There are two origins for this name - one in the Highlands and another in the Lowlands.
An Old English word "sceaga" (meaning a small wood or thicket) gave rise to the Shaw name in the Lowlands, particularly in Lanarkshire. There were three landowners from there who were forced (along with thousands of others) to sign the "Ragman Roll"> in 1296, swearing loyalty to King Edward I> of England. The name spread across southern Scotland and into Northern England and also Ireland (giving rise, later, to George Bernard Shaw).
In the Highlands, the name came from the Gaelic "sithech" meaning "wolf" and was initially used as a first name but became a surname early in the 13th century. Shaw Macduff, a younger son of Duncan, Thane of Fife (a descendant of Kenneth mac Alpin>) assisted King Malcolm IV in putting down a rebellion in Moray and he was made keeper of Inverness castle. Shaw's grandson was granted land in Rothiemurchus (in Strathspey). His son married a daughter of the Macdonald Lord of Islay in 1291.
The Shaws and their Mackintosh allies supported Robert the Bruce> against the Comyns (Cummings) and took part in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
James Shaw of Rothiemurchus, a descendant of Shaw "Corrfhiaclach" (Bucktooth) is regarded as the first chief of clan Shaw. He was killed at the Battle of Harlaw> in 1411. In the 16th century the Rothiemurchus lands were lost after a Shaw chief murdered his stepfather and the lands were forfeited to the Crown who sold them to the Laird of Grant.
The Shaws of Tordarroch (in Strathnairn, south of Inverness) were known as Clan Ay (meaning children of Shaw) and may have been recognised as the chiefs of the Shaws after the collapse of the Rothiemurchus branch. Certainly it was this line which signed the Clan Chattan bonds of union in the 17th century. Tordarroch was held on a lease from clan Mackintosh who reclaimed the land in the late 18th century but it has since been regained by the chiefs of Clan Ay.
Although the Shaws were part of the clan Chattan confederacy, they became dispersed and spread across the Highlands. Variants of the name (Schiches, Schiochs) appeared in Perthshire, Shiachs in Aberdeenshire and Seath in Fife.
The Shaw clan motto is "Fide et fortudine" which means "By faith and fortitude".
Macay is regarded as a sept (sub-branch) of the Shaw clan.
Shaw was the 85th most frequent surname at the General Register Office> in 1995.
There are Shaw clan Web sites here> and here>.
Return to Index of Clans/Family Histories.
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