Cooper Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Cooper Surname Meaning

Cooper is an English occupational name for a maker and repairer of wooden vessels such as barrels, tubs, buckets, casks, and vats.

It comes from the Middle English couper, cowper (and also from the Middle Dutch kuper, a derivative of kup ‘tub’, ‘container’, which was borrowed independently into English as coop).  Cooper may in fact also be an anglicized form of the Dutch Kuiper or Coper (meaning a buyer or merchant). The prevalence of this surname bears witness to the fact that it was one of the chief specialist trades in the Middle Ages in Europe.

Cooper and Cowper are the two main spellings of the surname. William Cowper, the 18th century poet, always insisted that his name should be pronounced “Cooper.”

Cooper Surname Resources on The Internet

Cooper and Cowper Surname Ancestry

  • from England and Scotland
  • to America and Australia

England.  A Cooper family, originally Cupper, acquired the Pawlett manor in Somerset in 1531 and later married into the wealthy Ashley family. From the Ashley Coopers came:

  • the 17th century politician Anthony Ashley Cooper, the first Earl of Shaftesbury, who was a prominent politician in England at the time of the Restoration.
  • and his 19th century namesake, the seventh Earl of Sheftesbury, a leader in the movement for factory and child labor reform.

SE England.  John Cowper was married at Strood in Sussex in 1467 and was the ancestor of the Cowpers of Cornhill in London:

  • John Cowper, Sheriff of London and resident of Cornhill in 1551
  • and Sir William Cowper who acquired Ratling Court at Nonington in Kent in 1628.

William Cowper of this family was Britain’s first Lord Chancellor in the early 1700’s and was made Earl Cowper. From this family also came the Rev. John Cowper, rector at Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, and his son William Cowper the poet.

There were later Coopers at Berkhamsted, beginning with William Cooper who had arrived in the town from Shropshire in 1842. His invention of a sheep dip, to solve the problem of sheep scab, ended up being sold around the world. Production continued with the family for almost a century until it began to be replaced by synthetic insecticides.

The brothers Alexander and Samuel Cooper, born in London around the year 1609, were both high-class miniature painters.  Alexander painted mainly in Europe, Samuel in England.  They were apparently Jewish.

East Anglia.  Coopers from the Norfolk village of Hingham dated from the 1360’s. Anthony and Thomas Cooper emigrated from there to New England in the 1630’s. Another line moved to Norwich where Samuel Cooper was a surgeon and his grandson Sir Aston Paston Cooper, born at Brooke Hall in 1768, a more famous surgeon. 

The Cooper name remained at Hingham.  Billy Cooper, born into a large family of late 19th century shopkeepers there, was well-known locally for playing the dulcimer musical instrument.

Coopers from Bracondale in Norfolk have been traced back to the early 1600’s. From this line came, via King William IV and his mistress Dorothea Jordan, Sir Alfred Cooper, a fashionable doctor in Victorian society, and the diplomat and writer Duff Cooper.

Coopers at South Weston in Oxfordshire date from the 1500’s. Thomas Cooper was a Parliamentary officer during the Civil War.  A later Thomas Cooper was Lord of the Manor at South Weston in 1790. Frank Cooper was the 19th century Oxford shopkeeper whose wife Sarah devised the famous formula for Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade.

Elsewhere.  Grey Cooper, the son of a Newcastle physician who had married into the powerful Northumberland Grey family, had an extended Parliamentary career in the late 1700’s. He claimed a baronetcy, perhaps dubiously, as did his son the Rev. William Cooper who married the Jewess heiress Isabella Franks in the early 1800’s. She brought with her Isleworth House in London and plantations in Jamaica. But the male line here died out in 1835.

By the late 19th century it was more London and the southeast and Yorkshire where Coopers were most to be found.  

Scotland. The Cooper name has cropped up mainly in the northeast, in Aberdeenshire.  A John Cupar held lands there in the late 13th century. One family history in Clatt dates back to 1690; another in Old Deer to 1799.

The town of Coupar in Fife may have been the origin of some Couper families.  William Couper, born in Edinburgh, was appointed the Bishop of Galloway in 1612.

Ireland. There was a notable Anglo-Irish Cooper family descended from the Royalist Austin Cooper. He had moved his family in 1661 from their farm at Byfleet in Surrey to a purchased estate in county Wicklow. A descendant was the early 20th century adventurer and raconteur Captain Dick Cooper.

