Cornish surnames of the far west and the far east

One might be excused for assuming that the surname Sangwin must have a Cornish language derivation – gwin meaning white. However, its past geography quickly dispels such a notion. John Sangwin was found at Launcells, on the border with Devon, in 1525. The surname was recorded as early as the 1270s at Whimple in east Devon, where it was previously used as a first name. Presumably this was a nickname from the Old French/Middle English word sanguine, meaning an optimistic or cheery sort of person. If so, optimism seems to have been confined to the very margins of Cornwall. The surname flourished from the 1500s to the 1700s in just two districts, the far north east and an area to the south of Launceston. In 1861 half of the Sangwins were still living in the Stratton district.

Captain Sampson Shakerley was buried at St Just in Penwith in 1681. Before this his surname was unknown in Cornwall. The captain – it’s not clear whether he was a naval, military or a mining captain – must have brought his family with him, as Mary Shakerley was married at St Just in 1686 and the name then made a regular appearance in the St Just parish registers. It remained confined there into the 1800s. It appears that the Shakerleys arrived in St Just in the 1600s and then stayed put for over a century before tentatively venturing into the less civilised parts of Cornwall. There is a place called Shakerley in Lancashire, near Leigh. Did the Cornish Shakerleys come from there? Any information would be very welcome.

In contrast, some surnames showed very little propensity to migrate. Shearm is one. The meaning of this name is unclear – is it an occupational name with a link to shear, as in shearing sheep? But its geography is very clear. There were several Schermes in 1525, all living in the far north east of Cornwall. Where they stayed. All but one Sherme or Shearm family was still there in 1641 and even in 1861 three of the five Shearm families were found in the parishes of Stratton, Poughill and Kilkhampton.

9 thoughts on “Cornish surnames of the far west and the far east

  1. Regarding “Scherm” this has obvious German connotations due to the “sch” bit. No such word in this spelling exists today, but I checked online. In dialect (low Dutch/German) it means chamberpot! There is a rather funny rhyme about the happiness of someone sitting on a chamberpot which I can read but is hard to translate amusingly on this use of the word (and perhaps I should spare the reader!). However, the meaning is much more likely to mean ‘screen’ as in room divider, TV /computer screen, etc. Today in German this word is rendered as “Schirm”.

    Perhaps the meaning refers to the occupation of someone who made screens, and was of German or Dutch origin (particularly around the area of the current border between both nations which has a very similar and distinctive dialect).


    1. Nice theory, Cathy, but the spelling of as was quite common in middle English and doesn’t imply any link to the contemporaneous German language other than common origins.


      1. It is obvious that as English is mostly a Germanic language that words can be similar across modern German, Dutch and English, and that some forms which are now archaic in English still persist in German or Dutch today – and often in dialect.

        I still think that one cannot dismiss the basic point of my contribution which is that the owner of this name was someone who made screens of various kinds.


  2. Just found your article. I have Shakerley in my ancestry. Arrived in St Just 1600’s and they are related to the Shakerleys of Lancashire and Cheshire. My research notes not to hand but I am sure they were here before Sampson. The name means woodland/glade in robbers’ wood. I am not aware of any male line Shakerley still alive but there might be one somewhere in the world! The line of the current Baronet has a break – the heiress in the early 1800’s married and her husband took the surname.


      1. I must correct that -1580 was not confirmed for him. Marriage 1605. But 2 children baptised in 1612 and 1614. Baptism of Sampson in 1609. A Sampson Shakerley was a Captain in the Royalist Army.


  3. Shakerley. Article in this year’s RIC Journal by Trevor Newman (who he?) – a William Shakerli was living on Bryher in 1603


  4. Hi Sandy We are related to the Shackerley family. My grandmother was Harriet Ann Shackerley from St Just. She married William Bennetts of Penzance. We combined the names so as not to lose Shackerley. So we are known as the Shackerley-Bennetts.


  5. Hi Sandy just seen your comment about the Shackerleys’. My grandmother Harriet Ann Shackerley came from St Just and married my grandfather William Bennetts from Penzance. So the name wouldn’t be lost we joined them together. We are known as the Shackerley-Bennetts.


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