and Distribution of the Surname Sherwood
by Phil Sherwood
Authorities on the origins of surnames such as Reaney and
Cottle are divided on the meaning and origin of the name. I tend to support
Reaney's view that it probably derives from the Old English 'wood belonging to a
shire', and was thus probably first given to persons living in a wood by any
shire boundary. It may therefore have sprung up simultaneously in several
different parts of England in much the same way as other topographical surnames
such as Wood and Hill.
Despite the legends of Robin Hood which have made Sherwood
Forest famous, the greatest concentration of the surname in early times was not
in Nottinghamshire, but in Yorkshire and Berkshire. I have studied the
distribution in the IGI and the indexes of Births, Marriages & Deaths from
1837 in England, Wales & Scotland, and the largest clusters are in the
N.Riding of Yorkshire, followed by Berkshire, Worcestershire, London, Notts and Kent
in that order.
I have also counted the number of Sherwood, Sharwood,
Shearwood and Sheerwood living in the British Isles at the 1881 census and
mapped the distribution by county. Berkshire has by far the highest density (5
times the national average) followed by Worcester(3.3), Oxford (3.0), Radnor
(2.8), Dorset (2.7), Northants (2.4), Shrops & Norfolk(2.3) and Kent (2.1).
Of the 4,085 enumerated 3,967 lived in England, 53 in Wales, 36 in Scotland and 9 were
serving in the Royal Navy.
If readers have mapped distributions
from other records, I would be pleased to add them to this page.
The following article on the origins of the surname was written by Kasia Shurwood in June 2003:
do the Sherwoods come from?
have researched for “Sherwoods” in various printed records between 1066 and
1800. The research was not intended to be in any way comprehensive, merely a
taster to indicate possible ideas and leads for subsequent research.The research
was undertaken for fun – to give a flavour of some medieval and early modern
people who really existed and just happened to share a common name.
reader should not be too distracted by varying spellings of “Sherwood”.
There was no universal spelling rules in the Middle Ages, and, as now, people
spoke their names to clerks (the people who could write) and these clerks merely
transcribed what they heard onto paper. Hence, we get the rule, that if names
sound the same, they probably are the same.
ORIGINS OF THE SURNAME SHERWOOD
is a geographic appellation, describing where the person lived, or came from.
When one thinks of where “Sherwood” itself might be, one immediately thinks
of Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, reputably home to Robin Hood. It is
certainly possible that all Sherwoods hail from one common ancestor, who had
some connection to Sherwood Forest. However, the evidence points to this being
extremely unlikely. Doing some research into Sherwood as a place name, I
discovered a 14th century manor in Essex called “Shirewood” or
“Sherewood” and related spellings. As a common name “Shirewood” might
literally just mean the shire-wood, i.e. the wood of the shire. (or scir,
meaning, not “county” but in the 13th century, a
sheriff/bailiff). A corruption from the word “scir”, meaning “bright” is
another possible etymology. As well as proper recorded names, it is possible
that elsewhere in Britain, local woods, were referred to orally as
“Shirewood” but not recorded in the written record.
could no find no Sherwoods who followed William over in 1066, and the first
Sherwood I discovered was “William de Shirewood” who in 1259 was chancellor
of the church in Lincoln, but I would hazard a guess, given the geographically
etymology of the name, that Sherwood was first used systematically as a surname
at the time surnames became fixed in the 13th century. I was also
interested to discover “William Shyrwodman” (1379). Was he a woodman or
forester of the “shire” or “sheriff’s” “wood”, thus suggesting
that some instances of the surname could be occupational?
in the records pre-1600:
Kasia Shurwood, 2003
Some Useful Websites for Irish or Scottish Ancestry
Tracing Sherwoods in Ireland can be difficult because many records have not survived after the fire in Dublin. Try the site for the National Archives of Ireland for advice on where to start.
There were not many Sherwood families who settled in Scotland,
so they should be easier to find. The civil registration records from 1837 are
very detailed and can be searched on line at the government site ScotlandsPeople.