Shanks History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The ancestors of the first family in ancient Scotland to use the name Shanks lived among the Boernicians. Shanks is a name for a person with long legs, or a peculiar manner of gait. Shanks is a nickname, which belongs to the category of hereditary surnames. Nicknames form a broad and miscellaneous class of surnames, and can refer directly or indirectly to one's personality, physical attributes, mannerisms, or even their habits of dress. It derives from the Old English word sceanca, which means shin bone, or leg. While this word has survived in Scotland, it has been replaced in England, by the Old Norse word leggr, which means leg.

"Shank, in Scotland, is a topographical word, meaning the projecting point of a hill. The family existed in early times in Mid- Lothian, the founder being Murdoch Schank, who is said to have discovered, and taken charge of, the body of Alexander III., King of Scotland, who met his death while hunting in 1286. For this service, Robert Bruce presented him with the lands of Castlerigg." [1]

Early Origins of the Shanks family

The surname Shanks was first found in Midlothian, from the lands of Shank, where the family held a family seat from very ancient times. [2] [3]

They were designated as 'Shank of that Ilk" meaning an ancient Clan who possessed lands of that same name. Murdoch Shank, son of the first recorded chief of the Clan of Shank in Mid Lothian, was granted the lands of Kinghorn in Fife by a Charter from King Robert the Bruce of Scotland in the year 1319 for his allegiance and loyalty of the clan in his fight for the crown of Scotland. [4]

"Thomas Schankis witnessed a charter in the Castle of Cumnock, 1426, and in 1474 John de Schankis appears as charter witness in Glasgow. Stene Schanx, witness in Lanark. 1488, appears two years later as Stene Synkis, and in 1489 James Schankis had remission for his part in holding Dunbertane Castle against the king." [4]

Early History of the Shanks family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Shanks research. Another 209 words (15 lines of text) covering the years 1426, 1490, 1489, 1490, 1643, 1490, 1503, 1508, 1595, 1599, 1712, 1725, 1636, 1620, 1630, 1635, 1740, 1823, 1740, 1758, 1766, 1771, 1776 and are included under the topic Early Shanks History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Shanks Spelling Variations

Over the years, Shanks has been written It appears under these variations because medieval scribes spelled names according to sound rather than by any over-arching set of rules. Shank, Shanke, Schank, Schanke, Shankis, Schankis, Shanks, Shanx, Schanx and many more.

Early Notables of the Shanks family (pre 1700)

Notable amongst the family at this time was John Shank, also spelled Shanke or Shanks (died 1636), an actor in English Renaissance theatre, a leading comedian in the King's Men during the 1620s and 1630s. A long time resident in St. Giles's, Cripplegate, "he speaks of himself in 1635 as an old man, and affirms that he was originally in the company of Lord Pembroke, and afterwards in the companies of Queen Elizabeth, James I, and Charles I. This would place his first appearance in the sixteenth century. " [5] John Schank (1740-1823), the Scottish admiral, born in 1740, son of Alexander...
Another 153 words (11 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Shanks Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Shanks Ranking

In the United States, the name Shanks is the 2,598th most popular surname with an estimated 12,435 people with that name. [6] However, in New Zealand, the name Shanks is ranked the 741st most popular surname with an estimated 975 people with that name. [7]

Ireland Migration of the Shanks family to Ireland

Some of the Shanks family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt.
Another 60 words (4 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.


