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Sheldon Meanings & Origins

Commonly accepted meaning and origin

  • "English: habitational name from any of the various places so called. The main source is probably the one in Derbyshire, recorded in Domesday Book as Scelhadun, formed by the addition of the Old English distinguishing term scylf ‘shelf’ to the place name Haddon (from Old English h?ð ‘heath(er)’ + dun ‘hill’). There are also places called Sheldon in Devon (from Old English scylf ‘shelf’ + denu ‘valley’) and Birmingham (from Old English scylf + dun ‘hill’)."

Source: Dictionary of American Family Names, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-508137-4

  • "(Origin Cornish British) Locality. The spring in the valley, from schell, a spring, and dene, a small valley."

Source: An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names With an Essay on their Derivation and Import; Arthur, William, M.A.; New York, NY: Sheldon, Blake, Bleeker & CO., 1857.

Alternative meaning and origin

"The Scilfings (Scylfingas) are a Scandinavian tribe - Mr. Thorpe thinks Swedes - also referred to in Beowulf. Their name must be derived from a hero Scelf or Scylf (Grimm's Deutsch. Myth. p. 343.) In the Fornald. Sog. the father of the Norse Skiold is called Skelfir, here taking the place of Scef. Scelf, Scylf is from Old Norse skelfa, to strike with fear, and Skelfir is one inspiring fear. Shelley in Suffolk (in Ang. Sax. Scelfleah) and Shelton in Beds. (in Ang. Sax. Scelfdun) are probably formed from the name Scelf. Hence as local names come Shelley and Sheldon."

Source: Robert Ferguson, pg.106, English Surnames: And Their Place in the Teutonic Family (1858)

For more on the Scylfings, see Yngling; the Thorpe mentioned above is Benjamin Thorpe, 19th Century translator of Beowulf.

Sheldon Heraldry and Coat of Arms

A Note on Heraldry

"[...] coats of arms usage rights descend directly from father to son, but not collaterally, for instance, from uncle to nephew. Hence the mere fact a Sheldon rightfully bore a coat of arms does not mean anyone whose name is Sheldon has a right to appropriate it. This right is limited to the direct descendants of the man who rightfully bore the arms. The eldest son could use the design during his father's lifetime, but was required to add a special mark called a "label", which he would remove at his father's death. Younger sons were required to make some permanent change in design for their identification."

Source: Rose Sheldon Newton, SFA Looks at Sheldon Arms, January 1990, Vol. 5, No. 1, page 137, Sheldon Family Association Quarterly, Sheldon Family Association

Five general types of old English Sheldon coats of arms

  1. A fess (a broad horizontal bar) between three Sheldrakes, three varieties.
  2. On a bend, three birds, two varieties.
  3. On a chevron (two diagonal stripes meeting at an angle), three Sheldrakes, on a canton (a region of a field) a rose.
  4. A bend between two crosses.
  5. On a cross an annulet (a little ring).

Source: Rose Sheldon Newton, SFA Looks at Sheldon Arms, January 1990, Vol. 5, No. 1, page 137, Sheldon Family Association Quarterly, Sheldon Family Association

Examples can be seen along the left-hand side of the above linked page.

A Note on the Sheldrake

"The Sheldrake, often used in the Sheldon Coat of Arms as a heraldic charge, is believed to signify the 'shield' meaning of the Sheldon surname because of the shield-like band across the duck's breast.

"It seems that the sheldrake was introduced into heraldry for the express purpose, or for the express pleasure of one Sheldon who was Mayor of London in 1676."

Frances M. Smith (Eleanor Lexington), 'About our Ancestors', (11 June 1922), Enquirer Sunday Magazine

Sheldon Coat of Arms Motto

Optimum pati

Translation: To suffer is best

Source: John Burke, Bernard Burke, and H. Pirie Gordon, 1835, Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, Harvard University


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