The King’s Arms. The Bell and Bucket. The Black Bull Inn. The Beggar’s Bridge. A pub’s name is part of its soul, often highly unique, often hundreds of years old, often with a story behind it. A simple computer program couldn’t hope to give a proper name to a pub. But what if it tried?

Timothea Armour asked me to find out, as part of a project called “The Last Hour!” on the cultural peculiarities of pubs, commissioned by Collective, a gallery in Scotland. I’ve been training a type of computer program called a neural network to generate names for all kinds of things - guinea pigs, craft beers, and paint colors. Neural networks are a bit different from regular computer programs: In the usual kind of computer programming, a human invents rules that a computer has to follow. With neural networks, however, the human only gives the computer some examples to learn from, and the computer invents its own rules about how to make more examples.

Timothea gave me a list of 1,053 pubs from the northeast of England from a database compiled by Colin Anderson, and I fed these names into an open-source neural network framework.

After just a little bit of time training, the neural network had made some progress - after all, it starts with no idea of whether it’s supposed to be generating prose or musical notation or Finnish grocery lists. It had to form its own rules about capitalization, and line breaks, and which letters go with which other letters. And these names - well, some of them - are already identifiable as possibly pub-like, though at this stage none of them are usable.

Euceseeettigwtird Arms
Tea Posh Basei
Ga iral Ferk
Thod Inn Inn
Darn Funk Inn
Ars Swoos Loveles
Lick Aams Tteat
Armharoh Hams
Olk Ars Hotle
Moveam Treee
Slamlongs Arms
keg Arme Horel
Booge Houne
Arse Inn
Tumen Poodes Cavel Coundor Horse
Hotey Bead Inn
Fl Wlofler Arms
Oleetrar Moor Corore oad Bite & Chuts Wotee Vonehscon Cresks Arms

After the neural network has looked through the list of names about 11 times, it has made a bit more progress. These mostly sound like pub names, though there’s definitely still something off about them.

Tostars Inn
Liad Cush House
Blawky Arms
Stons Of Horse
Blaksigth Arms
Whistle Plan Hotel
Bracken of Crovn
Coksarnss Hotel
Vulck fod Lick
Bool House
Many Inn
Horshy Ban
Crownreal Top
Drock of Conshersland
Prickhomidd Arms
Bill Inn
Dhodalgoat Hotel
Facg Manf Hell Hotel

By 17 times through the dataset, the neural network still doesn’t quite have the knack for this.

Whoneas Grey Hotel Hotel Hotel Trlety Eln’s Arms
Green Head Hotel
Bhickloy Farp Arms
Wharberb Bark
Hirlamion Crapy
Grile & Fumthorse
Male Dora
Rey Ofe White Bear Pivsing Jambork Hotel
Watersy Head
Ox Cadder Inn
Bar of El
Carhey Orb
Boak Hotel Inn
Whee Blinf
Plowde Tree
Bleak Clad
Angely Arms

By 21 times through the dataset, the neural network has shown some signs of improvement, but most of the names still need work.

Elden Mens
Collick Inn
King Brad Inn
Load Hotel
Torn House Inn
Rob Inn
Thanes of Lampel
Gurn uf Staneton Hell
Garled Blorge
Roods Cocket
Horn Blawde
Inn House Inn
Got Blewe
Wot n Arms Hotel
Arm Savers

The names eventually get more consistently pronounceable, and very occasionally, even believable. But mostly, they’re a bit substandard. At this stage, the neural network has had 35 tries at the original dataset, and still thinks “Bill” is a pretty good name for a pub.

Green Green
Frown Arms
Horse Long Bog
Lede Lick Hotel
Farter Inn
Ports Bean
Fin Dune
The Beelly Gam
Tha Dlee Fark House
Phan House Naw
Old Mess
Now and Inn
Fripy Whee Bore Inn
Ladside Inn
Hogs Thee Inn
Shur Hiad House Hotel Hotel
Old Ash Ox Horse Inn
Bleak Clab
Bark Inn
Rat Horses
Wheee Travel
New Shins
Ferp’s Brel

Forty times through the dataset, and it also has not relented on its odd preference for rude-sounding names. The pubs of northeast England are in general a lot more innocuous than this.

F'ing Hotel
The Gland Greene
Old Farders Arms
King Shams
The Blande Tree
Blink Bear
Gole Clown Hotel
Hall of Sprong
Firdwock Hotel
Dur & Thimpers
Dorty Hounds
Phage Farm
Ox Kings
Kingfarter Mantle

I’m not even trying here. As the neural network progresses in its training, the proportion of terrible pub names only increases.

Bollock Hotel
Sun Farm
Pubber Arms
Blanding Weed
Farters Red Hotel
F Kings
Moldy Goine
Pant Cabber
Castle Stan
Crown & Three Hotel
Grey Trip

Now that the neural network has gone through the dataset a hundred times, I can only conclude: don’t use a computer to name your next pub.

Belle Inn
Crow’s Rest
Mingside Arms
Crown & Fathous
Stonebredde Arms
Old Festerlan
Burn Horse Hotel
Doss of Wulling of Stank
Shore’s Castle Crustle Hotel
Lick Inn
Odd Lingwion
Loons Hall
Thringeron Arms
Flint Horse
The All House
Dean & Funtling
Old Hell Kick
Jolly Trocks
Wallow Arms

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