Another Cooper, Edward Cooper who had fought in Ireland under Cromwell, took possession of the Marktree estate in Sligo in 1663. He lost it during the troubles which followed but regained it in 1690. A descendant built an observatory on the castle grounds in 1830. Markree Castle now operates as a hotel by the 10th generation of Coopers to live there.

America. Early Coopers came to New England.

New England.  Two John Coopers here were:

  • John Cooper from Buckinghamshire who came to America with his family on the Hopewell in 1635. He was a member of the party who set off from New England in 1640 to start a new colony at Southampton on Long Island.
  • and another John Cooper, this time from Suffolk, who was deacon at the First Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts from 1668 until his death in 1691. His home, built there in 1681, has been preserved as a museum

It was either James or William Cooper from Stratford upon Avon who, arriving in America around 1680, was the forebear of the writer James Fenimore Cooper. In a letter of 1848, he wrote that his descent ran: “William (immigrant), James, William, James, William, James Fenimore Cooper.”  His father William founded Cooperstown, the home of baseball, in upstate New York.

Pennsylvania.  William  Cooper and his family from Yorkshire, together with 140 other Quakers, departed on the Britannia for Pennsylvania in 1699.  During the voyage typhus spread through the ship and it is thought that William’s wife Thomasine died at that time.  William and his eight children settled in Bucks county.

Virginia.  David Cooper was either born in Virginia or arrived there from England.  He settled in South Carolina in the 1760’s.  His grandsons Malachi and Edward Cooper took the Wilderness Trail through the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky in 1790. Later Coopers of this line were staunch Baptists who were active in the anti-slavery movement of the mid-19th century. There followed John Sherman Cooper, US Senator for Kentucky between 1946 and 1973.

Another Cooper line in Virginia, starting in Henry county in the 1750’s, migrated with Thomas Cooper to Hancock county, Georgia in the 1790’s.

William Jesse Cooper was born in Virginia in 1783. He moved to Alabama in the early 1800’s and his son later settled in Mississippi. Wyatt Cooper, born there in 1927, made it as a writer and became socialite Gloria Vanderbilt’s fourth husband in 1963. Their son is the CNN news presenter Anderson Cooper.

Dutch.  Peter Cooper, the American inventor and industrialist, was born in New York City in 1791 of mixed Dutch, English and Huguenot ancestry. His line went back to Obadiah Cooper, a tailor in Albany in the early 1700’s. The Cooper Union was Peter Cooper’s main legacy to New York.

Daniel Cooper, who laid out the town of Dayton, Ohio in 1795, was also of Dutch ancestry. Hermanus Kuiper, a Dutch arrival in the 1870’s, became Herman Cooper in Holland, Michigan.

South Africa.  Dr. Charles Cooper came to South Africa from London with his wife Sarah in 1816, four years before the 1820 settlers. They made their home at Somerset on the Eastern Cape.

Australia. Robert Cooper, a prosperous London publican, was convicted of receiving stolen goods and transported to Australia on the Earl Spencer in 1813. Five years later he received a conditional pardon and prospered in Sydney. In 1824 he was granted land rights to the Willeroo estate in the Goubourn area of NSW. His sons James and Francis developed this land as a sheep station. Willeroo remained with the Cooper family until 1914.

Thomas Cooper, a shoemaker by trade, arrived in South Australia from Yorkshire in 1852. Ten years later he started brewing beer in an experimental way, using his wife Anne’s family recipe. It took twenty years of trial before Thomas was able to perfect the art of brewing at his Leabrook plant in the Adelaide suburbs. Thomas died in 1897. Cooper’s is now the largest Australian brewery, still largely owned by the Cooper family.

Anderson Cooper’s  Family Ancestry

The newscaster Anderson Cooper is the son of the southerner Wyatt Cooper and the New York heiress Gloria Vanderbilt.  Jusr click below if you wish to know more about this story:

Cooper Surname Miscellany

The Cowpers of Cornhill in London.  These Cowpers, pronounced Cooper, may possibly trace their ancestry back to Simon Cowper, Sheriff of London in the year 1310.  A clearer line comes from John Cowper who married Joan Stanbridge, the heiress of Strood near Slinfold in Sussex, in 1467.  John seems to have died young and Joan married again, her children by the second marriage adopting the Cowper name.  One line of these Cowpers remained at Strood.

The line from William Cowper established itself in London.  Alderman John Cowper of St. Michaels, Cornhill was Sheriff of London in 1551. His son Sir William acquired Ratling Court at Nonington in Kent in 1628 and, for his Royalist support, was later made a baronet.  After the Royalist defeat in the Civil War, Sir William and his son John were imprisoned for a time at Ely House.  John died during his confinement.  But Sir William lived to see the Restoration.

