I suppose because my family is connected to pubs, my dad and his brother and sister were brought up in the Portland Arms, Cambridge, his grandparents had the Fitzroy Arms, also in Birdcage but no longer there, and because I’m a pub person too, I am fascinated by the names of pubs. (I’m fascinated by names in general!)

I came across a list of the most popular pub names – in terms of those which are open now, in the number order of how many there are:

  • Red Lion
  • Crown
  • Royal Oak
  • White Hart
  • Railway
  • Plough
  • Swan
  • White Horse
  • New Inn
  • Ship
  • Kings Arms
  • George
  • Rose and Crown
  • Kings Head
  • Bell
  • Wheatsheaf
  • Queens Head
  • Victoria
  • Black Horse
  • Castle
  • Star

It’s clear that some of these names hark back to the sorts of names and signs used to declare allegiance, and I guess in the past, people would have been able to ‘read’ them, the Red Rose might be a Lancashire pub, the White Rose a Yorkshire one – just as an example! Some of them also have a nod towards a more rural past, like the Plough and the Wheat Sheaf, and to occupations, ploughmen, blacksmiths, tanners for example. There are a lot which commemorate royalty, sometimes particular kings and queens, sometimes just an all-purpose name like the King’s Arms. I had a look at the top 200 pub names on one list, and found that  a massive out of 246, 65 had the names of animals – real ones and imaginary such as unicorns and dragons.

Modern pubs often get given names which a lot of traditionalists find annoying or stupid, but back in the nineteenth century, maybe the same was said about the Railway Inn and the Station. There are geographical nods to our maritime heritage, to our militaristic past, and some names – even old ones are just so random, there is no telling where they came from!

I guess we will wander down to the Dolphin later…

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