Is this ‘Black Bitch’ name ban really justified?

black bitch statue sm

Hundreds of people are reportedly seething this week at a move to erase the name “Black Bitch” from a popular Scottish bar.

A UK pubs firm has decided the name of a historic bar should be “cleaned up” to avoid inadvertently giving offence, and many locals are far from happy.

As detailed in a welter of newspaper online accounts we learn that high profile bars group Greene King, which owns Linlithgow venue The Black Bitch, has decided to rename the place The Black Hound.

The History Behind the Name

What on earth is that all about?  Well, the Bitch in question is a (possibly) historic black female greyhound which (we’re told) repeatedly swam across Linlithgow Loch with food to feed her master, who (for some misdemeanour or other) had been tied to a tree on an island to starve to death. 

The dog was a sort of aquatic Greyfriars Bobby, in effect, and in local folklore became an eternal symbol of unswerving loyalty and devotion.

This endearing yarn is literally an icon of the ancient Royal Burgh, reflected not only in the name of the historic pub in question (founded in 1719) but in the black dog motif on the town’s coat of arms and also that of West Lothian.

There is a statue of the legendary greyhound in the town, on a plinth with the inscription “The ‘Black Bitch’ of Linlithgow”, and people born and brought up in Linlithgow proudly describe themselves as “black bitches” – just as people are Bairns in Falkirk, Buddies in Paisley or Bankies in Clydebank. 

Yes, it might seem a bit odd on first hearing, but the meaning is perfectly understood in its own locale.

Thinking Behind the Name Change

The pub group, however, says that after lengthy consideration a change of name is essential. It doesn’t need planning permission to do this (although it will have to spend a mint on rebranding, and won’t easily be able to change innumerable online and printed references to The Black Bitch), so can alter the signage any time it likes.

A company spokesman points out that if one were naming a new business today one would certainly not name it The Black Bitch (somewhat missing the point that this pub has been trading for three hundred years, and that the name context is exclusively specific). It says it has found that some people might be offended and steer clear, even if made aware of the actual meaning behind the name.

The firm is also said to have conferred with a local racial equality community forum, who consider the Bitch name is out of tune with 21st century attitudes. Meanwhile a petition to Save the Black Bitch collected close to its target of 5,000 signatures in three days flat, and is clearly going to easily surpass that figure.  Save the Black Bitch T-shirts are also being produced.

News’ Accounts

In reliable news accounts (The Scotsman, The Daily Record, The National, among others) the disbelief and disgust of numerous local people is amply detailed – a common theme being that nobody for an instant would tolerate an overtly racist name for a pub.

Had the greyhound been grey, white or brindle there would never have been an alleged problem, but Greene King seems convinced the historic name, even if fully explained to the uninitiated, could cause gross offence.

With relatively little publicity the company has made changes to some pub names down south which can fairly be argued to be sensible and justified (reportedly including pubs previously named The Black Boy and one named The Black’s Head).

UK licensed trade magazine the Morning Advertiser has reported the major efforts Greene King has been making to promote inclusiveness across its portfolio and its career structure, and in the communities where it operates.

Are They Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Still in West Lothian, meanwhile, some historical characters have had their links with slavery clearly spelled out by the council’s museums and heritage wing.

One late 18th century character, John Newlands, who funded Bathgate Academy, had his name excised from a local festival last year after an online petition – because he had made his money from the enslavement and misery of fellow human beings.

He was far from being the only culprit, and it’s right that he and people like him are seen for what they were, and not celebrated or revered …but that’s very different from a row about a pub name linked to local heritage which has nothing whatever to do with anything discriminatory or offensive.

On the other hand it’s possible many people of all races really do consider the name inappropriate, and inadvertently offensive, but just haven’t felt like incurring the wrath of the anti-“woke” brigade.

Greene King have obviously acted with the best of intentions, but clearly thousands of people (possibly including many Black Bitch regulars) think that on this one they are barking up the wrong tree. 

Roy Beers, December, 2021

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