Recorded as "Shakshaft" and "Shakeshaft", this is one of a group of English medieval surnames including, Shakespeare, Shacklock, Shakelance and Shakespur, which are almost certainly nicknames for soldiers. However, this is not proven and many eminent researchers have suggested that given the medieval propensity for robust and satirical descriptions, other explanations on its origin could be made. What is certain is that the name is built up of the elements "schaken" meaning "to brandish" plus the Olde English "sceaft", a spear or lance.
It is believed that the name was first found in Nottinghamshire where the Shakeshafts were seated from very early times and were granted lands by Duke William of Normandy, their liege Lord, for their distinguished assistance at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 A.D.
The surname was first recorded in the 14th Century and it is found widely in England, again confirming the "soldier" theory. Recordings from England include: William Shakeshaft, who appeared in the Preston Guild Rolls of 1542 as a Burgess, and Henry Shakeshaft, recorded in Hearth Tax Rolls of Suffolk in 1674. Earlier, in 1617, Henry Shakeshaft of Warrington had his will registered at Chester.
The name was first recorded in London on August 28th 1622, when Anne Shakeshaft was christened at St. Mary Maydalene, Fish Street. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William Shakeshaft which was dated 1332, in the "Subsidy Rolls of Lancashire", during the reign of King Edward 1, known as "The Father of the Navy", 1327 - 1377.
Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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