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Origins 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.
It is also a place name in Nottinghamshire and in Devon, although Cottle gives the latter as derived from 'bright wood' from the OE word 'scir' meaning 'bright'.

The Literary Digest(1928) states that Sherwood is an English name signifying "Belonging to Sherwood, Nottingham". In the C14 the spelling was commonly Sherwode, Shyrewode: in the C13, Scher(e)wode, Scirewode: in A.D. 958 Scirwude. (The first element is rather Old English 'Scir', bright, light-coloured, than OE 'Scir', district, Shire. In the Calendarium Inquisitorium Ad Quod Damnum (Edward II to Henry VII) 1325-26, Will'us de Sherwode is mentioned. Certainly there was a prominent Saxon named 'Scirwudu' living in the North of England at the time of King Alfred who may have given his name to some families in that region.

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.
Although Yorkshire contained the highest number 616, because of its large population the density was only 1.6. Looking at the map overall, it is evident that the distribution is heavily skewed to the Home Counties & SE of England which is where the surname probably originated. There were 58 SHARWOODs mainly in Kent, Northants & Sussex, and 158 recorded as SHEARWOOD and 17 as SHEERWOOD. Of course if one adds in those who may have been enumerated as SHE(A)RRARD, the totals may be even higher. Using the GOONS criteria for frequency of surnames, Sherwood is a medium frequency name. The name is also fairly common in Ireland where it was clustered around Dublin, Arklow in Co.Wicklow, Wexford & Meath. A branch of the Newcastle, Durham Sherwoods appears to have been granted land within the English Pale under K.Charles.I. Certainly in the Irish famines of the 19C a number of Sherwoods emigrated to America. A number of Sherwoods and Sharwoods have settled in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, coming from places such as Guildford, Kent, Surrey and Yorkshire. 

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:

Where do the Sherwoods come from?


I 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.

The 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. 


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.

I 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? 

Sherwoods in the records pre-1600: 

  2. JOHN SHIRWODE, Merchant in Ripon, (1324)
  3. WILLIAM SHIRWODE, his son, (1325)
  7. ADAM DE SHIRWODE, taxpayer in Aldfield, Yorks (1379)
  8. ALLEXANDER DE SHYRWODE, taxpayer in Eggborough, Yorks (1379)
  9. ALICE DE SHYRWODE, his wife (1379)
  10. HENRY SHYRWOD, merchant, taxpayer in Eggborough, Yorks (1379)
  11. ELIZABETH, his wife (1379)
  12. MARGARET DE SHYRWODE, Ostler, taxpayer in Eggborough, Yorks (1379)
  13. WILLIAM DE SHYRWODE, her son (1379)
  14. HENRY DE SHYRWODE, her son (1379)
  15. WALTER SHYRWODMAN, taxpayer in Eggborough, Yorks (1379)
  16. ANABEL, his wife (1379)
  19. RICHARD SHYRWOD, warden of Ouse bridge, York (1428)
  20. JOANNA SHYRWUD, cottage tenant in York, (1437)
  21. WILLIAM SHEREWODE, cook to Sir James Fenys, Lambeth (1449)
  22. JOHN SHYRWOOD, Cambridge University, (1450)
  23. WILLIAM SHERWODE, of Southfleet, Kent, Will (1471)
  24. ROGER SHIRWOD, of Southfleet, Kent, Will (1474)
  25. JOHN SHIRWOOD, Bishop of Durham, (d.1494)
  26. JOHN SHYRWOOD, of Westerham, Kent, Will (1509)
  27. RICHARD SCHRYWOD, of Westerham, Kent, Will (1533)
  29. HENRY SHERWOOD (1582)
  30. JOHN SHARWOOD (1582)
  31. JOHN SHARWOOD (1586)

© 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.