The Origins of British Pub Names

The pub is a British institution, it is not just a place that serves drinks it is often the center of the community. The pub often serves as a post office, police station, guest house, restaurant, and town common room. Another feature of the British pub is its name, and some of them have far more significance than you may think. It was King Richard II in 1393 that ordered coaching houses to display wooden boards outside to display what they were. At the time literacy was hardly known among the British populace so images were also common. So traditional names such as the Three Barrels, Barley Mow, and the Hop Pole are generally where the pub originated from.

Man on the Moon pub

The White Hart

A really popular pub name is the White Heart, and the origin of this name is really simple. The White Heart featured on the personal emblem of King Richard II. Today this name is still the fourth most popular pub name in Britain.For landlords it was a good idea to display your loyalty to the reigning monarch on your pub sign, as these were turbulent times in Britain and you did not want to upset the monarchy. There were other ways of showing your devotion to your king on a sign, and these often were in displays of the royal crown. And The Crown is still the second most popular name for a British pub.

The White Hart
The White Hart


Some of the oldest pub names have connections with heraldry, and these names have been in existence for centuries. This is exemplified by the Red Lion, which history tells us came from an instruction from James VI of Scotland.

James VI of Scotland soon became James I of England, and to prove your allegiance to the new king, pubs were encouraged to display a Red Lion the symbol of Scotland. This name has remained the most popular pub name in Britain ahead of The Crown.


Religion also has its place in how pubs got their names, think about The Lamb and Flag, The Cross Keys, and The Angel. But depending in what part of the country the pub was situated it was not sometimes a good idea to display your religious feelings.

Coach Houses

The obvious name for an old coaching house is The Coach and Horses, as it was the place where passengers traveling by stage could get rest and sustenance whilst the stage company could change or rest the horses. And when the steam train was invented, pubs in the locality stated to have names such as The Station or The Railway.Sometimes pub names represent the past history such as when bear baiting was popular and The Dog and Bear depicted exactly what the location used to be famous for. And The Strugglers represents a pub that was once near to a hangman’s public execution location. It is amazing to think that some of these pub names date back nearly eight hundred years, and perhaps the next time you pop out to the local for a pint have a think what the pub name represents.