Was the name Sherlock common/uncommon in 19th century?

Hi! These days the name “Sherlock” automatically means Sherlock Holmes, but back when Doyle wrote the stories, was it a common or uncommon name? I don’t recall seeing it for minor characters anywhere else.

(I tried googling for the answer but that has way too many hits about the tv shows and movies!)

ISTR that it was relatively uncommon at the time, but Conan Doyle didn’t coin it. Holmes’s first name was “Sherrinford” in a first draft.

I’d say uncommon. The Baby Name Voyager says it never ranked among the top 1000 in any time period, going back to 1880. That’s in the US, of course, but I doubt it was any more common in the UK.

Google’s NGram viewer shows no hits before the mid-1880s, when the character was created. The name may have existed, but it was far from common.

Second draft? “Wendy”.

Wendy? Surely you jest.
Oh, wait.
Now I remember.

My mistake.
Carry on.

How common was ‘Mycroft’ as a name?

I always assumed that both Sherlock and Mycroft were family surnames carried on through the mother’s lines.

Now, I am not so sure.


Good question!

According to Google, Mycroft shows up with some popularity about a decade before the first Sherlock Holmes story. It fades out but revives with Mycroft Holmes’s first appearance in 1893. The earlier instances all seem to be last names.

There are people in the US census at least as early as 1840 whose first name is “sherlock.” Common? Not.

People in the US who were born in Ireland as early as 1790 whose last name was sherlock(e)

No early hits for “no shit, sherlock.” Just saying…

There was a Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.

It appears to come from Ireland, as a surname, although I did find a "Sherlock Todd, born in 1796.

William S. Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes has this to say:

You might think that A Practical Discourse Concerning Death would be the primest book of all to a Holmes.

There’s a lot of disagreement, but the most common explanation is that Arthur Conan Doyle sometimes played cricket with someone named Sherlock, and that he was an admirer of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Sherlock wasn’t a very common name even then.

Agatha Christie (in, I think, The Labours of Hercules) makes a point about the odd names of detectives, and imagines Sherlock (and Mycroft’s) mother talking with Hercule’s mother. Obviously, Agatha Christie, writing in the 1940s, didn’t think it was a common name. (For that matter, how many Neros do you know? ) I suspect that Doyle wanted a distinctive name (I heard the same thing Elendi;l’s Heir did – Shereringford would be a bit odd, too).

Incidentally, the idea of using surnames as first names directly isn’t unheard of (it’s how Cotton Mather got his distinctive first name), but it’s been pointed out that another way for surnames to migrate to first named is for someone to name a child with the full name of an admired individual as their first and middle names (for example, Martin Luther King), and when the first name gets dropped in favor of the middle name, that name gets a new status as a “first” name. I doubt if “Luther” got is first name status this way, bjut I could see it happening for other names.

Waiting patiently for someone here to write The Adventures of Wendy Holmes

Sounds like maybe it should be Mary Sue Holmes…

“Sherlock” means “clear lake”…or “shorn locks”…or “bright hair”…or “fair haired”…or I don’t think anyone has done the necessary research on the name yet.

Thanks to everyone who answered! And for adding in Mycroft! I wondered about him too. :slight_smile:

Justice Holmes? It seems more likely that he would admire the elder Holmes (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.) who was a doctor, like Doyle, and not the guy who was on the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

The Sherlock stories have some other characters with strange first names, too. Off the top of my head, there’s “Cadogan”, “Enoch”, “Hosmer”, and “Jabez”. I’ll look through my book and come up with some others, I’m sure.