Shepherd Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Shepherd Meaning
Shepherd, as its name
suggests, is an occupational name for someone employed to tend and
watch over
sheep.  Its origins are the Old English sceap meaning “sheep” and hierde meaning
“herdsman.”  The German equivalent is

Shepherd, Shephard, Sheppard, and Shepard are the main surname variants today.  Shepherd and Sheppard seem to divide geographically.  Shepherd has been a name of northern England and is also in Scotland; while Sheppard was more found in SW England.  Shepard is commoner in America than it is in England today.

Shepherd Resources on

Shepherd Ancestry

Shepherd and Sheppard surnames divide between
southern and northern England.

Southern England.  The earliest
Shepherd references appear to
have been in the south of England.  Some
have the surname originating in Dorset.  It is claimed that records from before the 10th
century showed a notable Shepherd family from Dorset with battle-axes
on their coat
of arms.

The Sheppard spelling tended to take preference in the south.  Shepherdes from
Cambridgeshire later became Sheppards.
William Sheppard acquired the Littlecote manor in
Buckinghamshire in
1507.  It remained in family hands until
the late 19th century.
  Two notable Sheppards were to be found at Oxford,
with affiliations to Magdalene College:

  • John Sheppard, a court composer at
    the time of Henry VIII
  • and Fleetwood Sheppard, a courtier and literary wit of
    the late 1600’s.

However, the Sheppard spelling generally had a more
westward direction.  The main numbers in
the 1891 census were in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and Somerset:

  • in Wiltshire
    Henry Shepherd was born in Aldbourne in 1620.  The
    name here subsequently changed to Sheppard.  They
    owned the village bakery.  The Sheppards
    of Purton
    dated from the 1640’s; while the first recorded
    Sheppard in
    Figheldean was Nias Sheppard who was born there in 1733.
  • William Sheppard,
    Cromwell’s law reformer, was born in Whitminster, Gloucestershire in
    1595.  And Sheppards were prominent at
    near Stroud from the 1650’s.  Edward
    Sheppard who had made his fortune as a clothier built Gatcombe Park
    there in
    the 1770’s.  Unfortunately the family
    went bankrupt forty years later and the estate had to be sold.
  • while the
    Sheppards were an important family of Frome in Somerset as clothiers
    during the
    18th century. The first recorded was John Sheppard, a cardboard maker,
    who was
    born there in 1614.  The family history
    was recounted in Derek Gill’s The
    Sheppards and 18th Century Frome

Northern England.  Shepherds have been more
numerous in northern England, although there has been less record of

The earliest sightings were probably in
Westmorland.  One Shepherd family, dating
back to the 1500’s, became landed gentry from their home at Shaw End
Kendal.  Arthur Shepherd, Westmorland’s
oldest magistrate, died there in 1909.
His grandson Arthur
the heir apparent, perished in the Great War in 1917.
Another Shepherd family, dating to the
late 1600’s, was to be found at Sedbergh.
They migrated to Stanningley near Leeds in the 1830’s.

Henry Shepherd, a Beverley solicitor in the
East Riding of Yorkshire in the early 1800’s, is remembered for the
diaries he
kept at that time.  Frederick Shepherd
founded the Shepherd building company in York in 1900.
His descendants still feature in what is now
one of the largest privately-owned UK construction companies.

Channel Islands.
The Shepherd name also appeared in the Channel
Islands.  The first time it was recorded
was at the marriage of Lanvrenic Shepheard and Marie de Quetteville at
in Jersey in 1703

.  The Shepherd name also crops
up in NE
Scotland.  The form Scyphard
appeared in Elgin as early as 1363.  Shepherds
were later to be found on the Moray
coast and in Aberdeen and Angus.

