The name derives from religious associations, Latinised as 'clericus,' meaning scribe or penman. A Roger clericus is noted in Kelso, Roxburghshire between 1174 and 1178. Nine individuals of the name of Le Clerk rendered homage to Edward I of England in 1296.
Although the name appears regularly in early charters, it is not until the 15th century that it starts to evolve as a proper surname. A Johannes Clerk was Prior of Scone in 1524, and in 1623, Richard Clarke of Montrose was created a Vice-Admiral of Sweden. The name still exists in Sweden and Finland in the form of Klerck. In the Highlands of Scotland, Clark and Clerk are most commonly associated as Sept names of clans Cameron and MacPherson.