Cook Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Cook Surname Meaning

The Old English coc, meaning cook, gives the occupational name of Cook (and also, with the same pronunciation, Coke and Cooke). Cook in medieval times could also have been a seller of cooked meats or a keeper of an eating house.

Cook Surname Resources on The Internet

Cook and Cooke Surname Ancestry

  • from England (East Coast) and Scotland and from Germany (Koch)
  • to America, Canada and New Zealand

England.  Coc was recorded as a name as early as 950. The name Cocus appeared in the Domesday Book and Ralph le Cook was recorded in 1296. Early surname spellings were Coke and Cooke.

East Anglia. The first recorded Coke in Norfolk was William Coke in the town of Swaffham around 1150.

This family became prosperous in the 14th century, but it was not until the time of Sir Edward Coke – considered to be the greatest jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean era – that the Cokes rose to fame and fortune. Sir Edward purchased the Holkham estate in Norfolk in 1609.

In 1764 his descendant Thomas Coke, who had been created the Earl of Leicester, built the grand Holkham Hall that can be seen today. It nearly bankrupted the family.

The Cookes at Lavenham in Suffolk date from the 14th century.  Sir Thomas Cooke was a wealthy draper in London and its Lord Mayor in 1462. He built his home at Gidea Hall near Romford in Essex.  However, he was not long to enjoy it as he was accused and tried for treason. He narrowly escaped with his lands and his life. His great grandson was Anthony Cooke, tutor to Edward VI. A branch of the family resided at Highnam Court in Gloucestershire.

Meanwhile a Cooke family in Buckinghamshire led a Quaker group at their Bow Brickhill home in the mid 1600’s.

Yorkshire. The Cookes of Doncaster in Yorkshire had their beginnings with Robert Cooke of Almholme in the 15th century. His grandson Edward became mayor of Doncaster in 1504.

These Cookes were Royalist during the Civil War. Sir George Cooke was rewarded with a baronetage and built Wheatley Hall.  Henry Cooke acquired the nearby Owston estate in 1698 and his line later became the Davies-Cookes of north Wales. Wheatley remained with the family until 1933,  Owston until 1980.

Captain James Cook, of Scottish roots, was born in 1728 in a small village in Yorkshire (Cooks’ Cottage) and spent his formative years at the coastal port of Whitby.

Cooke and Cook.  The main surname spellings have been Cooke and Cook. At first the spelling was Cooke. But in the 1881 census, the Cookes were being outnumbered almost four to one by the Cooks. The name Cooke, where it appeared, was more in the north. The southeast by then had become Cook country.

Scotland. The Cook name extended into Lowland Scotland and had cropped up in Dunfermline and Edinburgh by the year 1400. Cook family histories have begun in Clackmannan with the birth of John Cook in 1691 and in the Isle of Bute (Argyllshire) with the marriage of Ebenezer and Margaret Cook in 1766.

One famous Cook, Captain James Cook the explorer, had Scottish roots. His father James Cook had been born in 1694 in the rural village of Ednam in Roxburghshire on the Scottish borders. Cook himself was born and grew up in Yorkshire.

Ireland. Cook in Ireland could be an English or Scottish implant or an anglicization of an Irish name.

Cookstown in county Tyrone took its name from the Anglican church lawyer Dr. Allen Cooke who had laid out the basis of the town in 1628. The Cook name in Ulster probably came from the Scottish MacCook or MacCuagh. Cook in Galway was an anglicized form of the Gaelic MacCug, or “son of Hugo.”

America.  Both Cookes and Cooks came to America.

New England.  Early arrivals were:

  • Francis Cooke, a Leiden Separatist, who came to Plymouth Rock on the Mayflower in 1620.
  • Aaron Cooke from Dorset who arrived on the Mary and John in 1630.  His son Nathaniel was one of the first settlers of Windsor, Connecticut twenty years later.
  • Henry Cook from Kent who came in 1638 and settled in Salem, Massachusetts. A later Henry of this family was an early settler in Plymouth, Connecticut.
  • and Ellis Cook who sailed from England in 1640 and a few years later moved to Southampton out on Long Island. He was one of the first settlers in what was then Dutch territory.

The Rev. Samuel Cooke of Bridgeport, Connecticut, born in 1687, was the father of Joseph Platt Cooke, a Revolutionary War officer, and grandfather of Amos Starr Cooke, the man who sailed out from Boston to Hawaii as a missionary in 1837.  He was a co-founder of Castle & Cooke, a company that later invested heavily in Hawaii’s sugar and pineapple plantations.