In the Jacobite Rising of 1745
at least three
Angus Shepherds served in Ogilvy’s regiment, one of whom was later
to the American colonies.  Dr. John Leege
Shepherd departed Aberdeen for Iowa sometime in the 1880’s; while Nan
born just outside Aberdeen in 1893, made her name as a writer and poet

Ireland.   Shepherds
in Ireland were from England:

  • Thomas Shepherd from Shropshire was a captain with Cromwell’s
    army in 1649 who was awarded lands at Castle John in Tipperary.
    Castle John stayed with the Shepherds until the mid-1800’s.  One
    line of these Shepherds departed for America in the 1680’s.
  • another line of Shepherds, this time from Durham, were Quakers
    and came to Tyrone in the 1660’s because of religious intolerance at
    home.  Solomon Shepherd left for Pennsylvania in the 1720’s.

The few Shepherds in Ireland at the time of Griffith’s Valuation in the 1850’s
were mainly in Ulster – in Tyrone and county Down.

AmericaThe extent of the Shepard name presence in America
may well have been attributable to three early Shepard arrivals in New
– Ralph, Thomas and Edward.  The family
lines of these Shepards were covered in Gerald
Shepard’s 1973 book The Shepard Families
of New England

New England.  Ralph Shepard and his wife Thanklord
(or Thank ye the Lord) had married in London in 1632 and they departed
for New
England on the Abigail
years later.  After several moves they
eventually settled in Concord, Massachusetts in the mid-1660’s.  Two of their sons, Isaac and Jacob, were slain by Indians in 1676.

Shepard, a Puritan minister from Northamptonshire, came on the Defence in 1635 and settled in
Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Although his
life in America was not long (he died in 1649), he was regarded in New
England as one of the foremost Puritan ministers of his time.  Three of Shepard’s sons followed him into the
ministry – Thomas, Samuel and Jeremiah.
Edward Shepard from Essex, a sea captain, also settled in
arriving four years later in 1639.  He
lived there until 1680.

William Shepard
from Suffolk was another Shepard immigrant around this time.  It was said that his son John had been
brought to Westfield, Massachusetts as an infant after William had been
by a shark in Boston harbor. John’s
grandson William, whose statue can be found in Westfield, distinguished
in the Revolutionary War.

John Shepherd
from Yorkshire came to Massachusetts around 1690.  His
son John adopted the Shepard spelling
and made his home in New Hampshire.  A
descendant is the astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American to walk in
in 1961.

Virginia.  Robert Sheppard
from Gloucestershire arrived at the Jamestown colony on the Hopewell
in 1624, aged 20. His children, including
the Rev. John
Shepherd, became Shepherds.  Another Rev.
John Shepherd, related to the New England Ralph and Thomas Shepards,
was a
pastor in Middlesex county from 1668 to 1683.
Later Shepherds here settled in Anson county, North Carolina.

Sheppard acquired the Meadow Farm property in Henrico county in 1713.  Seven generations of the Sheppard family
lived at Meadow Farm until it was donated to Henrico county as a museum
in 1975.

Uriah Shepherd meanwhile migrated from Lee county, Virginia to eastern Kentucky in the
early 1800’s and later settled in Alabama.

.  In 1683 various Shepherds
from Ireland came
to what was then West Jersey and settled along the Cohansey river in

  • branches of the family also
    made their home in North Carolina and Maryland.
  • Shepherdstown in West Virginia
    was named after Thomas Shepherd who died there in 1776.
  • elsewhere the family
    spelling often became Sheppard.  The
    Quaker Sheppards in Philadelphia, Loyalist during the Revolutionary
    War, lost
    much of their property at that time.  But
    Moses Sheppard later prospered as a merchant in Baltimore.

From Philadelphia,
born in 1728, also came John Shepherd, a
Revolutionary War veteran
who lived to the grand old age of 117.

Thomas Shepherd died in Charles county, Maryland
in 1817.  Five years later his son
Alexander left to seek his fortune in Washington DC, the new nation’s
capital.  But it was Alexander’s son
Alexander Robey Shepherd, known as Boss Shepherd, who was to leave his
mark on
the city in the decade after the Civil War

There were early Shepherds at Harbour Grace in
Newfoundland, beginning with Francis Shepheard from the Channel Island
Jersey.  He may have been trading at
Harbour Grace as early as 1705.  A later Francis Shepherd reported
in 1775 that
his family had been living there “for upwards of ninety years.”  Another early settler, Martin Shepherd, came
from Guernsey.

