What Does Sherlock Mean?

The Meaning of Sherlock and Why Conan Doyle Named His Cool Hero That…

Admit it: if you’ve been a Sherlock Holmes fan for sometime, you’ve wondered about this…

In the name of God, what does Sherlock mean?What does 'Sherlock' mean?

We’ve heard of John. We’ve heard of William. We’ve heard of the surname ‘Holmes’ too.

But Sherlock? How many Sherlocks do you know? I know exactly zero.

But then, just like you, I love Sherlock Holmes. 

So, I decided to find out everything I could about the name.

So, the Meaning of Sherlock Is…

Exhaustive research showed me that Sherlock could actually mean two pretty interesting things:

‘Brilliant, clear hair’ or ‘cropped, cut hair.’

Honestly, that was a bit of a dampner for me because I was expecting something like:

‘Cool brains’ or ‘uber-cool intellect’ or ‘eye-poppingly superb.’

Well, but if that’s what it means then…that’s what it means.

Here’s how Sherlock means ‘brilliant, clear hair’ or ‘cropped, cut hair.’

Take a look at this intriguing picture that tells you how the name originated from words in Old English.

The crux of what the name Sherlock means and where it's come from.

So, what does Sherlock mean? It means a guy with ‘bright hair or cropped hair’.

Just in case you’re not familiar with Old English, it’s like the granddad of present-day English. There was also another English in the middle called  Middle English – the daddy of present-day English.

People spoke Old English from the 5th to mid 12th century AD. Then they spoke Middle English from the late 12th to the late 15 century AD.

Old English was quite different from Modern English.

While we we’re at it, here’s something simple in Old English:

Hū gǣþ? (Pronounced Hoo gath?)

Any guesses about what that means?

Well, it means ‘How are you?’

A good deal of difference there between Old English and our English…

Coming back to the name ‘Sherlock’ though – we now know the meaning of Sherlock and we know where the name came from. It came from ‘scir’ or ‘scear’ and ‘locc’ in Old English.

But, was it a common first name?

It wasn’t. In fact…

…Sherlock Was Initially a Surname!

Sherlock was a surname that originated in Ireland first.

According to SurnameDB.com, Sherlock – the surname – first appeared around the 10th century AD in Leinster, Ireland. Leinster is a province in Ireland.

Apparently, that was also the time when surnames as a concept were just becoming popular.

So I guess while earlier, people were happy saying, ‘Hey John!’, they now started saying:

‘Hey John with the brilliant, clear hair!’

And that’s how the first Sherlock must have got his surname.

Of course, the surname didn’t start with the exact word Sherlock.

It started with something like Scurlóg or Scirloc. There were other spellings like Cherlock, Sherlog, Shirloic and plenty of other options!

Basically, the spellings got pretty mixed up and squashed around – until most people finally settled on Sherlock.

Here’s a fascinating list of 7 famous Sherlocks who were or are so famous that they’ve got a Wikipedia page to themselves!

The Sherlocks listed on Wikipedia

Thomas Sherlock - one of the many famous people with the surname 'Sherlock'

Okay, great.

So we know what the name Sherlock means. We also know that it has been a surname since the 10th century.

But then, another question popped up in my head: why did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle name his hero Sherlock?

Why On Earth Did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Give His Detective the Name Sherlock?

To be honest, here’s where my research gets a bit shaky. You see, only Sir Arthur Conan Doyle knew the exact truth. There’s a lot of speculation and…

…well, I’ll tell you what I’ve heard.

You see, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first named Sherlock Holmes – Sherrinford Hope. Apparently, though, his wife didn’t like the name.

So, some weeks later, he changed the first name to Sherlock based on two Nottinghamshire cricket players.

 One of these Nottinghamshire cricketers was a guy called Francis Joseph (Frank) Shacklock – a bowler and there was another guy called Mordecai Sherwin – a wicketkeeper.

These two guys worked in tandem and got many a batsman out.

Now our good old Conan Doyle apparently combined these two names to come up with the name:


Here’s a picture of the two cricketers who might have given our uber-cool detective his name.

Frank Shacklock and Mordecai Sherwin - the Nottinghamshire cricketers after whom Sherlock Holmes may have been named

If you’re thinking: ‘But what has Conan Doyle got to do with cricket?’ – then let me tell you that Arthur Conan Doyle played first-class cricket himself.

In fact, here’s a fascinating page about his cricketing career on ESPN.

So that’s one theory about why Doyle named our good old Sherlock Holmes – Sherlock.

The other theory is the one that the Sherlock Holmes Society of London has put up.

This society says that Conan Doyle named his detective after Alfred Sherlock – a musician of the time. 

Which theory is true? Well, as I said we can only speculate…

And why did Conan Doyle convert a last name into a first name?

I mean Sherlock has been a surname since the 10th century, right but not a first name…

I think he must have done it for the sake of novelty.

I mean, come on, if you want to create a cool detective who rocks, you’d want to give him a unique name that almost no one has, right? Maybe that’s what Conan Doyle was trying to do by converting a last name into a first name – he was making his name special.

That’s my guess though.

Cool Trivia: How Many People in History Have Had the Name Sherlock Holmes?

I always enjoy fun-facts and trivia and while I was at my Sherlock Holmes name research, I happily allowed another intriguing question to pester me:

How many people on this earth have been named exactly ‘Sherlock Holmes’?

I rummaged through three different ‘ancestry sites’ and found this out:

According to Findmypast.co.uk, at least 255 people have had the exact name ‘Sherlock Holmes’ since 1914. 

According to Familysearch.org, from the 19th century, there have been 353 Sherlock Holmes’ listed!

According to Ancestry.com, 2115 people have had the exact name ‘Sherlock Holmes’ throughout history. 

Now as you can see, there’s quite some contrast there. But what is clear is that many people have had that name.

There have been more than 2000 people with the exact name 'Sherlock Holmes'

At least 2000 people must have been fan enough to give their children the name Sherlock Holmes.

Actually, if my own surname were Holmes, I’d be pretty tempted to name my child Sherlock! But that surname part is sheer luck.

Well, well. It must be quite exciting – though also a bit challenging – to be named Sherlock Holmes.

Imagine the teacher in school saying, “Sherlock Holmes, quiet please!”

Girls would come and hit on the guy saying, “Hey Sherlock Holmes, what can you deduce about me?”

And one of the best parts? 

This guy would actually be able to sign off – whenever he had to sign – as Sherlock Holmes.

That number of Sherlock Holmeses – 2115 – though, must now be on the rise, what with BBC Sherlock taking the world by storm!

I’ll end with this poster that rings so freakin’ true!

Sherlock Holmes Lives On in Our Hearts - Poster