Read PART I: CHAPTER I of Shakespeare's Family , free online book, by Mrs. C. C. Stopes, on


The origin of the name of “Shakespeare” is hidden in the mists of antiquity. Writers in Notes and Queries have formed it from Sigisbert, or from Jacques Pierre, or from “Haste-vibrans.” Whatever it was at its initiation, it may safely be held to have been an intentionally significant appellation in later years. That it referred to feats of arms may be argued from analogy. Italian heraldry illustrates a name with an exactly similar meaning and use in the Italian language, that of Crollalanza.

English authors use it as an example of their theories. Verstegan says: “Breakspear, Shakespeare, and the like, have bin surnames imposed upon the first bearers of them for valour and feates of armes; and Camden also notes: “Some are named from that they carried, as Palmer ... Long-sword, Broadspear, and in some respects Shakespear.”

In “The Polydoron" it is stated that “Names were first questionlesse given for distinction, facultie, consanguinity, desert, quality ... as Armestrong, Shakespeare, of high quality.”

That it was so understood by his contemporaries we may learn from Spensers allusion, evidently intended for him, seeing no other poet of his time had an heroic name":

“And there, though last, not least is Aetion;
A gentler shepherd may nowhere be found,
Whose Muse, full of high thought’s invention,
Doth like himself heroically sound.”

If the parts of the name be significant, I take it that the correct spelling at any period is that of the contemporary spelling of the parts. Therefore, when spear was spelt “spere,” the cognomen should be spelt “Shakespere”; when spear was spelt “speare,” as it was in the sixteenth century, the name should be spelt “Shakespeare.” Other methods of spelling depended upon the taste or education of the writers, during transition periods, when they seemed actually to prefer varieties, as one sometimes finds a proper name spelt in three different ways by the same writer on the same page. “Shakespeare” was the contemporary form of the name that the author himself passed in correcting the proofs of the “first heirs of his invention” in 1593 and 1594; and “Shakespeare” was the Court spelling of the period, as may be seen by the first official record of the name. When Mary, Countess of Southampton, made out the accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber after the death of her second husband, Sir Thomas Heneage, in 1594, she wrote: “To William Kempe, William Shakespeare, and Richard Burbage,” etc.

I know that Dr. Furnivall wrote anathemas against those who dared to spell the name thus, while the poet wrote it otherwise. But a man’s spelling of his own name counted very little then. He might have held romantically to the quainter spelling of the olden time as many others did, such as “Duddeley,” “Crumwell,” “Elmer.”