Shakespeare Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Shakespeare Meaning

The name Shakespeare derived from the Middle English shakken, meaning “brandish” or
“shake,” and  speer or
“spear.”  It would be a nickname for a spearman or a belligerent
person.  Shakespeare
thus not necessarily a good name to have.
Hugh Shakespeare changed his name to Hugh Saunders at Oxford in
“because of its base repute.

spelling of the name
had not settled down by the time
of William Shakespeare.  In his lifetime and for many years after,
his name could be spelt as Shakespear, Shakspeare or Shakspere – as
well as Shakespeare.

Shakespeare Resources on

Shakespeare Ancestry

The first recording of the name was that of William Sakespere in the
old charters of Gloucestershire in 1248.  He may have been the
same William Sakespere who was hanged for theft in the same county in
1284.  By the
16th century, however, the Shakespeare name was to be found much more
frequently in
Warwickshire than anywhere else.

name first appeared in Warwickshire at Wroxall, with Elizabeth
being recorded there in 1417.  John
and Alice Shakespeyre were at Rowington nearby in 1464.

the next century this family was living at Mowsley End in
Rowington.  Thomas Shaxpere held the manor
his death in 1591.  William Shakespeare
was living at Knowle Hall in the 1760’s.

In terms of William Shakespeare’s direct ancestors, the earliest
probable candidate was Richard Shakespeare, recorded in 1535 as a
tenant farmer at Snitterfield near Stratford.  He would have been
William’s grandfather.  The story his son John gave that Richard
his father fought for Henry VII during the Wars of the Roses seems to
have been a contrived one.  Richard died in 1561.  Richard’s
son John moved to Stratford in 1551, prospered and married Mary Arden
of the
Arden gentry family
at Park Hall.  However, John
fell on hard times and had to withdraw from public life in Stratford.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) had no direct descendants.
sister Joan, who died in 1646, was the only member of his family whose
known descendants continue to the present day.  Some suspect that
William might have had an elder brother, John a shoemaker in
Stratford.  But this line is unknown.

Outside of the playwright, one notable Shakespeare line – as reported
Burke’s Peerage – began with
marriage of Humphrey Shakespeare and Elinor Scale in 1649.  They
lived in Ipsley in Warwickshire.  These Shakespeares remained in
Warwickshire until the 19th century when two Baptist ministers,
Benjamin and his son John Howard, made the move to
London.   John’s son Geoffrey Shakespeare was the Liberal MP
for Norwich
in the inter-war years.  He was made a baronet in 1942.

line, commencing with the John Shakespear who married Martha Seeley in
1654, was
London-based.  This family lived for many
generations in Stepney.  John Shakepear
was a London Alderman in the 18th century.
Sir Richard Shakespear saw service with the British army in
India in the
mid-19th century.  Captain
, one of the last of the great Victorian
explorers, made his
name in
Arabia where he was the first westerner to meet its ruler Ibn Saud.

There were also Shakespeare lines to be found at
Kingswinford in Staffordshire and around Breedon-on-the-Hill and Ashby
de la
Zouch in Leicestershire.  In the 1881 census and again a
hundred years later, Shakespeare was still primarily a name of the West
Midlands and of Warwickshire in

Caribbean.  David
Shakespear, from the Stepney line, came to Jamaica as a merchant in the
late 18th
century and settled at Hodges Pen.
Probably through him, there are Afro-Caribbeans who bear the
name. Sly and Robbie is a Jamaican reggae group
where the Robbie is Robbie Shakespeare. 


Shakespeare Miscellany

Shakespeare’s Spelling.  The name Shakespeare has been spelt in an astonishing variety of ways – including Shakspere, Shakespere, Shakkespere, Shaxpere, Shakstaff, Sakspere, Shagspere, Shakeshafte and even Chacsper. The name of John Shakespeare occurred 166 times in the Council Book of the
corporation and it appeared to take sixteen different forms.

Shakespeare himself, in
credited examples of his signature, always wrote “Shakspere.” However, in many formal documents and the
printed signatures to the dedications of his poems and plays that bear
his name,
it generally appeared as Shakespeare.

