Amusing Inquiries Caused by Errors: A Brief Examination into Doyle’s Logic

For those of you who may not know, I use Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation software for everything I write, and I’ve done so since 2004. When you become dependent upon adaptive technology, as I have become due to my physical disability, you learn to deal with the bugs of these programs.

Sometimes, however, the mistakes made by my software lead to some interesting questions.

For example, a while ago I was writing an article about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. Whenever I finish dictating my documents, I do what I call a “dragon edit,” which is when I fix the mistakes made by the program. For the most part, the program records my words with amazing accuracy, but since the program doesn’t possess the human ability to understand context, sometimes the software has issues discerning certain words. For instance, the program just typed the word “contacts” even though I said “context,” but if you say each of these words out loud, you can see how similar they sound, which is why the program confuses them.

Anyhow, during the dragon edit of my Sherlock Holmes article, I noticed that there were several instances throughout the article where my dictation software typed the name Sherlock as “sheer luck.” Initially when I read this mistake I giggled, but then it got me thinking the following question:

SherlockDid Doyle deliberately choose the name because of the homonym between “Sherlock” and “sheer luck”?

As I considered this possibility, I started to think about how others perceived Sherlock Holmes in the stories. Yes – most people thought him to be an arrogant, sociopathic, know-it-all. However, his methods, no matter how mad, resulted in each crime being solved. Since those people watching Sherlock work did not necessarily understand his methods, would they have considered his success a matter of sheer luck?

–I know that I’m talking about the perspectives of non-essential fictional characters, but just play along –

Logically, after solving his first case, people could’ve said it was beginner’s luck. But then after the success of the second case, the third case, and so on, Holmes’ ability could no longer be excused as a matter of sheer luck, but rather sheer brilliance.

Although this train of thought seemed interesting to me, I had to know for certain where the name came from and why Doyle chose it.

According to, Doyle initially had an entirely different name picked out for his beloved character. At first he wanted to call him Sherrinford Hope; in his youth, Doyle had sailed and worked on a ship named Hope, hence his affection for the name. After significant encouragement and complaints about the name from his first wife, Doyle considered changing the name of his detective to Sherrinford Holmes.

Information from the Sherlock Holmes Society of London implies that the last name, Holmes, was most likely in reference to the American doctor Oliver Wendell Holmes; records from point out that Oliver Wendell Holmes was renowned for his ability to combine deductive techniques with the art of medicine.

As for the name Sherlock, the Sherlock Holmes Society of London suggests that it may have been chosen as a tribute to the famous violinist, Alfred Sherlock. If this is the person who Doyle named his character after, it could also explain Sherlock’s musical talents and quirks.

In the end, it seems that Doyle’s method for choosing his character’s name was fairly pragmatic and not altogether too exciting. If Doyle did so deliberately, piecing together the different parts of Holmes’ persona through the different aspects of these namesakes certainly created a fascinating character, don’t get me wrong. Nevertheless, I was expecting the creation of one of the most brilliant characters in fiction to be based upon something slightly more elaborate.


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