Sharp Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Sharp Meaning
Sharp originally developed as a nickname – from the Old English scearp or from the German scharf, meaning “sharp ” or “keen,”
and would be used to describe a sharp or smart person. The name
Healden Scearpa was recorded in Kent as early as 1026. Sharp and Sharpe
are the two main spellings.
Sharp is also known through the Japanese electronics company the Sharp
Corporation. The company took its name from one of its first
inventions, the Ever-Sharp mechanical pencil, in 1915.
Sharp Resources on

Sharp Ancestry

The original Sharp family was said to have been from Saxony, coming to
what is now Bradford in Yorkshire in the 13th century. They were
split by the War of the Roses in 1470 – with one branch going north to
Scotland, one south to Bristol, and a third remaining at Little Horton
(Bradford) in Yorkshire.

Little Horton
in Bradford produced two remarkable and related Sharp
families in the 17th century:

  • one began with John Sharp, a farmer, who had done well at the
    time of the Civil War in England and become a Commonwealth tax
    collector. His son Abraham distinguished himself as a
    mathematician and astronomer. He died in 1742 and there is a
    monument to his memory in Bradford church.
  • the other started with Thomas Sharp, a wet and dry salter.
    eldest son John was for a time chaplain to King James II and later,
    under William and Mary, Archbishop of York. John’s son Thomas was
    Archdeacon of Durham and a prolific theological writer; his grandson Granville
    one of the leading campaigners for the abolition of
    the slave
    trade. Granville’s elder brother William was surgeon to George III.

Although the Sharp name is now spread around the country, it is still
very much a northern and Yorkshire name. One Sharp family history
from the 18th century began in Bedfordshire; but then there were others
at that time from Bradford and points nearby in Yorkshire, from Dalton
in Furness in Lancashire, and from Horton in Staffordshire.

Scotland. The name first
appeared in Scotland in the 14th century when a William Sharp was
recorded as a tenant of the Earl of Douglas on the Scottish borders in

In 1439 a Patrick
Sharp appeared in the Aberdeen burgh records. James Sharp,
the grandson of Aberdeen merchant David Sharp, was
a graduate of the University of Aberdeen who became Archbishop of St.
Andrews in 1661. Andrew Sharp of Aberdeen was the father of two
sons, William and John, who emigrated to America in the 1680’s.
One family history goes back to a George Sharp
who was living at the mill of Auquharney in
Cruden near Aberdeen in 1748.

By the 19th century the Sharp name had spread south to Perthshire and
the Scottish Lowlands.

The Sharpe name in Ireland may have come from English or Scottish
settlers in the 17th century.

Sharpe in Donegal could be Irish in
origin, an anglicized version of the Gaelic Gearan, a byname from the
diminutive gear meaning
“sharp.” But the civic survey of 1654 in Donegal only turned up
an English Protestant, John Sharpe, who owned church lands in
Raphoe. Thomas Sharpe, born in Ballyshannon in county Donegal in
1794, enlisted in the British army and went out to India in 1819.

America. Sharps in
America were most noticeable in New Jersey.

New Jersey. The
Sharps of New Jersey had come originally from Gloucestershire in
England. Anthony Sharp, a wool merchant, had fled to Dublin in
1669 because of religious persecution. There he began to organize
a Quaker community across the Atlantic in New Jersey:

  • among those
    appointed to found
    the new colony was his nephew Thomas
  • his son Isaac who arrived
    1701 was an early settler in what came to be known as
  • while Joseph

    of the next generation built iron works and a stone grist
    mill. This
    mill was to provide flour to American troops in the War of 1812.

There were as well two other Sharp families in New Jersey by the late
17th century: three Sharp brothers from Northamptonshire, also Quakers,
who settled in Burlington, New Jersey; and William and John Sharp, two
brothers from Aberdeen, who settled in Woodbridge and Perth Amboy

“John Sharp was a
carpenter and, after serving out his indenture, lived and worked in
for a while. His home was on the same
block as Captain Kidd. His property tax
bill for 1697 was one fathom of white wampum raised in support of the

William Sharp bought his 120
acre farm in Woodbridge township in 1700.

Isaac Sharp was an
early Virginia settler, possibly as early as 1620.
His line was later to be found in
Henrico county where William Sharp patented land in 1645.

