What does Shakespeare Mean?

It’s funny. I’ve thought a lot about what words mean, particularly names. Even more particularly, names which are clearly interesting or unusual. And I’ve thought a lot about William Shakespeare. But I’ve never thought about his surname before.

I think that’s because the name is so closely associated with the playwright that we forget that it is in fact a surname, shared by many other people, with its own origin and meaning, and not simply a synonym for greatest writer in the English language.

I did think about it today though, when talking to an Italian woman whose surname was Crollalanza. I commented that that was an interesting surname that I’d never encountered before, and she told me that it’s the Italian for Shakespeare. Straight away I knew what I’d be writing about tonight! Walking back to my office, I began to think about how Crollalanza might translate to Shakespeare. …lanza, that sounds like lance, which is similar to a spear, and also launch, which is what you do with a spear.

Crolla didn’t ring a bell, but spear…


Could Shakespeare simply mean… shake spear? To shake a spear? It had never occurred to me before, but then I’d never thought about the name before. Of course, it must, it’s so simple!

And it does! Well, specifically it was used to refer to a spearman, but the shake part is indeed the verb to shake, just with the older meaning of to brandish or flourish. So, one of William Shakespeare’s ancestors must have been a renowned spearman, to have been granted the surname Shakespeare.

It’s funny that the name was hiding in plain sight all this time, but I simply never thought to treat it like I would any other name and try to figure out its etymology. I suppose it’s a testament to Shakespeare’s greatness that I never thought of it as simply a name.

Crolla, by the way, wouldn’t mean much to the average Italian either, because the name Crollalanza is a slight shortening of Scrollalanza, which does literally translate to Shakespeare. Looking this up by the way, led me to discover the theory that Italian author Michelangelo Florio, nicknamed Crollalanza, was the true author of many of the works attributed to Shakespeare. Personally I think this theory, like the others that suggest Shakespeare never wrote his works, is nonsense, but I’m glad that a brief chance encounter has led me to all this new knowledge!

21 thoughts on “What does Shakespeare Mean?

      • Leading of course to the accepted presumption that Shakespeare was among the poets employed by the King in his King James translation of the Bible–definitely a fine example of the versatility of expression of the English language after Renaissance prettification. At the expense of an accurate translation, some say, but a centuries-long run of ringing majestically from the pulpit.

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  1. Those of us with Ger- and Gar- names also enjoy the spear-name. Gerhardt/Gerard/Garrett/Jarrett = mighty spear. Ger-lach (Garlock) = spear-play, whatever that may actually mean. Spear-tournament? Lives at the place of spear-practice?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this analysis of his name! There were actually many spellings, and even Shakespeare himself signed his name as Shaxper, etc. However, when it came time to officially record the name in history, he (or his folio editors) probably knew that the connotation of “shake a spear” would certainly be the most memorable!

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