SHAW Surname Meaning and Family History

What does the last name Shaw mean?

The Shaw surname most commonly means clearing in the wood.
Karen McCririck / Getty Images

The Shaw surname means thicket, small wood, or clearing in the trees from the Middle English s(c)hage, s(c)hawe (Old English sceaga). It is also an English or Scottish topographic surname for someone who lived near a copse or thicket.

Shaw may also have derived as an English form of any of the Gaelic surnames derived from the personal name Sitheach, meaning "wolf," or similar sounding Irish surnames such as O'Shea or Shee.

Surname Origin: English, Scottish

Alternate Surname Spellings: SHEACH

Famous People with the SHAW Surname

  • George Bernard Shaw – Irish author and playwright
  • Artie Shaw – American songwriter, best known as a 1930's and 1940's jazz bandleader and clarinetist
  • Sam Shaw – American photographer; best known for his iconic images of stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando
  • Anna Howard Shaw – Born in England, Anna Howard Shaw was the first female minister in the Methodist Protestant Church and very active in women's suffrage.
  • Robert Shaw – American conductor

Where Is the SHAW Surname Most Common?

The Shaw surname, according to surname distribution information from Forebears, is the 820th most common surname in the world. It is most prevalent today in India, but is used by the greatest percentage of the population in countries such as England (ranked 63rd), New Zealand (62nd), Scotland (91st), and Australia (93rd).

WorldNames PublicProfiler indicates the Shaw surname is especially common in the United Kingdom, found most frequently in the northern England regions of North West, East Midlands and Yorkshire and Humberside. It is also fairly common in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Within North America, individuals named Shaw are found most commonly in Maine and Nova Scotia. 

Genealogy Resources for the Surname SHAW

  • Shaw Surname DNA Project: Over 300 members have joined this Y-DNA project to work together to use DNA testing along with traditional genealogy research to help determine Shaw origins and distinguish between various Shaw lines.
  • SHAW Family Genealogy Forum: This free message board is focused on descendants of Shaw ancestors around the world. Search the forum for posts about your Shaw ancestors, or join the forum and post your own queries. 
  • FamilySearch - SHAW Genealogy: Explore over 4.4 million results from digitized historical records and lineage-linked family trees related to the Shaw surname on this free website hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • GeneaNet - Shaw Records: GeneaNet includes archival records, family trees, and other resources for individuals with the Shaw surname, with a concentration on records and families from France and other European countries.

Resources and Further Reading

  • Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967.
  • Dorward, David. Scottish Surnames. Collins Celtic (Pocket edition), 1998.
  • Fucilla, Joseph. Our Italian Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 2003.
  • Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Hanks, Patrick. Dictionary of American Family Names. Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Reaney, P.H. A Dictionary of English Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Smith, Elsdon C. American Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.