed that the total number of names incorporating the word 'Bell' totalled 412.
  53. "Horfield Ringers - Bell Anthology".
  54. Most common names of open pubs listed on Pubs Galore
  55. "The Southover".
  56. Marshman, Mike (25 February 2014). "Sarah Purse becomes Sally Pussey". Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre. Retrieved 9 September 2016.

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pubs in the United Kingdom by name.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/21/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.