From The Nag’s Head to The Queen’s Arms: The Fascinating History of British Pub Names

Have you ever found yourself nestled in a cosy corner of your favourite local, a pint of ale warming your hands, and pondered the origin of its quirky name? British pub names have a charm and whimsy that's as intoxicating as their best beers, so it’s only fitting we lift the lid on these fascinating monikers and delve into the rich tapestry of British pub history. So, pull up a barstool, grab a drink, and let's go on a bit of a pub (name) crawl.


Animals & Ale: Hunting-Inspired Names

First, let's talk about our animal-themed friends. Ever noticed how many pubs are named after creatures like the "Fox & Hounds" or “The Pheasant”? These names aren't randomly plucked from a hat; they're steeped in history and tradition, often harking back to the days of hunting. Pubs would align themselves with these popular pastimes, creating a sense of camaraderie and community. It’s a similar story with pubs like the “Crown & Greyhound”, which could trace that name back to greyhound racing. But speaking of crowns…

A Toast to the Crown: The Royal Connection

Next up, we have the regally-named establishments – and there’s loads of them listed here on Eat Drink Meet. From "The King William IV", a couple of “King’s Arms”, a “King’s Head”, “The Queen's Arms" or “The Queen & Castle” aren't just a show of loyalty to the monarchy. These names often signified the pub had received a royal license to operate - quite the badge of honour in olden times! Just imagine, sipping on your drink in the same establishment where kings and queens once gave their royal nod of approval!


Quirky Charm: Unique and Whimsical Pub Names

Then there are those uniquely charming names that leave us scratching our heads in wonder. Sure, we can figure out that “The White House” was probably once – and definitely is now – a public house painted white. But what about "The Wicked Lady" or "The Hope & Bear", anyone? These names often have local significance or stem from old sayings and phrases, adding an air of mystery and individuality to each pub. Don't they just make you want to delve deeper into their stories?

Honouring Heroes: Pubs Named After Historical Figures

Let's not forget the pubs named after heroes and historical figures, like "The Marquis Cornwallis", “The Marquis of Granby” or "The Prince of Wales". These names serve as mini history lessons, keeping the memory of these individuals alive in a very British way - over a pint and hearty conversation. It's like a toast to the past, isn't it?


Up For Debate: Where Origins Are Contested

“The Eagle” in Greater London is a great example of a pub name that’s caused some contention over the years. It claims (with a fair bit of credibility) to be the pub that’s referenced in the song and nursery rhyme “Pop Goes the Weasel” – or at least the British version of it, anyway. The lyrics, which apparently predate the mid-19th Century music by around 200 years and were previously sung to a different tune, are:

“Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle.
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! Goes the weasel.”

But the lines which refer to this great London pub are found in the next verse:

“Up and down the City Road,
In and out the Eagle,
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! Goes the weasel.”

Sure enough, “The Eagle” is just off City Road, so you have to wonder how many times the Jack-in-the-box rhyme has been sung, whistled or hummed as people pop into the pub. The issue though, is that this Eagle isn’t the only Eagle in London, with several claiming that they are actually their pub that’s in the rhyme. Personally, if only for the street name reference, we believe this great pub in Hoxton.   


The Heart of Britain: The Significance of Pub Names

In essence, the naming of a pub is more than a branding exercise; it's a reflection of British history, culture, and community spirit. Each name tells a story, from depicting popular pastimes and honouring royalty, to celebrating local legends and historical events. They offer a glimpse into the past while providing a welcoming space for us to create new memories. Isn't it wonderful how much history can be found in our local watering holes?

So next time you're savouring a drink in your local "White Swan" or "Golden Lion", spare a thought for its name. There's likely a tale there, waiting to be told. And who knows, it might just make your drink taste that little bit sweeter!

Hungry for more intriguing pub trivia? Or perhaps you're on the hunt for your next favourite haunt? We've got you covered! Visit our hand-picked selection of pubs and discover the perfect place for every occasion. Here's to creating new stories and memories, one pub at a time!