Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

What’s In a Name?

September 13, 2009 · 3 Comments

Mostly people go to pubs because of a certain atmosphere, good service, good ale, etc. But why I really like pubs is because of their diverse, and often strange, names. Within walking distance of the hotel we have a few pubs with names such as The Court, The Brick Layer and Marlborough Arms. Stopping at the Brick Layer’s Arms pub the other day got me wondering about pub names in general.

After reading an article from the London Times it gave me more insight into the meaning of these names. More than just leaving you to question if these places serve bodily parts, these names tell about the history involved with the place. The Times listed the five most used pub names as of 2007 which were: The Red Lion (759); The Royal Oak (626); The White Hart (427); The Rose and Crown (326) and The King’s Head (310). After reading further into my post, you’ll learn probably why a few of these names are so common.

Some pub names are sometimes easy to figure out, for they often have religious, political, heraldic, personal, occupational or sporting names. A religious sign might have objects such as a lamb and flag (representing Christ and the Christian flag). Many decided to show allegiance to the monarchy and have names such as The King’s Head (or Arms) or The Crown. Nearby to the hotel, The Brick Layer’s Arms pub was probably named such because of the trade that went on in that area. Also close by there is a pub named The Marquis of Granby, which I learned with a quick search that many pubs were named after this man. Apparently John Manners, the Marquis of Granby, was a general in the 18th century who looked out for the welfare of men upon their retirement and established funds for the creation of taverns, thus why many are named after him.

The sign though is the beacon of the pub, and a way to attract its visitors to it. For those who could not read, the picture was how they often distinguished one pub from another. The Times states, “before the widespread use of signs, pubs would hang a recognizable object, such as a boot or a bent branch, which became known as a crooked billet.” Another website on local British history, Britain Express, http://www.britainexpress.com/History/culture/pub-names.htm
remarks that this practice originated in Roman times where they would hang vine leaves outside to distinguish the place as a tavern.

Pubs are not just a place to eat or drink, they each tell a story about the history of England and their location. They can also tell about the politics or the status of the place and the owner. So the next time that you decided to go drinking or dining at a local pub, perhaps take a moment and consider about the meaning behind the sign. Perhaps after you figure out its past (potentially dark) and you may decided you might not want to stop there for a drink!

Categories: Alli · Pubs
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3 responses so far ↓

  •   Karl // Sep 13th 2009 at 13:40

    Thanks for the links to give us to even more materials on the topic. Very interesting.

  •   Elaine Saunders // Sep 15th 2009 at 03:40

    Most of the Marquis of Granby signs show him charging into battle with his hat and wig blowing off. The Marquis apparently lead from the front and his bare head was a common sight on the battlefield. It gives us the expression – to go at something bald headed.

    Pub signs chart the social, political and religious history of our country and it’s like having an illustrated encyclopedia up and down the High Street.

    Thanks for linking to one of my articles too.

    Elaine Saunders
    Author – A Book About Pub Names
    It’s A Book About….blog

  •   allisonmschell5 // Sep 15th 2009 at 05:13

    Thanks for the extra and interesting information, Elaine, and linking to your own blog. I would love to learn more about the origin and history of pub names and their role in English culture.

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