Shakespeares in Wroxall.  The earliest
mention of a Shakespeare in Wroxall occurred in 1417 when the Manor
seized property formerly held by one Elizabeth Shakespeare, who had
disposed of
this contrary to the customs of the Manor.  Its new occupier
disposed of part of the property, again without recourse to the
manorial court,
this, and the neglect of the property, led to its seizure by the

In the next century there is a succession
of records of Shakespeares in Wroxall, beginning with Isabella
Shakespeare who
was Prioress until about 1507.   Later, Richard Shakespeare was the Bailiff of
and his sister Joan the Sub-Prioress there.  Other
members of the family settled in
Rowington nearby.  J.
W. Ryland in his Records of Wroxall Abbey and Manor
noted that the
Shakespeares in both places used identical seals, indicating their

The Shakespeares and the Ardens.  The Ardens
of Park Hall were local gentry in Warwickshire, a long-established
Catholic family
who (it was said) had been given their land by William the
Conqueror.  Richard
Shakespeare, grandfather to William Shakespeare, was a tenant farmer of
the Ardens,
at the time of Robert Arden and his wife Agnes.  They
had eight daughters, of which Mary Arden
was the youngest.

Mary Arden was sixteen in 1556 when her father died.  He
left her some money and some land in
Wilmecote. This Mary married John
Shakespeare and they became the parents of William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s Descendants.  There are
no direct descendants of William Shakespeare living today.  Shakespeare and his wife Anne had three
children: Susanna, who was born in 1583, and the twins Judith and
Hamnet, who
were born in 1585. Hamnet, a boy, died
in 1596 at 11 years of age.

John Hall in 1607 and had one child, Elizabeth, in 1608.  Although
Elizabeth was married twice (in 1626
to Thomas Nash and in 1649 to John Bernard), she never had any
children.  Judith married Thomas Quiney in
1616 and had
three sons, one of whom died in infancy.  The
other two sons both died unmarried in 1639. 

Shakespeare in the 1881 Census

County Numbers Percent
Warwickshire    260    24
Staffordshire    210    19
Worcestershire    180    17
London     90     8
Elsewhere    350    32
Total   1,090   100

numbers recorded were in Dudley (98) and Birmingham (62) in
Warwickshire and in
Kingswinford (69) in Staffordshire.

Captain William Shakespear in the Arabian Desert.  From 1909 until his death in 1915, Captain William
Shakespear was the British Political Agent in Kuwait. During
that time he became
an experienced desert traveller, getting to know the bedu and joining
them in
hunting with his own salukis and falcon Shalwa.  He gradually extended his travelling and made seven separate
expeditions into the Arabian interior.

became a close friend of Ibn Saud, then the Emir of the Nejd at that
time.  It was Shakespear who arranged for
Ibn Saud
to be photographed for the first time.
Ibn Saud had never seen a camera before. Captain
Shakespear was in
fact a keen photographer and would record his desert explorations.  These photographs are amongst the best known
early images of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, part of an important
collection of
images from a bygone era.

In March 1914, Shakespear began a 2,900-kilometer
journey from Kuwait to Riyadh and on to Aqaba via the Nafud Desert,
which he
mapped and studied in great detail, the first European to do so.

Later in 1914,
the British Government asked him to secure Ibn Saud’s support for the
British-Indian Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force which had just taken
Basra.  The next year
Ibn Saud’s army went into battle against the army of Ibn Rashid.  Shakespear, despite Ibn Saud’s protests,
stayed as an observer and tragically met his death, hit from a distance
by one
of the enemy’s shots, at the Battle of Jarab.

Ibn Saud was deeply saddened by the loss of his friend’s life.  When asked later in life if he could name the
greatest European he had ever met, he replied without hesitation


Shakespeare Names

  • William Shakespeare, born in Stratford-on-Avon in 1564, was the famous playwright.
  • Captain William Shakespear was a Political Agent in
    the Middle East in the early 1900’s and the first westerner to meet the Arabian ruler Ibn Saud.

Shakespeare Numbers Today

  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Warwickshire)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Shakespeare and Like Surnames

These are the names of some literary giants.  If you are interested in the name behind the literary figure, please click on the surname below.




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