The Naming of John H. Watson, M.D.

Is it possible to discover Watson’s full name? Ormond Sacker is crossed out and replaced with John H. Watson, M.D. in the original notes for what eventually became part of the title of chapter one of ‘A Study in Scarlet’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle{1}, and the only other time the latter name appears in the stories is early in ‘The Problem of Thor Bridge.’ Perhaps, as Dorothy L. Sayers first speculated, the H stands for Hamish – Scottish for James – which would explain why Watson’s wife called him James in ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip.’ Could it be a coincidence that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle knew a man named Dr. James Watson{2}? These three occurrences are the only times the character is called something other than just Watson. No wonder no one seems to know his full name.

The reader finds out early in ‘The Sign of Four’ something about Watson’s family. Both his deceased older brother’s first initial and his deceased father’s first initial are H. Perhaps the following list of names, which appear in the stories, could provide some insight into the three Watson’s name(s) beginning with H:

Francis Hay Moulton in ‘The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor’
Henry Ward Beecher in ‘The Cardboard Box’ (whom Watson admired enough to have his portrait on the wall)
John Hector McFarlane ‘The Adventure of the Norwood Builder’
John Hopley Neligan in ‘The Adventure of Black Peter’
Arthur H. Staunton ‘The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter’
James H. Scott in ‘The Valley of Fear’

We may never know Watson’s full name, but it may be just as well because the speculation can continue unhindered. What is your opinion on the matter?

1. Conan Doyle Manuscripts: A Study in Scarlet, compiled by Randall Stock

2. Elementary, my dear brother: The case of the Masonic career of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is investigated by Yasha Beresiner

NEXT WEEK: Can Sherlock Holmes read minds?


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