Virginia.  Mordecai Cooke from Suffolk was in 1647 one of the earliest settlers in Gloucester county.  Mordecai Mount there became the family seat of this local gentry.  Four Mordecai Cookes succeeded him,  Some descendants migrated to Kentucky and Tennessee in the early 1800’s.  William Stubbs’ 1924 book Descendants of Mordecai Cooke traced this family.

Abraham Cook first appeared in New Kent county in 1684.  Later Cooks of this family migrated to North Carolina, Georgia, and to Texas (where Andrew Cook founded the small town of Cookville in 1867).

Cook was later a name in King William county.  Fields Cook, born a slave there, secured his freedom in 1850, and became a Baptist minister.  He was one of the leading African American figures post-bellum in Richmond; while George M. Cook, born there in 1860, was to be the leader of the Palumkey Indian tribe in Virginia.

Elsewhere.  John Cook lived at Cook’s Ferry in Fairfield district, South Carolina at the time of the Revolutionary War.  He fought in the war and took his family to Georgia in 1794.  His son Philip started a plantation there.  Later he was a Confederate general during the Civil War and a post-bellum member of the US Congress.

William Cook migrated from New Jersey to South Carolina in the early 1800’s.  His descendants settled in rural Alabama.  From this line came Tim Cook, the current CEO of Apple.

Koch and Cook.  Kochs started arriving from the Palatinate in Germany in the early 1700’s, mainly into Pennsylvania. Many of them became Cooks, for instance:

  • Hans Koch who arrived in Pennsylvania from Germany with his family in 1741.  Their name changed to Cook around 1764.
  • Adam Koch who came in 1751 and changed his name to Cook soon after arrival.
  • Georg who was born Koch in Cumberland county, Pennsylvania in 1751 but his son George was born Cook there in 1787.
  • while Daniel Cook arrived in Pennsylvania from Germany sometime in the 1770’s.  His son John Cook and grandson Andrew were pioneer lumbermen at Cooksburg in NW Pennsylvania.  Andrew Cook developed the land that is now the Cook Forest State Park.

The Fred Koch who founded Koch Industries in the 1920’s was the son of a Dutch printer who had settled in Texas.  

Canada. Ephraim Cook, descendant of Mayflower passenger Francis Cook, moved from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia in 1761. He built fishing stands at Yarmouth and was instrumental in starting up its fishing industry.

Another Cook – William Cook with his wife Sidney, Scots Irish from Donegal – arrived there from Ireland at the same time. They made their home at the new township of Londonderry in Colchester county.  Interestingly, the famous Captain Cook spent some time in Nova Scotia at this time and the 1762 map of Halifax harbor was his handiwork.

William Cooke came to Canada from London in 1786 in the service of the Hudson Bay Company. He was a fur trader and an early settler in the Red River settlement in 1821.  He died there in 1845 and left a large family of early colonists in western Canada.

New Zealand.  William Cook, a ship’s carpenter from Plymouth, came to New Zealand on a whaler in 1821, met a local girl on the Bay of Islands in North Island and stayed. William and Tiraha raised twelve children there. Grandsons George and Herbert were whalers in their own right and carried on whaling almost to the end of their lives, until 1930.

Tim Cook’s Family Ancestry

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, has a family background in rural Alabama and, before that, ancestors who came south from New Jersey.  Just click below if you want to read more about this history:

Cook Surname Miscellany

The Coke Surname in Norfolk.  The surname Coke in Norfolk has been traced back to a William Coke in the hundred of South Greenhoe, now the Norfolk town of Swaffham, around the year 1150.  The name origin is uncertain, maybe from the occupation of cook or possibly from coc meaning “leader.”  In any case it was not a common surname in the area and there was only one record of this name in the 1400’s.

By that time this family had become a well-regarded one and included in their number an Under-Sheriff and a Norwich merchant.   Edward Coke, the famous jurist, was born in 1552, his father Robert being a London barrister who had built up a strong practice representing clients such as the Townsends from his home area of Norfolk.

The Coke name was pronounced “kuke” in Elizabethan times, but later came to be pronounced as “cook.”

Cooke Quakers in Buckinghamshire.  Early Quaker meetings in Buckinghamshire were held at Hogsty End (now Woburn Sands) around the year 1659.  They were also held at the Bow Brickhill house of Thomas Cooke, born about 1610.  He was the son of William Cooke, one of the four Cooke yeoman farmers known to be holding land in Bow Brickhill in the year 1600.

