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pub names

December 11, 2016

I was driving through Homerton in East London the other day and I noticed that a pub which had been called ‘The Magpie and Stump’ for as long as I can remember had changed its name to ‘The Jackdaw and Star’. Why? I wonder if the pub was taken over by new owners and they wanted to put their own stamp on it, but also preserve an echo of the old name. Who knows?

Anyway it got me thinking about pub names. A lot of them follow that pattern of two nouns, often incongruous ones, linked by and. The Dog and Duck. The Rose and Crown. The Lamb and Flag. The Eagle and Child. The Star and Garter. The Hare and Hounds. The Hope and Anchor. The Slug and Lettuce.

Sometimes there is an explanation: ‘The Eagle and Child’ apparently commemorates one of those old and probably made up stories about eagles swooping down and carrying off infants (this according to the latest issue of the Fortean Times). Presumably ‘The Hare and Hounds’ was a regular stop-off on a hare-coursing run; while ‘The Slug and Lettuce’ is obviously a modern, jokey parody of this type of pub name, dreamed up by a marketing person. But others I have no idea about. What has hope to do with anchors, or lambs with flags, or stars with garters?

I do like such names. There’s a kind of surreal poetry about these short phrases, juxtaposing two vivid and seemingly unrelated images, and often the inn-signs that accompany them are lovely examples of folk art.

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3 Comments
  1. Chris permalink

    Lamb = lamb of God = Christ
    The flag usually has a cross on it, so it’s a religious emblem.
    The Rose and Crown is a War of the Roses reference.
    I think some of the others are references to the coat of arms of local nobility.

  2. This sent me to my dad’s library which has a dictionary of pub names. Hope can mean a small bay, and many Hope and Anchors are near the sea, obv. In Christian symbolism, the anchor represents hope. The spare anchor on a ship was often called the ‘hope anchor’. Lamb and Flag is heraldic, lamb being another Christian symbol, e.g. as in St John’s College, Knights Templar. Star and Garter references the Order of the Garter, the star being part of the insignia.

  3. There’s an interesting article here. Many claims are unsourced, but isn’t that part of the fun of etymology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pub_names?

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