United States Shanks migration to the United States +

When these Boernician-Scottish settlers arrived in North America they brought little with them and often had restart their lives from scratch. Through time, much of their heritage was lost, and it is only this century through Clan societies and highland games that many have recovered their national heritage. Research into various historical records has revealed some of first members of the Shanks family to immigrate North America:

Shanks Settlers in United States in the 17th Century
  • John Shanks, who landed in Maryland in 1637-1640 [8]
  • Abigail Shanks, who landed in Maryland in 1650 [8]
  • John Shanks, who settled in Virginia in 1650
Shanks Settlers in United States in the 18th Century
  • John Shanks, who arrived in Virginia in 1734
  • Mathew Shanks, who settled in Charles Town, in 1766
  • Mr. Shanks, who settled in Boston in 1768 with his four children
Shanks Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • Archibald Shanks, who landed in New York in 1808 [8]
  • William Shanks, who landed in New York, NY in 1815 [8]
  • Hugh Shanks, who arrived in Arkansas in 1889 [8]

Canada Shanks migration to Canada +

Some of the first settlers of this family name were:

Shanks Settlers in Canada in the 18th Century
  • Andrew Shanks, who arrived in Nova Scotia in 1750
  • Lieut. James Shanks U.E. who settled in Carleton [Saint John City], New Brunswick c. 1784 he served in the Prince of Wales American Volunteers, became a Freeman in 1785 [9]
Shanks Settlers in Canada in the 19th Century
  • George Shanks, aged 30, a farmer, who arrived in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1834 aboard the brig "Ann & Mary" from Cork, Ireland
  • Mr. William Shanks, aged 4 who immigrated to Canada, arriving at the Grosse Isle Quarantine Station in Quebec aboard the ship "Independence" departing from the port of Belfast, Ireland but died on Grosse Isle on 23rd July 1847 [10]

Australia Shanks migration to Australia +

Emigration to Australia followed the First Fleets of convicts, tradespeople and early settlers. Early immigrants include:

Shanks Settlers in Australia in the 19th Century
  • Mr. John Shanks, Jr., British convict who was convicted in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England for 7 years, transported aboard the "Bussorah Merchant" on 1st October 1829, arriving in Tasmania ( Van Diemen's Land) [11]
  • Miss Agnes Shanks who was convicted in Glasgow, Scotland for 7 years, transported aboard the "Cadet" on 10th November 1848, arriving in Tasmania ( Van Diemen's Land) [12]
  • Margaret Shanks, aged 19, a farm servant, who arrived in South Australia in 1853 aboard the ship "Epaminondas" [13]
  • William Shanks, aged 20, a labourer, who arrived in South Australia in 1858 aboard the ship "Storm Cloud"
  • Thomas Green Shanks, aged 40, a farm servant, who arrived in South Australia in 1858 aboard the ship "Frenchman"
  • ... (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

New Zealand Shanks migration to New Zealand +

Emigration to New Zealand followed in the footsteps of the European explorers, such as Captain Cook (1769-70): first came sealers, whalers, missionaries, and traders. By 1838, the British New Zealand Company had begun buying land from the Maori tribes, and selling it to settlers, and, after the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, many British families set out on the arduous six month journey from Britain to Aotearoa to start a new life. Early immigrants include:

Shanks Settlers in New Zealand in the 19th Century
  • Gavin Shanks, who arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Cairngorm" in 1863
  • Elizabeth Shanks, who arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Cairngorm" in 1863
  • Agnes Shanks, who arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Cairngorm" in 1863
  • Robert Shanks, aged 22, a labourer, who arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Helenslee" in 1864
  • Jane Shanks, aged 22, who arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Helenslee" in 1864
  • ... (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

West Indies Shanks migration to West Indies +

The British first settled the British West Indies around 1604. They made many attempts but failed in some to establish settlements on the Islands including Saint Lucia and Grenada. By 1627 they had managed to establish settlements on St. Kitts (St. Christopher) and Barbados, but by 1641 the Spanish had moved in and destroyed some of these including those at Providence Island. The British continued to expand the settlements including setting the First Federation in the British West Indies by 1674; some of the islands include Barbados, Bermuda, Cayman Island, Turks and Caicos, Jamaica and Belize then known as British Honduras. By the 1960's many of the islands became independent after the West Indies Federation which existed from 1958 to 1962 failed due to internal political conflicts. After this a number of Eastern Caribbean islands formed a free association. [14]
Shanks Settlers in West Indies in the 18th Century
  • Edward Shanks, who landed in Jamaica in 1706-1707 [8]

