This is a very unusual surname. Recorded as Shelf, Shelp and Shelper, it is very rare. We consider that it is probably of Olde English origins, although possibly with some Danish-Viking influence, and appears to originate from the pre 7th century word "scaelf" meaning a hill side. There is a place called Shelf near Halifax in West Yorkshire, recorded in the famous Domesday Book of 1086 as "Scelf", which may have had some influence on the name. However place names are usually by their very nature, "from" names. That is to say that they were names given to strangers, people who had come from somewhere else, and were most easily identified by being called by the name of the place from whence they came. Spelling over the centuries being at best erratic and local dialects very thick, often lead to the development of "sounds like" spellings, some far removed from what they should have been. We cannot offer any explanation for the intrusive letter "p", except that it was sometimes introduced as in the surname Thompson, in some parts of the British Isles as an aid to pronunciation. Early examples of the surname recording include Grace Shelf, recorded in Halifax on April 16th 1682, David Shelper, who married Elizabeth Bryers at Monken Hadley, Hertfordshire, on August 19th 1783, and John Shelp, a witness at St Mary Whitechapel, in the city of London, on August 26th 1860.
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