A descendant Charles
Sharp left Virginia for Alabama in the 1820’s, settling in Lauderdale
county. His line was covered in David
Sharp’s 2009 book Sharp Family. Other
Sharps in Alabama, coming from North
Carolina in 1835, were to be found at Sharpsville near Montgomery. Lafayette Sharp fought in the Civil War and
subsequently moved to Texas.

Sharps – reportedly descended from the Archbishop John Sharp from
Bradford – were in Washington county, Virginia by the 1750’s, fought as
Patriots at
King’s Mountain
in the Revolutionary War, and later
made the crossing to Kentucky in 1798. The eldest son Solomon
trained as a lawyer there and rose to become state
Attorney General and
an influential congressman. But he was assassinated in 1825.

William Sharp, the orphan son
of Scots Irish immigrants John and Margery Sharp, was born in Augusta
Virginia in 1744. He grew up to be a
well-known Indian scout and a pioneer settler in Huntersville, West
Virginia in
the 1770’s. One family line has been
traced in West Virginia from William’s brother John

family were among the early plantation settlers in St. James, Jamaica
in the 18th century. Sam Sharpe, a slave and Baptist preacher
there, led the 1831 slave rebellion. Just before he was hanged
for his role in the rebellion, Sharpe proclaimed:

“I would rather die
in yonder gallows, than live for a minute more in slavery.”

Sharpe is now a National Hero of Jamaica.

Two Sharpe
William and John, came to Canada from county Leitrim in Ireland in the
early 1820’s. Both were shoemakers and they settled in York
(now Toronto). John later purchased land in King

Sharpes from Derby were early settlers in Kent
county, Ontario in the 1850’s. Thomas Sharpe left Sligo for
Canada in 1885 and headed west. He became the forceful mayor of
Winnipeg in 1899.

Australia. One Sharp
related to the abolitionist Granville Sharp emigrated to
William Hay Sharp, born in Hull, departed in 1878
for Sydney where he was appointed warden at the University of
Sydney. His eldest son Granville was a distinguished
scholar and tennis player, representing Australia in the 1909 Davis
Cup. Another line from Granville’s brother William were chief
surgeons in Victoria.

David and George Sharp, two brothers from Scotland, had come out to
Australia in the 1840’s, David settling in the Bellarine peninsula in
Victoria and George in Adelaide and later Mount Gambier.


Sharp Miscellany

Sharp and Sharpe.  Sharp and Sharpe are the two main spellings.   Sharp is the more common

Numbers (000’s)  Sharp  Sharpe
UK    38    20
America    25    10
Elsewhere    15    14

Sharpe takes the edge in Ireland and, maybe because of Irish
immigration, in Canada.  

The Sharps in Little Horton.  There were
two manor houses in Little Horton, Horton Old Hall and Horton Hall. The two
Halls existed because the Sharp family who had ownership of Little Horton for
many years were on different sides during the Civil War.
One side was Anglican and Royalist and stayed
in the medieval Old Hall.  The others
were Quakers and Parliament supporters.
They built another manor house in the area, divided from the Old
Hall by
a huge wall.

Horton Old Hall and Horton
Hall were rebuilt in the 1670’s by their respective Sharps.  Both survived into the 20th century but both
were demolished in the 1960’s.

The Foul Death of James Sharp, Archbishop of St. Andrews.  James Sharp had been born in Banff castle and was a graduate of the University
of Aberdeen where he had taken religious orders.  Originally
he was a
Covenanting Resolutioner.  However, after
various political intrigues, he turned his back on Presbyterianism to
Episcopalianism.  As a reward for his
ambition, he was consecrated as the Archbishop of St. Andrews.  In consequence, he was generally reviled by
the Covenanters and portrayed as a self-seeking defector who had
betrayed both
his colleagues and beliefs.

May 3 1679 he was
returning to St Andrews with his daughter Isabel when their coach was
by a band of assassins at Magus Muir near to the village of
Strathkinness in
Fife.  He was dragged from his coach there
and hacked to death by nine Presbyterian fanatics in front of his

Today, a memorial pyramid of
stones from the sea marks the spot at Magus Muir where Sharp was

Granville Sharp and His Brothers.  Granville Sharp
was born in Durham in 1735, the youngest son of Thomas Sharp,
archdeacon of
Northumberland.  At the age of fifteen,
Granville became apprenticed to a linen draper and moved to London
where two of
his brothers, William and James, were already living.

