Sherman Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Sherman Surname Meaning

The earliest record of Sherman as a surname was Richard Le Sherman of Hythe in Essex who was granted a license to trade in wool in 1274. 

The name was originally an occupational surname for a cloth finisher, one who trimmed the surface of the finest cloth with shears to remove any excess nap.  These Shermans were middleman who bought of cloth from cottage weavers and then sold it at weekly auctions to the clothes makers.  The Shermans of the city of York in the 14th century formed one of the most ancient of all guilds.

The main English spelling variant is Sharman.  The derivation of the word is the Old English schere meaning “shears” or “scissors” plus man implying the person in charge.  German and Dutch spellings of the name are Schuerman, Schuermann and Schuurman.  From these roots came the Yiddish sherman meaning “tailor” and the Jewish Sherman name found in America.

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Sherman and Sharman Surname Ancestry

EnglandSherman, Shearman, and Sharman all exist as surnames in England, with Sharman being the most prevalent.

Early records of the Sherman name were to be found in Essex and East Anglia. Thomas Sherman was a church warden and lawyer who was born and died in Diss in Norfolk in the 15th century. Later Shermans were to be found at Yaxley in Suffolk and Dedham in Essex where Henry Sherman was, appropriately enough, a prosperous clothier.  Philip Sherman embarked from Dedham for the New World in 1634.

Sharman has been more a name of East Anglia stretching north into the East Midlands.  Leicestershire accounted for a number of these Sharmans.  There was a Sharman family of Leicester with a coat of arms dated 1619. The village of Cranoe in Leicestershire had a number of Sharmans living there in the 19th century. Other Sharmans were to be found at Kettering in Northamptonshire. 

America.  Philip Sherman arrived in New England in 1634 with several of his siblings and cousins and settled four years later in Rhode Island.  He became the first Secretary of the new colony.  James S. Sherman, US Vice President under Taft, was a descendant, as were some other famous names.  The lineage was traced in Roy V. Sherman’s 1968 book Descendants of Philip Sherman.

Other early Shermans in America from Dedham were:

  • Captain John Sherman of Watertown in Massachusetts, from whom descended Roger Sherman of Connecticut, a signer of
    the Declaration of Independence
  • Samuel Sherman of Woodbury in Connecticut, from whom descended in Ohio Lincoln’s General William T. Sherman (after whom the Sherman tank was named) and Senator John Sherman of the Sherman Antitrust Act.  
  • and William Sherman of Marshfield, Massachusetts.  Some of his descendants migrated to New Brunswick in Canada, others later moved to Ohio.  Mary Holman’s 1936 book Descendants of William Sherman traced this line.  

From the Watertown line also came Sidney Sherman, a general in the Texas army at the time of the Texas Revolution.

From the Woodbury line also came Loren Sherman, the longtime publisher of The Daily Times of Port Huron in Michigan.  His son Frederick moved to California and started The Daily Independent in Santa Barbara; while his grandson Frederick was a highly decorated admiral of the US Navy during
World War Two.

Later the Sherman numbers in America were boosted by Jewish Sherman immigrants.  Notable Shermans here have been Al Sherman and his sons the Sherman Brothers, writers of musical scores, and the comedy writer and singer of the 1960’s, Allan Sherman.

Canada.  Caleb Sherman from New England was granted land in what became Salisbury, New Brunswick as early as 1764.  Their family intermarried with the Beck family and their home, now known as Beck House, still stands.  Francis Sherman, born much later in Fredericton in 1871 of seafaring stock, was a bank manager who achieved some local renown as a poet.

Ben Sherman came to Toronto in 1905 from Kiev in the Russian empire. He worked at his hardware store until his death there at the age of 111 in 1982.

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Sherman and Sharman Surname Miscellany

Sherman, Shearman and Sharman.  The table below shows the approximate numbers of Shermans, Shearmans, and Sharmans around today.

Numbers (000’s) Sherman Shearman Sharman
UK     3     2     8
America    26
Elsewhere     4     1     3

Sherman and Sharman in England.  Within England, Sharman is a name mainly to be found in East Anglia and the East Midlands.  Half of all Sharmans in the British Isles live within 25 miles of a straight line from Manchester to Ipswich.  The concentration in the east coincides well with one of the main areas of England where woollen cloth was produced in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.

If Sharmans snuggle close to the fens, Shermans inhabit the home counties. Ipswich, which lies just outside the northern tip of this triangle, has the single greatest concentration of Shermans, just as it has a particularly high concentration of Sharmans.

Why the territorial division between Shermans and Sharmans? Perhaps it is the result of the pronunciation difference between the home counties and lands further north.

Philip Sherman in Rhode island.  Roger Williams, banished from the Massachusetts colony, came to Rhode Island in 1636 and bought land from the Indians there.  Philip Sherman came two years later for the same reason.  He and other dissidents signed what became known as the Portsmouth Compact for the creation of a new non-sectarian form of government. In 1639 Philip Sherman was chosen as the first Secretary of the new colony of Rhode Island.