Contemporary Notables of the name Shanks (post 1700) +

  • Hershel Shanks (1930-2021), American founder and long-time editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review
  • Nelson Shanks (1937-2015), American artist and painter, perhaps best known for his portraits of Diana, Princess of Wales and President Bill Clinton
  • Don Shanks (b. 1950), American actor and stuntman
  • Daniel Shanks (1917-1996), American mathematician, best known for being the first to compute pi to 100,000 decimal places
  • Katrina Shanks (b. 1970), New Zealand politician
  • Howard "Howie" Shanks (1890-1941), former Major League Baseball player
  • Edward Shanks (1892-1953), English writer
  • Donald Shanks AO OBE (b. 1940), Australian operatic bass-baritone
  • Don Shanks (b. 1952), British footballer
  • Charles G. Shanks (1841-1895), 19th century journalist and associate editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal
  • ... (Another 3 notables are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

Halifax Explosion
  • Mrs. Shanks, Canadian resident from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada who died in the explosion [15]
  • Mr. John  Shanks, Canadian resident from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada who died in the explosion [15]


The Shanks Motto +

The motto was originally a war cry or slogan. Mottoes first began to be shown with arms in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were not in general use until the 17th century. Thus the oldest coats of arms generally do not include a motto. Mottoes seldom form part of the grant of arms: Under most heraldic authorities, a motto is an optional component of the coat of arms, and can be added to or changed at will; many families have chosen not to display a motto.

Motto: Spero
Motto Translation: I hope.


  1. ^ Lower, Mark Anthony, Patronymica Britannica, A Dictionary of Family Names of the United Kingdom. London: John Russel Smith, 1860. Print.
  2. ^ Smith, Eldson Coles, New Dictionary of American Family Names New York: Harper & Row, 1956. Print
  3. ^ Guppy, Henry Brougham, Homes of Family Names in Great Britain. 1890. Print.
  4. ^ Black, George F., The Surnames of Scotland Their Origin, Meaning and History. New York: New York Public Library, 1946. Print. (ISBN 0-87104-172-3)
  5. ^ Smith, George (ed), Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1885-1900. Print
  6. ^ https://namecensus.com/most_common_surnames.htm
  7. ^ https://forebears.io/new-zealand/surnames
  8. ^ Filby, P. William, Meyer, Mary K., Passenger and immigration lists index : a guide to published arrival records of about 500,000 passengers who came to the United States and Canada in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. 1982-1985 Cumulated Supplements in Four Volumes Detroit, Mich. : Gale Research Co., 1985, Print (ISBN 0-8103-1795-8)
  9. ^ Rubincam, Milton. The Old United Empire Loyalists List. Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc, 1976. (Originally published as; United Empire Loyalists. The Centennial of the Settlement of Upper Canada. Rose Publishing Company, 1885.) ISBN 0-8063-0331-X
  10. ^ Charbonneau, André, and Doris Drolet-Dubé. A Register of Deceased Persons at Sea and on Grosse Île in 1847. The Minister of Canadian Heritage, 1997. ISBN: 0-660-198/1-1997E (p. 55)
  11. ^ Convict Records Voyages to Australia (Retrieved 10th November 2020). Retrieved from https://convictrecords.com.au/ships/bussorah-merchant
  12. ^ Convict Records Voyages to Australia (Retrieved 17th November 2020). Retrieved from https://convictrecords.com.au/ships/cadet/
  13. ^ South Australian Register Monday 26th December 1853. (Retrieved 2010, November 5) Epaminondas 1853. Retrieved http://www.theshipslist.com/ships/australia/epaminondas1853.shtml.
  14. ^ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_West_Indies
  15. ^ Halifax Explosion Book of Remembrance | Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. (Retrieved 2014, June 23) . Retrieved from https://maritimemuseum.novascotia.ca/what-see-do/halifax-explosion/halifax-explosion-book-remembrance


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