Shearer — What’s in a Name?

There are numerous Shearer lines in America, not to mention Scotland, England, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia . . .   There are also German Shearer families in America, most of whom descended from colonial settlers in Pennsylvania.

Many American Shearer families originated in Scotland or in northern Ireland, where numerous Scots located before their descendants moved to the British colonies on the west side of the Atlantic.

The many variant spellings of the Shearer name include, among others, Sherer, Shirer, Sherror, Sharror, and Sherrow.  It is an occupational name, like Smith, Baker, or Farmer.   However, there is some disagreement as to what a “shearer” did. Shearers may have sheared sheep, but some name authorities state that shearers used scissors to “shear off” or finish off rough tweed cloth, an important manufacture in Scotland several centuries ago.

Is there a clan Shearer, or is the name Shearer a “sept,” or allied family?

Some sources show Shearer as a family allied with Clan MacDuff. Others show a link to Fife and Aberdeen in the 14th Century, or from Aberdeenshire in general.  Some American colonists named Shearer emigrated from northern Ireland as well.

There is also a (probably modern) tartan for the surname Shearer (Shearer of Alva). It is shown on the Scottish Register of Tartans:

Finally, here is what one member of the Shearer family provides on

From: “John Shearer” <email suppressed>Subject: [SHEARER] Tartan

Date: Wed, 12 Mar 2003 22:03:55 -0000

Hello Clan,

The surname Shearer has an occupational origin and is derived from the word ‘Scerare’ meaning one who dresses the pile of cloth.  The English equivalent of our name is Sherman, from Shearman.

The earliest record of the name in Scotland is from 1316, when William Shearer was a Baillie of Berwick.   In 1399 John Shearer was a Bailiff and Burgess of Aberdeen.  In 1405 another John Shearer was Chaplain of the Order of St Ninian.  A William Shearer was a Burgess of Aberdeen in 1451.  John Shearer was Archdeacon of Ross in 1503.

The Shearers I am descended from moved to Glasgow from Thurso before the Battle  of Waterloo.

The name is common in Caithness and in the Orkney Islands.

I am sorry to disappoint you all but I don’t think we have ever had a tartan and in case this disappoints any of you too much please bear in mind that most tartans were invented a couple of hundred years ago or less.Our famous people include Moira Shearer the famous ballerina, Norma Shearer the famous actress and Allan Shearer the last Captain of England’s football team and current captain of Newcastle.

John Shearer

(I hope John doesn’t mind our quoting him fully.)