The Quakers were persecuted before and after the Restoration in 1660 and recorded prosecutions under the heading of “sufferings.”  In 1670 the authorities imposed a fine of £20, to be shared between William Cooke, William Allbright and George Galsey, for illegal meetings at Woburn.  In the 1680’s Cooke father and sons often appeared before the Quarter Sessions for not attending All Saints church.

Thomas Cooke had five children – Thomas, John, William, Edward and Joan.  All were Quakers. The Cooke farmers at Bow Brickhill had prospered, for these were the golden years for the yeoman farmer.  Thomas was able to leave land to all his sons and £100 to his daughter Joan.

By the early 1700’s the Hogsty End Quaker meetings went into decline and there were few Cooke entries in the register.

Cooks’ Cottage.  James Cook, the famous explorer, was born in the small village of Great Ayton in north Yorkshire.  Cooks’ Cottage had been built there in 1755 by his parents James and Grace Cook.

In 1933 the owner of the cottage decided to sell it with a condition of sale that the building remain in England.  She was persuaded to change “England” to “the Empire”, and accepted an Australian bid of £800 by Russell Grimwade, as opposed to the highest local offer of £300.

The cottage was deconstructed brick by brick and packed into 253 cases and 40 barrels, for shipping on board the Port Dunedin from Hull.  Cuttings from ivy that adorned the house were also taken and planted when the house was re-erected in Melbourne.  Grimwade, a local businessman and philanthropist, donated the house to the people of Victoria for the centenary anniversary of the settlement of Melbourne in October 1934.

The cottage immediately became a popular tourist attraction.  In 1978 further restoration work was carried out on the cottage.  An English cottage garden has been established around the house, further adding to its period reconstruction.  Very few of the items in the house are from the Cook family, but all are representative furnishings of the period.

Cook and Cooke Distribution in the 1881 Census.  H..B. Guppy remarked in his 1890 opus Home of Family Names in Great Britain that the names Cook and Cooke were in be found in southern England and down the east coast from Lincolnshire to Kent.  The names were comparatively scarce in the north (which does not seem to be true) and in the southwest of England (which does seem to be true).

The 1881 census showed the following distributions of the Cook and Cooke names.

County (000’s) Cook Cooke Total Cooke %
Yorkshire  4.7  1.6  6.3   25
Lancashire  4.6  2.3  6.9   33
Cheshire  0.9  1.3  2.0   60
Lincolnshire  8.2  0.4  8.6    5
East Anglia  5.6  0.9  6.5   14
London  9.9  1.8 11.7   15
SE England  6.1  1.2  7.3   16
Elsewhere 16.5  6.0 22.5   25
Total 56.5 15.5 72.0   22

By 1881 the Cooke spelling had held up to some degree in the north.  An example of the northern Cookes was the Cooke family of Salford in Lancashire whose son Alistair Cooke, born in 1908, grew up to be the famous radio broadcaster renowned for his Letter from America.

However, the Cooke name was scarce in the south.

Reader Feedback – Cookes from County Mayo to Nova Scotia.  I have the surname Cooke from Aglish Castlebar of county Mayo in Ireland. The names were Anthony or John Anthony Cooke, born around 1797, and wife Kate or Catherine Hennaghan, born in 1814.

Their son was Anthony or John Anthony Cooke with his wife Ellen or Mary Eleanor Brennan. This Anthony was born in 1837 while Ellen was born in 1840. Both were born in Aglish Castlebar. Anthony Junior changed his surname to Nixon in 1858 when he joined the British military from Liverpool in Lancashire.

Anthony Junior and his family ended up in Halifax, Nova Scotia where both parents died in 1881. A reply or any info would be appreciated if anyone knows more information concerning my family.

Sheila Surette (

Cook’s Battle Hymn of the Republic.  In the 19th century the Battle Hymn of the Republic was adapted to fit prominent American surnames of the time, including Cook.  The Cook version had three stanzas of specific references.  They ran as follows:

  • “The Cooks of York, Northumberland, Norfolk, Bedford and Kent,
  • To deeds of valor and of missions of import were sent.
  • And when they pledged their honor everything they said they meant.
  • The clan goes marching on!
  • William, Ellis, Gregory were fathers of our clan.
  • Posterity of Henry and Elijah never ran.
  • Modecai was virile, Nathan was a sturdy man.
  • The clan goes marching on!
  • Sir Samuel was Lord Mayor,  Fred was chaplain to the Queen;
  • James Cook discovered islands which white men had never seen.
  • Cooks love Old Glory, Union Jack, and “Wearin’ of the Green.”
  • The clan goes marching on!”

