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La Corner Schoppe: the funny origins of shop names

From the humble corner shop to the high street to online mega-stores, shops are part of our daily lives, whether it's to buy groceries, clothes, gadgets, toys or furniture. So how do shops decide on a name?

Shop names can tell us a lot, but where did they begin, and do certain naming techniques help get more custom? Radio 4's Word of Mouth looked at the history behind and witty wordplay used in shop names.

Shop name puns

There’s no doubt that a great shop name DOES stick in your mind. Word of Mouth asked people to send in their favourites and received several hundred! Here are a few of our favourites…

A fruiterers near Streetly called "MelonCauli"

In Treherbert in the Rhondda Valley, "A Fish Called Rhondda"

A chippy called "The Frying Scotsman" in Corby

A Kebab Van in Bristol called "Jason Donervan"

A local Birmingham gardeners is "Ace with Spades"

There was a hairdresser’s in a narrow passageway in Bishops Stortford called "Alley Barber".

A Chinese takeaway: "Brighton Wok"

A window cleaner called "Mr Bit"

A florists in St Helens called "Back to the Fuchsia"

There was a whole food shop in Oban called "Oban Sesame"

A camping goods shop had a January sale sign that read: "Now is the winter of our discount tents."

The shops we know today

In the shops we know nowadays, surnames and words were often combined to create the shop name:

  • Waitrose is from a combination of grocers’ names: Waite, Rose & Taylor, a small grocery in Acton, West London. In 1908, two years after David Taylor had left the business, the name "Waitrose", from the remaining founders' names, was adopted.

  • ALDI is the AL from the surname of the founder, Albrecht, plus DI from ‘discount’.

  • ASDA from Yorkshire gets the As from Associated and the Da from Dairies, created when Associated Dairies merged with the supermarket chain Queen’s in 1965.

  • Jack Cohen, tea merchant, put the initials of his tea-supplier T. E. Stockwell together with the first two letters of his surname, and the first Tesco shop opened in Burnt Oak, Edgware, north London in 1929. The store sold dry goods and the first ever branded product, Tesco Tea.

Online and technology

Nowadays a lot of our shopping is done online. In the early days of the internet, unless you were Apple and used the prefix ‘i’, an ‘e’ was often used to indicating an internet-based service e.g. eBay, eharmony (The 'e' was to bring to mind words such as electronic and email).

It's likely that companies such as Amazon were named hoping to conjure up connotations with the word 'amazing' and perhaps images of female warriors. Many shop names also now use made-up words, e.g. Ocado, Trivago – with perhaps the ‘o’ ending aiming to imply a continental glamour.

Did you know...

The earliest recorded shop name is La Corner Schoppe. The name was found in a document written in 1278 in Westminster, London. However there were numerous Corner Shops throughout the 1200s onwards, but most would have taken the name of the building.

People didn’t used to go inside shops until after medieval times. Medieval shops were not places customers went into. The trading area consisted of the window by the door fronting onto the street with a let-down stall in front. Everybody would shop - men went shopping as much as women.

Before 1800, the scarcity of maps meant people had to count the buildings from known landmarks and look for the sign mentioned. Shop names consisted of surnames PLUS the name of the building. A handful of London trade-cards (receipts) included shop names such as:

  • John Brown at the Three Cover’d Chairs & Walnut-Tree, the East Side of St. Paul’s Church Yard, near the School, London.
  • George Ritherdon Goldsmith and Jeweller, at the Ship two Doors without Aldgate, London.

Doublet names expressed continuity from old premises to new, and also continuity from father to child, or master to apprentice:

  • Samuel Darkin ye Elder, at the sign of the Bleeder, next door to the Cow and Hare, in Church Lane, Whitechappel
  • Samuel Darkin the Younger, at the sign of the Bleeder and Star, the corner of Adam and Eve Alley, White Chapel facing the Church Yard Gate

A convention of trade-signs consolidated in the 17th Century: the rainbow to signal a dyer, the frying pan to signal an ironmonger, the sugar loaf to signal a confectioner. If you wanted to buy perfume, you looked for the sign of the civet cat, because an ingredient in perfume comes from the civet cat. But not all trading signs were quite so literal. E.g. if you wanted a chimney sweep, you looked for the Golden Pole, like barbers have a striped red and white pole.

The danger of shop signs. Shop names were signaled by large wooden signs hanging six foot across the street from rusty chains, and they would occasionally fall down, killing people. By the mid-eighteenth century, London was perceived as being choked with shop signs. Plague was thought to be airborne and such a blockage stultified free passage of air, so sign removal was ordered by Act of Parliament in 1762 and street numbers came in.

After the 1800s, shops just used surnames. Later, glazed shop windows, decorated shopfronts and lit interiors visible from the street made the old eye-catching signs obsolete as they were irrelevant to modern society.

The development of the lift enabled department stores. Lifts enabled shops to become larger, and many department stores came from America in the 1880s. Department stores tended to be named after the people that owned them (e.g. Selfridges), and helped woo more female customers.

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