Philip became the town clerk for Portsmouth, Rhode Island in 1644. The early records that he prepared still remain in Portsmouth and show him to have been a very neat and expert penman, as well as an educated person.  He died in Portsmouth in 1687 at the age of seventy six.

William T. Sherman’s Lineage.  The memoirs of General William T. Sherman, written by himself, said the following about his ancestry:

“According to Cotheran in his History of Ancient Woodbury in Connecticut, the Sherman family came from Dedham in Essex.  The first recorded name was that of Edmond Sherman, with his three sons, Edmond, Samuel, and John, who were in Boston before 1630; and further, it is distinctly recorded that Hon. Samuel Sherman, Rev. John Sherman, his brother, and Capt. John. his first cousin, arrived from Dedham in 1634. Samuel afterwards married Sarah Mitchell, who had come in the same ship from England and finally settled in Stratford, Connecticut.  The other two Johns located at Watertown, Massachusetts.

From Captain John Sherman, the cousin, descended Roger Sherman, the signer of the Declaration of Independence.  Our own family were descended from the Hon. Samuel Sherman and his son, the Rev. John Sherman, born in 1650; then another John Sherman, born in 1687; the Judge Daniel Sherman, born in 1721; then Taylor Sherman, our grandfather, who was born in 1758.

Taylor Sherman was a lawyer and judge in Norwalk, Connecticut
where he resided until his death in 1815,  He left a widow, Betsey Stoddard Sherman, and three children, Charles R. (our father), Daniel, and Betsey.”

William Tecumseh Sherman.  Sherman’s unusual given name has always attracted considerable attention. Sherman reported that his middle name came from his father having “caught a fancy for the great chief of the Shawnees, Tecumseh.

Since an account in a 1932 biography about Sherman, it has often been reported that, as an infant, Sherman had been named
simply Tecumseh.  According to these accounts, Sherman only acquired the name William at age nine or ten, after being taken into care in the Ewing household.  His foster mother Maria Ewing of Irish ancestry was a devout Catholic and Sherman was baptized by a Dominican priest who named him William after a saint’s day.

However, scholars believe this account may be a myth.  Sherman
wrote in his Memoirs that his father named him William Tecumseh.  He said that he was baptized by a Presbyterian minister as an infant and given the name William at that time.  As an adult, Sherman signed all his correspondence, including that to his wife, as W.T. Sherman.  His friends and family always called him Cump. 

Al Sherman Comes to America.  Al Sherman was born into a Jewish musical family in Kiev,  His father Samuel fled a Cossack pogrom in 1903, settling in Prague and eventually finding success as a concertmaster and court composer.

As a young boy, Al would stand in the wings to hear his father play for the Bohemian Emperor.  Once, when Al was about six years old, the Emperor sent guards to find out who was rustling around behind the curtains. He then asked the frightened boy to sit on his knee for the duration of the concert.

In 1909 Samuel decided to take his family to America.  But in America Samuel’s luck turned, this time for the worse.  In New York he was just another out-of-work musician.  The pressure became too much and he left his family.  At the age of 13, Al became the man of the family and quit school to work.

Despite his youth and scant knowledge of English, his natural talent for piano improvisation soon earned him a reputation as a top pianist for the mood music of silent moves. In 1916 he had even begun to appear in silent films himself.  Al’s composing career began in 1918 when he became a staff pianist for the Remick Music Company, working with such luminaries as George Gershwin.

Ben Sherman in Toronto.  Born in Kiev in 1871, Ben Sherman came to Toronto in 1905. He was a tinsmith, working in a shop on Elizabeth Street which was the heart of the Jewish area in the early years of the 20th century.  He later established the Sherman hardware store on Queen Street West.

His family held a big party for him at the synagogue when he turned 100 years of age.  He was still working. On a normal work day Ben would carry out the sidewalk display, climb up and down stairs for stock, serve customers in three languages, and punch out the orders at the cash register.  “Work is my medicine,” he would say.   He had never been in hospital.  He had never smoked, although he did enjoy a shot of schnapps before lunch and dinner.  That, his daughter said, was his other secret for a long life.

Active to the last, Ben died in 1982 at the age of 111.

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Sherman Names
  • General William T. Sherman was Lincoln’s victorious general during the Civil War.  
  • John Sherman was the US Senator of Ohio who introduced the Sherman Antitrust Act. 
  • Sidney Sherman was a hero of the Texas Revolution that liberated Texas from Mexico.   
  • Al Sherman was a Jewish American songwriter of the early 20th century and the first of a family of Shermans in the music business.
Sherman Numbers Today
  • 13,000 in the UK (most numerous in Leicestershire)
  • 27,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 8,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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