Both Granville’s London based brothers,
William and James, were actively involved with his fight against
slavery.  William was a surgeon who gave
free medical
treatment to the poor.  It was at his
house, awaiting treatment, that Granville first encountered the runaway
Jonathan Strong.  Brother James
accompanied Granville to the Lord Mayor of London to intervene when
was re-captured by his master.  As a
result, both brothers were charged £200 in damages for taking another
property.  The courts, however, ruled in
favor of the Sharps.

James and William
supported Granville financially from 1776 when he resigned from his job
in the Government
Ordnance office on a matter of conscience.  This
enabled him to devote himself to
campaigning against slavery and to other causes such as electoral
reform.  Granville never married and died
childless in

James Sharp was an inventor,
engineer and manufacturer of iron goods.  He
lived in Leadenhall Street in the city of
London and had an iron foundry in south London.
William became a well-known surgeon, said to have been the
surgeon for
George III.  For most of his life William
lived with his wife on a barge moored on the river  Thames.

Sharps at the Battle of King’s Mountain.  The battle
of King’s Mountain in 1780 between Patriots and Loyalists was one of the
turning points in the southern campaign of the Revolutionary War.  There were twelve Sharps, led by Captain
Thomas Sharp, who fought on the Patriot side in this brief but decisive

These Sharps had first settled in
Pennsylvania, then moved south along the eastern edge of the
Appalachians to
Washington county, Virginia where they had settled.
After the War Thomas moved with his family
initially into Tennessee before putting down roots in Logan county,
Kentucky.  It was there that his eldest
son Solomon made his name.

The Assassination of Solomon Sharp.  Solomon Sharp was a prominent Kentucky congressman and
the state Attorney General.  On November 7,
1825 he was found murdered at his home in Frankfort.

“He was cut down in
the dead hour of midnight.  A man with murder in his heart called
him from
his bed to the door, asking shelter for the night and using the name of
intimate friend to lure him and to shield his own identity.  While
extending one hand to his victim in simulating friendly greeting, with
other he thrust the deadly knife into Colonel Sharp’s body and fled
away into
the darkness of the night, leaving him expiring on the threshold of his
hospitable home.”

His murderer Jereboam Beauchamp was apprehended four days

It transpired that Beauchamp as a young lawyer
had been an admirer of Sharp, that was until Sharp allegedly fathered
illegitimate child with
Cooke, a planter’s daughter.  Sharp denied paternity of the
stillborn child. Later Beauchamp began a relationship with Cooke.  She apparently agreed to marry him on the
condition that he kill Sharp to avenge her honor.  Beauchamp and
Cooke were then
married in June 1824.

Beauchamp was
tried and convicted to hang for the murder.
At the gallows he requested the Twenty-Second Regiment musicians
play Bonaparte’s
Retreat from Moscow
5,000 spectators watched his
execution.  It was the first legal hanging in Kentucky’s history.

Joseph Sharp’s Iron Works.  In 1768, Joseph Sharp erected a forge and furnace on the Wallkill river in New Jersey.  The village around the Sharp ironworks
became known as Sharpsborough, later becoming Hamburg.  Due
to the
expensive nature of the venture and competing forges, Sharp
abandoned the
property in 1774.  But Stephen Ford used it to secretly produce
cannonballs for the British during the American Revolution.

After reclaiming the property, his son Joseph
Sharp Jr. built a stone grist mill there in 1808.  Sharp’s mill
the flour for the American troops of the War of 1812.
The mill
continued to serve the needs of the agricultural community of Sussex
county during
the 19th century.  An historical marker
was placed at the site of the ironworks and mill in 2004.



Sharp Names

  • Granville Sharp was one of the first English campaigners for the abolition of the slave trade.
  • Sam Sharpe led the 1831 slave rebellion in Jamaica and is now honored as a National Hero of Jamaica.
  • Cecil Sharp was the founding father of the folklore revival in England in the early 20th century.
  • Tom Sharpe is an English satirical author, best known for his Wilt series of novels.
  • William Sharpe is an American economist, the winner of the Nobel economics prize in 1990.

Select Sharp Numbers Today

  • 58,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 35,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 29,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Sharp and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

They could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.




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