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JUST WHO WAS Mrs. Watson referring to when she used the name “James” instead of “John”? See HOLMES CHRONICLER “JAMES” H. WATSON? PART 1. Today in Part 2, we’ll examine evidence on this conundrum based on two sources, Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, 1967, and Klinger’s The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, 2005. Suggestions range from the mundane to the bizarre. I have a favorite one; perhaps you’ll agree. 

James = Hamish. A straightforward suggestion is that Mary is using John’s nickname derived from his middle name Hamish, the Scots rendering of James. According to Wikipedia, the letter J has a wide variety of intonations, including Y in German, H in Spanish, and DZ in English, Hindi, Indonesian, Somali, and Zulu.

James, the Bulldog? At the onset of their friendship, Watson tells Holmes, “I keep a bull pup…” Though never heard from again, could this pup have matured into James, the Watson family bulldog?

Image from

On the other paw er… hand, it has been suggested that Watson was using British Army slang for his revolver.

Webley .45 “British Bull Dog” revolver, c. 1870s. Image from FIREARMS OF THE HOLMESIAN CANON .

Or maybe “keep a bull pup” was 1880’s Indian Army slang for “I have quick fits of temper.” 

Holmes’ Boswell? James Boswell was Samuel Johnson’s famed chronicler. Could Mary have been alluding to Watson being Holmes’ Boswell equivalent?

A Mere Typo? With handwritten manuscripts, there’s some credence given to the idea of a typesetter misreading a scrawled “John” for “James.” Or, it has been suggested, literary agent Conon Doyle may have been misled by the name of a friend of his, James Watson. 

Brothers John and James? One of the more bizarre explanations posits the existence of Watson brothers,  John and James: In the early adventures, Holmes knew the elder brother John. Upon John’s death after “The Reigate Squires,” James chose to masquerade as his brother.

It’s implausible that Holmes would have been deceived by this ruse. Yet what motive could he have had to play along?

Twins John and James? Leslie S. Klinger cites Ian Abram’s suggestion that “there were identical twins named John and James Watson. Abrams proposed that during that fateful day in Afghanistan, John was wounded in the shoulder and James in the leg.”

Note how deftly this solves WATSON’S WAR WOUND

Abram’s argument continues, “It was John who met Holmes at Bart’s in HOLMES’ LONDON and who originally share rooms with him in the Baker Street flat. But later, as his [John’s] practice developed, it was James who would actually occupy the room. It was James who shared the adventure of The Sign of the Four and subsequently married Mary Morstan….”

Mary Watson, née Morstan. Image by Sidney Paget from The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.

Mary Wearing a Freudian Slip? My favorite explanation is Klinger’s citation of evidence from Sherlockians Robert S. Katz and David N. Haugen: “Mary’s ‘James’ in “The Twisted Lip” was not the result of a mistake, typographical error, forgetfulness, or any other previously cited reason. On that quiet evening she had been silently reliving those days of love with her most ardent suitor. During the ensuing turmoil, it was his name ‘James’ she spoke, not that of her new husband.”

Klinger concludes, “That man: James Moriarty!” 

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020 

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