The spelling on Newfoundland could be either Shepherd or
Sheppard.  John Sheppard from Dublin
settled in Spaniard’s Bay sometime in the 1770’s.  His
Sheppards were Protestant.

Australia and New Zealand.  James
Shepherd was convicted of horse
stealing in Surrey in 1785 and spent six years in cramped convict
before being transported to Australia on the Matilda
in 1791.  Three years
later he received his conditional pardon, married, and spent the rest
of his
life as a farmer on his Thorn Farm at Kissing Point near Sydney.  He died in 1847 at the good age of 84.

From Kissing Point came Isaac Shepherd a farmer and his son James Shepherd an Anglican

“James Shepherd and
his family advertised in the Sydney
in 1821 that they were soon to leave the colony in the Brig Hope for New Zealand as

William Horder Sheppard
was born in Fordingbridge in Hampshire in 1829 and emigrated with his
James to Australia and later to New Zealand in the 1850’s, settling in
Taranaki district


Shepherd Miscellany

Shepherd, Shephard, Sheppard, and Shepard Today

‘000’s Shepherd Shephard Sheppard Shepard Total
UK    39     4    21     1    65
America    22     2    13    14    51
Elsewhere    16     2    18     1    37
Total    77     8    52    16  153

Shepherd and Sheppard in England.  Henry Guppy
in his 1890 work Homes of Family Names in
Great Britain
described Shepherd and Sheppard as follows:

. These names are distributed over the greater part of
England; but
are absent or infrequent in the eastern counties south of the Humber.

The chief centres in the north are in
Westmoreland, Lancashire, and the North and East Ridings; in the
midlands, in
the counties of Warwick, Northampton, and Notts; and in the southwest
England (Sheppard) in the contiguous counties of Somerset and

It is remarkable that the deficiency in the
eastern counties is to some extent supplied by the Sheppersons of
Cambridgeshire.  Shepherd also is established in Scotland, but has
no definite
distribution, and is by no means numerous.”

Reader Feedback – Early Sheppards from Buckinghamshire.  Another distinguished Sheppard Oxbridge graduate was William Sheppard M.D. of Kings College Cambridge, Fellow of Kings 1586-1599.  He was from Lidcote in Buckinghamshire.

C. Fielding (

The Sheppards of Purton in Wiltshire.  The shield of Samuel
Sheppard, displayed on his memorial in Purton parish church, contains
battle-axes.  This appears to be a
variant of the shield of the Sheppards of Buckinghamshire (which has a
crest of
two battle-axes), but that is insufficient to suggest any relationship.

Samuel Sheppard, a mercer, died in Purton in 1782.

The Sheppard line in Purton goes
back to
Samuel Sheppard and Elizabeth Carter who were married there in 1669.  From their son Henry came Samuel the mercer
who was born in Purton in 1712.

Arthur Shepherd in the Great War.  Arthur Robert
Shepherd was the son of Henry and Mary Shepherd of Shaw End in Patton,
He was born in 1895 and attended Repton and then St Bees School. He
entered the
Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry as a Second Lieutenant in October
1914 at
the age of 19.

Unusually he resigned his commission in April 1916 and signed on
as a private in the Royal Fusiliers. This was probably to see action –
many of the Yeomans he had been kept in Britain in reserve for the
first two
years of the war.

He was sent out to Salonica with a draft of men to fight the
Bulgarians in Macedonia.  He joined the 7th Oxford and Bucks Light
Infantry as a
Lance Corporal, but died on 9 May 1917 in the attempt to take Petit

Shepherds were landed gentry and Arthur was their only son.

The Indian Attack on the Shepard Household.  In early 1675 the sons Isaac and Jacob Shepard were
threshing grain in the barn on the Shepard homestead near Concord,
Massachusetts.  Being aware of the perilous times – this was
during King
Philip’s War – the sons had set their sister Mary on the summit of the
hill to
watch for Indians.

