Its source is scir leah, an Old English name meaning "Sunny glade."
Beginning its existence as a British aristocratic surname, Shirley was first used as a personal name for males. Two influential females changed all that.
In Charlotte Brontë's 1849 novel Shirley, the title character was given the name because her parents wanted a boy.
What Brontë began, a certain Miss Shirley Temple finished. This little powerhouse brought her irresistible face and voice, her acting and dancing skill, and her name into the movie theatres and hearts of America and Britain. In the wake of her overwhelming fame, the name Shirley has become overwhelmingly feminized (except in a few holdout areas in the British Midlands). Stars Shirley MacLaine, Shirley Jones and Shirley Booth have continued the trend.