Sharp Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Sharp Surname 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 Surname Resources on The Internet

Sharp and Sharpe Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Yorkshire) and Scotland
  • to America, Caribs (Jamaica), Canada and Australia

England.  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.

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. His 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 Sharp one of the leading campaigners for the abolition of the slave trade. Granville’s elder brother William was surgeon to George III.

In addition to this family there were other Sharps from Bradford and from points nearby in Yorkshire.  Although the Sharp name spread around the country as well, it is still very much a Yorkshire name.

Elsewhere.  Sharps appeared in the 18th century – from Dalton in Furness in Lancashire to Horton in Staffordshire and (further south) to a Sharp family history in Bedfordshire which began at this time.  John Sharp from Halifax in Yorkshire married Sarah Draper in Derby in 1814 and later emigrated to Canada.

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 1376.

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.

Ireland.  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 Quaker 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 in 1701 was an early settler in what came to be known as Sharpsborough
  • while Joseph Sharp 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 respectively.

“John Sharp was a carpenter and, after serving out his indenture, lived and worked in Manhattan 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 poor.”  

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

ElsewhereIsaac 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 Sharp 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 county, 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.

Caribbean. A Sharpe 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.”

Sam Sharpe is now a National Hero of Jamaica.

Canada. Two Sharpe brothers, 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 township.

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.

Earlier on, Thomas Sharpe was an arrival in Newfoundland from Dorset in the 1750’s.

Australia. One Sharp related to the abolitionist Granville Sharp emigrated to Australia. 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 and Sharpe Surname Miscellany

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

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

But 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 promote 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.

On May 3 1679 he was returning to St Andrews with his daughter Isabel when their coach was waylaid 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 daughter.

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

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 slave Jonathan Strong.

Brother James accompanied Granville to the Lord Mayor of London to intervene when Jonathan was re-captured by his master.  As a result, both brothers were charged £200 in damages for taking another man’s 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 1813.

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 battle.

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 an intimate friend to lure him and to shield his own identity.  While extending one hand to his victim in simulating friendly greeting, with the 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 later.

It transpired that Beauchamp as a young lawyer had been an admirer of Sharp, that was until Sharp allegedly fathered an illegitimate child with Anna 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 as 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 provided 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.

Reader Feedback – Sharpes in Newfoundland.  I’m Madonna Catherine Sharpe born in Newfoundland in 1965.  My Sharpe family roots are in Newfoundland since the 1750’s.  They were originally from Dorset. Thomas Sharpe was from there, my five times grandfather.  Why is there no mention of this branch?

Madonna Durfee (

Reader Feedback – John Sharp from Ireland in Canada.  My great great grandfather was John Sharp (1801-1858). He married Ellen Jane McCafferty (1817-1847) and their son Thomas was born in Canada in 1844 and baptized in a Catholic church.

John may have been the son of William and Mary McFadden.  He may have been from Cavan.  I am trying to find his line.

Colleen Fleury (

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.

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)

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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Written by Colin Shelley

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