Why are apartment buildings called "Arms"?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Beanluc, Aug 31, 2008.

  1. Beanluc

    Beanluc New Member

    San Francisco, CA
    U.S. English, Down East
    There have to be a million (I doubt this is an exaggeration) apartment buildings called "Chantilly Arms", "Dolores Arms", "Royal Williams Arms", "Rex Arms", et cetera. Why? What does "Arms" mean here?

    Even the Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary contains nothing about this.
  2. xx409xx New Member

    I believe the use of "arms" here is a derivative of "wings" which is commonly used to describe different parts of one large building. For example, a hospital might have different wings, each dedicated to a different department, be it cardiology, radiology, ect. So one may be directed to the cardiology wing.

    I think that arms could be used interchangeably with wings to the same effect, with a more sophisticated sound.
  3. Cagey post mod

    English - US
    According to an article written in 1945, Arms is used in imitation of English inn names. This follows a pattern of naming apartments after English usage, seen also in Court, Hall, Manor. "In these elements then .... Americans are seen turning to British life for connotations of prestige and security."

    Reference: Arthur Minton. "Apartment-House Names" American Speech, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Oct., 1945), pp. 168-177. Available through JSTOR, which requires a subscription.
  4. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    That's interesting, Cagey.

    While Court and Hall and (to an extent) Manor sounds fine as names for apartment blocks, Arms sounds very odd to my BrE ears. "The Kings Arms" is a jolly good name for a pub, but you'd need to be the landlord/landlady to live there....
  5. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    "Arms" as is used in British pub names, refers to coats of arms, usually of aristocratic families. You can find lots of information on coats of arms on the internet.
  6. Beanluc

    Beanluc New Member

    San Francisco, CA
    U.S. English, Down East

    Aha! Thanks for finding the JSTOR article. My public library provides access - I don't even have to go to a library, I can do it from their website.

    Now: That explains my initial question, about why apartments have this name.

    I'm left with the question of why Inns have the name? I'm still trying to figure out the meaning behind the word, which is utterly absent from even the best of dictionaries in this sense. The nearest thing I can imagine is that it derives from barracks for an armed guard.

    I don't think the sense of "wing" is it. An inn can be any shape, including wingless, and even an inn with one wing, or IN one wing, or an inn with or in more than one wing, would be "The Arms".

    And I don't see how the heraldic sense of "arms" applies to a building or an accommodation. Pubs, I understand, such named ones usually display a blazon.

    OK, thanks again!
  7. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    New York
    USA - English
    English inns and pubs commonly had painted signs that depicted something, and that something then served as the name of the pub or inn (although today the process usually happens in reverse: the pub gets a name, and then a sign depicting it.) For example, a sign with a red dragon on it would hang in front of the Red Dragon pub; or one with the head of Elizabeth II would be found at the Queens Head Tavern. Arms (popularly, but not really correctly, called "coats of arms") are frequently used as emblems for such signs. One might see the heraldic emblems of the Duke of Norfolk painted on a sign, and that would be the emblem of a pub called the "Norfolk Arms."
  8. katie_here Senior Member

    Hi Beanluc,

    Although I'm familiar with the name "Arms" in a pub name, I only knew the reason was because they were named after some Aristocratic family. On further research, which answers a question from my childhood days, it would appear that the names come from the Coat of Arms of the family that owned the land the pub was built on.

    Once the land where I live was owned by the Egerton Family, and when I was a child I lived in a street where the pub on the corner was called The Egerton Arms. The Egerton Family owned Tatton Hall and Tatton Park, and Tatton is a common name around here too.

    I've never come across an apartment block with "Arms" in the name so I can only guess at the reason why, but I would imagine, as Cagey said ealier, it may add some prestige to the block. There were some names here, borrowed from places like Italy to make it sound nicer, like a shopping area called "The Piazza".
  9. Beanluc

    Beanluc New Member

    San Francisco, CA
    U.S. English, Down East
    Thanks, everyone, this is excellent, especially the experience from you UK folks. It's ironic that naming apartments "Arms" doesn't occur over there, but the information you've provided has helped me begin to see how the naming of anything "Arms" came about.

    I imagine in old days a lot of establishments might not really have had names, but would display an arms. A traveler might have been given directions like "when you arrive in Knutsford, look out for Edgerton's arms to find your lodging and some sup."

    Anyway: Leave it to us Yanks to bastardize this by not even bothering to display any kind of image on such buildings.
  10. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    English - England
    Exactly, and the traveller 1) relied on such recommendations because there were no trustworthy chains of hotels like there are now, and 2) was most likely illiterate so relied on a symbol rather than a written sign.
  11. OpinioNate New Member

    Thank you! Totally hit the spot. I got it in my mind to once and for all discover why so many apartment buildings are named "X Arms", and found only this one result in Google to shed any light. God I love the internet.

    PS - Sorry for necro-ing this thread; I just couldn't hide my gratitude.
  12. Oeco

    Oeco Senior Member

    Milwaukee, WI
    English - US
    The always reliable Evan Morris at Word-Detective had it nailed in 1999. For what it's worth, there is a reference in New Jersey state history to a "French Arms Tavern" which was also known more simply as "French Arms." I'm guessing that it was a tavern in an older sense of a rooming house. For a brief time (1783-1784) it housed the US Continental Congress. The name "French" seems to have come from the French and Indian war.
  13. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    New York
    USA - English
    In former days, all inns and taverns displayed a sign with a design or picture that was understood, and by which the inn or tavern was known. If the sign showed a well-known shield, the tavern would be known as the ____ Arms, with the name of the person or family whose arms were shown filling in the blank. As I would assume that everyone in colonial America would know that a blue shield with three gold fleurs-de-lis was the heraldic emblem of France (in the same way that everyone in America in 1960 would have recognized a hammer and sickle as an emblem of the Soviet Union), and as France was the first great ally of the nascent United States, it would have seemed perfectly natural to honor the alliance by having a tavern sign that was a blue field with three gold fleurs-de-lis. Naturally, everyone in the area would have referred to the tavern by describing what was shown on its sign, and would have called it not the "Three Gold Stylized Lilies on a Blue Field", but instead the "French Arms".

Share This Page