The ground was
covered with deep snow and the Indians traveled with snowshoes.
vigilance of Mary who was only about thirteen years old, they swooped
down up
on the Shepard barn before she was aware of their presence and slew
Isaac and

Mary was taken captive and
carried to Nashawa (now called Lancaster).
In the dead of night there, so the story goes, Mary managed to
take a
saddle from under the head of her Indian keeper who was sunk in sleep
by ardent spirits, put the saddle on a horse which the Indians had
stolen at
Nashawa, mounted it, swam with the horse across the Nashawa river, and
rode through the forest back to her home.

John Shepherd, Revolutionary War Veteran.  John Shepherd was born on Olmstead Ridge on the
Lancaster road, ten miles from Philadelphia, in 1728.
He served as a soldier during the French and
Indian wars.

At the beginning of the
American Revolution he was a widower with one little girl. He left his
daughter in charge of a neighbor and enlisted as a soldier in Captain
Armitage’s company of a Philadelphia battalion of militia.
He fought at Brandywine and during the battle
was wounded by the premature discharge of his own gun while loading it.  Later he was taken prisoner while on a
scouting expedition and was confined to White Church in Philadelphia
for some
time.  He escaped through the efforts of
a party of American troops who made an attack on the church.

His grandson recollected that he never heard
him complain of the treatment he had received from anyone or speak ill
of any
person.  He often heard him tell of war
scenes and speak of his being under General Washington.

He was strong and vigorous up to 112 years of
age.  Another grandson, Olonzo Engle,

“There is one incident in
my Grandfather Shepherd’s life which I recollect distinctly. One
morning at the
breakfast table father said to brother William and me that he wished us
hurry and finish sowing the wheat as our corn was ready to cut. I was
16 years
of age at the time and grandfather was 112 years old.

When we had finished breakfast grandfather
got a long butcher knife and taking it and his chair he went to the
He worked until the horn blew to call us to dinner. After eating his
dinner he
laid upon his bed and rested half an hour.
He then returned to the cornfield and worked until night.

The next morning William and a man named
Porter went to the cornfield and measured the ground. They found that
grandfather had cut two acres of corn in one day.”

He lived another five years and died in 1846 at the age
of 117.

James Shepherd and His Family in New Zealand.  James and Harriet Shepherd, missionaries, arrived at the
Bay of Islands in 1821
and raised the following children there.

Name Birth Location Comments
James Shepherd 1822 Kerikeri married Selina Mitchell, died
1905 in Keoa
Isaac Shepherd 1823 Kerikeri died 1898 in Keoa
Robert Shepherd 1829 Rangihoua married Juliet Shuttleworth,
died 1915 in Kissing Point
Alfred Shepherd 1831 Rangihoua married Emily Faithfull, died
1906 in Waiare
Harriet Shepherd 1833 TePuna married John Hows
Richard Shepherd 1835 Kerikeri died 1861 in Waitangi
Thomas Shepherd 1842 Waimate married Loiisa Saies, died 1922
Henry Shepherd 1844 Wangaroa married Ellen Hooker, died 1927

James had been born and grew up at Kissing Point, NSW in
Australia.  The following lines came from
an anonymous
source, possibly sometime in the 1840’s.

Kissing Point we dined with Isaac Shepherd, a good old man, who has a
son who
is a missionary in New Zealand  (i.e. James) and a daughter in
Tahiti, the wife
of a missionary by the name of Henry J. Shepherd.  He has resided
in the colony
forty two years and has prospered temporarily as he has grown in grace
in which
he exceeded most of his contemporaries.”

James himself died in New
Zealand in 1882.



Shepherd Names

  • Fleetwood Sheppard was a notable English courtier and literary wit of the late 1600’s. 
  • Thomas Shepard was a prominent Puritan minister in early 17th century New England. 
  • Nan Shepherd was a Scottish novelist and poet whose work first appeared in the 1920’s.   
  • Alan Shepard was an American astronaut,
    the first American to travel in space in 1961. 
  • David Sheppard was a high-profile Anglican Bishop of Liverpool who had played cricket for England as a young man.
  • Sam Shepard is a highly acclaimed American playwright, actor, screenwriter and director. 
  • Cybill Shepherd is a well-known American actress.

Select Shepherd Numbers Today

  • 65,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 51,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 37,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Shepherd and Like Surnames   

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.  These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.




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