Since the village of Renishaw in Derbyshire, England is likely to be one origin of the surname RENSHAW, I thought it might be useful to look at the history of the place-name as well as the surname.
In The Place Names of Derbyshire published by the English Place-Name Society in 1959, they show that the place Renishaw has been identified in ancient documents dating from 1216 onwards:
The book says that the name means ‘Reynold’s copse’, the shaw part deriving from Saxon ‘sceaga’ (copse) and the Reynold part from Old German ‘Reginald’. Since there is nothing French in the name, it seems possible it dates from pre-Norman times. The 1086 Domesday survey is not much help to us. In Eckington parish the only place-name given that could possibly be Renishaw is ‘Ravensholme’ but all the spellings in the list above lean towards the place being known as ‘Reynold’s shawe’ rather than ‘ravens’ anything. The ‘Reynold’ attribution could explain why the early versions of the surname so often had REYN- at the beginning.
In contrast, my Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames (1997) states that variants of the surname are: RAVENSHAW, RAVENSHEAR, RAMSHAW, RAMSHIRE, RAMSHAW, RENSHAW, RENSHALL, RENSHELL, and that the name means ‘dweller by the raven wood’ as at Ravenshaw in Warwickshire and Renishaw in Derbyshire. It gives these examples:
Stephen de Ravenshagh 1332 (Lancs Subsidy Roll)
Ralph Raynshae or Renshae 1548, 1561 (Cheshire)
Robert RAVENSHAW, RAMSHAW 1606, 1617 (Cheshire)
Randle RENSHAW 1613 (Cheshire)
John RENSHALL 1679 (Cheshire)
Recently I found another early example of our surname at the ICMA Centre’s website for their research into The Soldier in Later Medieval England (1369-1453). In their Muster Roll database, a Thomas REYNSHAWE is listed, a man-at-arms for John Vere, Earl of Oxford under commander Richard Duke of York on an expedition to France in 1441. Also in the database are 10 people with the surname RAVENSHAW or similar spellings.
Taking all these details into account, I’ve come round even more firmly than before to thinking there were at least two origins for the surname, with one group based on Ravenshaw in Warwickshire and another derived from Renishaw in Derbyshire. There could be other separate groups too – RAMSHAW is a strong candidate for a different origin and in Staffordshire there are RANSHAWs that have always been RANSHAWs and never written as anything else even in early documents. DNA testing shows that one or more RAMSHAWs do not match RENSHAWs and at least one RANSHAW doesn’t match either. DNA of OLLERENSHAWs is also distinct from RENSHAWs and it’s virtually certain that surname derives from the place Ollerenshaw on the Derbyshire/Cheshire border. So far, however, we haven’t had a RAVENSHAW candidate to test so if there’s anyone out there called RAVENSHAW who would like to help us out….