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An old Gasthof in Wien has the name "Zum Goldenen Pelikan". I notice that "zum" appears on quite a few buildings.

Can someone please tell me what "zu" means in this context? I tried Duden online for "zu" but the only thing I could find was a rule about capitalisation.

Großschreibung als erster Bestandteil eines Gebäudenamens [Regel 150]:

Zum Löwen (Gasthaus)

Zur Alten Post (Gasthaus)

das Gasthaus [mit dem Namen] »Zum Löwen«, »Zur Alten Post«, aber das »Gasthaus zum Löwen«

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    A friend of mine refers to McDonalds as "Gasthaus zum güldenen/goldenen M" ;) Sep 30 '14 at 14:58
  • 2
    Interesting question. The internet has a lot about names of inns, but it seems the question why zum/zur is not discussed. And I think that zum in a name like Gasthaus zum Goldenen Löwen is a bit curious. Old copperplate engravings have legends such as Der Markt zu München where zu has the meaning of in. But it seems the zum/zur has the meaning of mit (Gasthaus mit dem Löwen als Zeichen). Somehow this zum reminds me of Latin cum meaning with.
    – rogermue
    Sep 30 '14 at 18:34
  • Reading all the comments, it seems that zu could mean "to" after all and the original meaning was literal, i.e. a guesthouse to the post office. So if you were a traveling civil servant inspecting the district's post offices you would stay there.. For the ones which are "to the golden pelican" or "the lion" maybe it was from a time and age when Google Maps etc did not exist and referencing off a known landmark was good marketing and business.. Hmmm. Sep 30 '14 at 20:18
  • Partly a duplicate of german.stackexchange.com/questions/14963/….
    – user6191
    Oct 7 '14 at 18:17
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In diesem Kontext bedeutet das "zu" = to.

Das "zum" im Gasthof zum Goldenen Pelikan ist eigentlich zu + dem (kurz zum).

Die wörtliche englische Übersetzung würde also wie folgt lauten:

Inn to the golden pelican

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    Except in English it would simply be called "The Golden Pelican".
    – Ingmar
    Sep 30 '14 at 16:22
  • The Prancing Pony :-)
    – user41853
    Jul 26 '20 at 12:21
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The DWB entry for zu might be one of the longest dictionary entries ever written. There is a section on the locational meaning (i.e. indicating a place) of the preposition zu under (C.) III. This usage should be familiar to native speakers from biblical language.

da Jesus geboren war zu Bethlehem
und es begab sich, als er zu Tisch saß im Hause

To language learners, it should be familiar from the exceptional use of zu in

ich bin zu Hause

Also, as has been mentioned already, there is the

Universität zu Köln

Then, there's names of nobility

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (after the family castle)

The use of zu for regular names as well as inns and taverns derives from the locational use, indicating where the establishment in question is located:

Gasthaus zur Mühle, zur Linde, zum Winkel

With the noun referring to the place the inn is found, e.g. next to a mill. All of these are also found in family names (written as Zurmühle(n), Zurlinde(n), Zumwinkel).

If there is no mill or tree next to the inn, the sign on the outside can substitute. This is how you get:

zum Löwen, zum Schwan(en), zur Krone

(As the adverbial preposition has been reanalysed as part of a name, the zu is now often capitalised.)

Finally, in analogy to those names, you get names such as:

Zur schönen Aussicht

In short: The meaning of to in these examples is originally at, indicating a place. This usage is preserved in biblical usage and family names. While this meaning is no longer current, it became the standard for naming restaurants and hotels and is productive in this function.

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Hausnamen werden bzw wurden oft so gebildet. So gibt es in Prag ein "Haus zur Steinernen Glocke", oder in Wien das "Haus zur Kleinen Presse". Allgemein erhalten haben sich diese Hausnamen heute nur bei den Namen und Schildern von Wirtshäusern ("Gasthof zum Wilden Adler") und Apotheken ("Apotheke zum Grünen Kreuz").

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An important point not mentioned so far is:

In mediaeval times in central Europe it was common practice in towns to mark each house with a sign (painted or sculuptured) of some easily recognisable object. That's because the concept of street names plus house numbers was not yet established, not least because literacy was not common.

So, in order to help people find a certain house, they put these signs on, e.g. an eagle, a linden tree, a deer, a boar, a hare, an oxen, a leave of clover, a crown, and so on.

Whoever asked for a certain house could thus easily be directed:

"Go to the two oxen, turn left, and then look for the golden crown."

Nowadays these names are sometimes forgotten for ordinary houses (or the houses themselves disappeared anyway), but they are well preserved in the names of pubs (Wirtshäuser). You would typically say:

"Morgen um 5 treffen wir uns im Roten Ochsen."

(Tomorrow 5 p.m. let's meet in the "Red Oxen" pub.)

Or:

"Die Hochzeit finden im Gasthaus zum Roten Ochsen statt."

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As Ingmar mentions, "zum" is more naturally applied, when relating to signs. Flat tin signs or even simply painted inscriptions (or neon signs) are relatively new. Earlier these were quite elaborate signs made from iron and even three-dimensional (search for "Wirtshausschild" in google pictures, flickr etc.) So to go "to the golden pelican" is a fully plausible phrasing and it remains to clarify, why the building itself so often keeps the "zum".

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