Shepherd Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Shepherd Surname 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 Schaefer.

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 Surname Resources on The Internet

Shepherd, Sheppard and Shepard Surname Ancestry

  • from England and NE Scotland
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

EnglandShepherd 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, both 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 Michinhampton 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.  

And 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 them.

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 near Kendal.  Arthur Shepherd, Westmorland’s oldest magistrate, died there in 1909. His grandson Arthur Shepherd, 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 there was at the marriage of Lanvrenic Shepheard and Marie de Quetteville at Grouville in Jersey in 1703.

Scotland.  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 transported to the American colonies.  Dr. John Leege Shepherd departed Aberdeen for Iowa sometime in the 1880’s; while Nan Shepherd, born just outside Aberdeen in 1893, made her name as a writer and poet in Scotland.

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 England – 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 three 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.

Thomas 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 Cambridge, 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 killed by a shark in Boston harbor. John’s grandson William, whose statue can be found in Westfield, distinguished himself 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 space 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.

William 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. 

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

Canada.  There were early Shepherds at Harbour Grace in Newfoundland, beginning with Francis Shepheard from the Channel Island of 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.  James Shepherd was convicted of horse stealing in Surrey in 1785 and spent six years in cramped convict quarters 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.

New Zealand.  From Kissing Point came Isaac Shepherd a farmer and his son James Shepherd an Anglican missionary.  “James Shepherd and his family advertised in the Sydney Gazette in 1821 that they were soon to leave the colony in the Brig Hope for New Zealand as missionaries.”   

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

Shepherd, Sheppard and Shepard Surname 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:

Shepherd, Sheppard. 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 of England (Sheppard) in the contiguous counties of Somerset and Gloucester.

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 three 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, Cumbria. 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 – like 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 Couronne.

The 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. Eluding the 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 Jacob.

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 increased 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 then 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 little daughter in charge of a neighbor and enlisted as a soldier in Captain Caleb 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, recalled:

“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 to 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 cornfield. 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.

“At 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.

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)

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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Written by Colin Shelley

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