This Cook version therefore combines English, Irish, and American Cooks.

The early Cook arrivals in America shown here were:

  • Ellis Cook on Long Island (Southampton) and Gregory Cooke in Massachusetts (Newton).  William Cook’s identity is uncertain.
  • Henry Cook settled in Massachusetts (Salem); and Elijah Cook came to America with the Pilgrims and settled in Connecticut.
  • while Mordecai Cooke was the forebear of a Cook family in Virginia and Nathan Cook was one of the first settlers in Windsor, Connecticut.

Ephraim Cook’s Lameness.  In 1755 Ephraim Cook accompanied his father Caleb, a captain of the local militia, in his duties around Kingston, Massachusetts.  While they were building a fort, a log fell and broke his leg, necessitating amputation below the knee.

He could no longer farm and became for a time a surveyor.  But he preferred the sea.  After working as a shoreman and storekeeper in his future father-in law’s fishing vessel, he moved to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in 1761 and erected fishing stands on the beach.

Being lame he required a horse for drawing the fish to and from his stands; and, as water was somewhat distant from his camping home, he procured a stout canoe in which he fixed a barrel.  By these expedients he supplemented the loss of his limb.  He gradually became a man of considerable influence in the township.

Later he had a 40 ton vessel built for fishing and can justifiably be called the father of Yarmouth’s fishing industry. He was the first captain of militia for the area and also served as a Justice of the Peace.  He died in 1821 at the age of 84, leaving behind him “a good substance, a large family, and a fair fame.”

John Cook, Pennsylvanian Outdoorsman.  John Cook was five foot six inches tall, very heavy set, and of great muscular strength. He prided himself on his physique, which he inherited from his father Daniel, a man of wondrous strength.

Many stories were told of them to display their vigor.  On one of his trips to Pittsburgh, Daniel was seen to seize a full barrel of whiskey by the staves projecting beyond the head, raise it to his mouth, and drink from the hole.  On another occasion, as John drove a wagonload of goods up Watterson Hill, the team stalled. Still directing his team, he shouldered a barrel of salt and carried it up the hill.

The Pennsylvania Northwest was a paradise for hunters, and John Cook was a mighty hunter.  In and around Cooksburg were over 50 kinds of wild animals. How many he killed in his lifetime is not known.  But it is recorded that one day in 1830 he killed seven deer, one panther, one wolf, and fifty wild turkeys.

He is said to have kept so many hunting dogs that when visitors called, it was necessary to put the dogs out of the house to accommodate the guests.

Amos Cooke’s Correspondence.  Amos Starr Cooke and his wife Juliette sailed from Boston in 1837 on the Mary Frazier as  missionaries for Hawaii.

After teaching school for two years the King and chiefs of Hawaii requested that they begin a school for their young chiefs.  The Cookes served with the school for ten years, educating many of Hawaii’s leaders.  In 1851 Cooke entered a mercantile business with Samuel Castle, establishing the firm of Castle & Cooke.

There are a total of eight volumes of the Amos Cooke journal.  Volumes One and Two focused on Cooke’s early life and travels around New England.

Volumes Three to Eight gave an account of the voyage and the first days in Honolulu and contained informative material on the history of the Chief’s Children’s School. Entries also recorded the arrival of friends who were entertained by the Cookes, family matters, and other mission activities.

The remaining volumes reported Cooke’s continuing interest in the mission, church, and educational affairs of Honolulu, while he was employed in the mercantile business with Samuel Castle.

Other preserved written materials of the Cookes are the letters written to Amos’s sister Mary Keeler Seeley in Danbury, Connecticut.  The letters from Hawaii started on their arrival in 1837.  The last one was dated 1854, although Amos himself did not die until 1871.

Cook Names

  • Sir Edward Coke from Norfolk was the famous Lord Chief Justice whose writings on the English common law were the definitive legal text for the following 150 years.
  • Captain James Cook was the famous 18th century English explorer of the Pacific.
  • Thomas Cook started the Thomas Cook travel agency in the 1860’s.
  • Alistair Cooke was the British-born American journalist best known for his weekly radio address Letter from America.
  • Sam Cooke from Mississippi was one of the pioneers of soul with his hits of the 1960’s.
  • Peter Cook was the leading figure of the British satire boom of the 1960’s.
  • Tim Cook has been the CEO of Apple since 2011.

Cook Numbers Today

  • 111,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hertfordshire)
  • 118,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 70,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Cook and Like Surnames   

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.  These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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