Coopers of Hingham.  The Coopers have been recorded at Hingham in mid-Norfolk since the 1360’s.  Peter Cooper died in 1469 and left behind two legacies, one for gilding a statue of St. Peter and another for contributing to the construction of the Virgin’s Chapel.  Joan Cooper married Robert Lincoln (a forebear of Abraham Lincoln) in 1524.

There were two Cooper families who left Hingham, Norfolk for Hingham, Massachusetts in the 1630’s.

Anthony Cooper arrived in Massachusetts in 1635 with his wife, four sons, four daughters, and four servants.  The family was granted a house lot in Hingham. The names of only five children are known – John, Anthony, Jeremy, Deborah and Sarah. They were all born in England, but only the first four were baptized in Hingham, Norfolk.

Deacon Thomas Cooper came in 1638 on the Diligent with his wife and daughters Rachel and Elizabeth.  This family too was granted land in Hingham.  They moved to Rehoboth in 1643.

The Coopers and the Ashley-Coopers.  Richard Cupper or Cooper from London had acquired the Pawlett manor in Somerset in 1531.  His grandson Sir John Cooper married a daughter of Sir Anthony Ashley and thereby inherited their family estate at Wimborne St. Giles in Dorset.  That was where they lived and that was where their son Anthony Ashley-Cooper, later the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, was born.

Austin Cooper in Wicklow.  Austin Cooper had brought his family from England in 1661 to Butterhill in county Wicklow to start a new life as yeoman farmers there.  He was quite a character if the following quote about him is true:

“Austin Cooper was famed for his feats of strength, such as taking two men, one in each hand, slapping them together and throwing them on a dunghill!  If he held on to a cart, the horse could not go.  And he might be taking a man in one hand, pulling down his breeches with the other then butting his backside in the river Weye.”

He might have earned this reputation when he was laying out the garden at Blessington for his neighbor the Archbishop of Dublin.  Austin Cooper was the first of more than twenty Austin Coopers of his family in Wicklow.

The Ancestry of James Fenimore Cooper.  In 1879 William Wager Cooper compiled a Cooper genealogy going back to immigrant James Cooper and including the family of Judge William Cooper, the founder of Cooperstown, New York.  The New York State Historical Association published the genealogy in its annual proceedings of 1917.

Judge Cooper had died in Albany in 1809 as a result of a blow from behind given by a political opponent.  He and his wife Elizabeth (nee Fenimore) were buried in Christ church cemetery in Cooperstown.

The writer James Fenimore Cooper was born James Cooper in 1789 (he added the Fenimore later after his father’s death), the eighth and last of their surviving children.  He gained fame as an author of fiction about the American frontier.  Like his parents, he was buried in Christ church cemetery in Cooperstown.

Peter Cook’s Legacies in New York.  Peter Cook had for many years held an interest in public education and decided to establish his own free institute, the Cooper Union, for adult education in Manhattan.  He completed his building in 1859 at a cost of $600,000. Cooper Union offered open-admission night classes for men and women alike.

The new institution soon became an important part of the community and has remained so.   Today Cooper Union is recognized as one of the leading American colleges in the fields of architecture, engineering, and art.  Carrying on Peter Cooper’s belief that college education should be free, the Cooper Union continued to award all its students full scholarships until 2014.

Aside from Cooper Union, Peter Cook is also remembered by Cooper Square, the Peter Cooper Station post office and the Peter Cook Village apartment complex in Manhattan and by the Peter Cooper Elementary School in Ringwood, New Jersey.

Cooper Names

  • Thomas Cooper was a 16th century English bishop, lexicographer, and writer.
  • William Cowper was a popular nature poet of the 18th century.
  • James Fenimore Cooper was an early 19th century American writer, best known for The Last of the Mohicans.
  • Duff Cooper was a British diplomat, Cabinet member, and writer in the first half of the 20th century. His wife Lady Diana Cooper was a well-known English socialite.
  • Gary Cooper was a well-known American actor perhaps best known for his performance in High Noon.
  • Henry Cooper was British heavyweight boxing champion in the 1960’s.
  • Anderson Cooper, the CNN news reporter, is the son of the socialite Gloria Vanderbilt.

Cooper Numbers Today

  • 161,000 in the UK (most numerous in Sussex)
  • 101,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 68,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Cooper 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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