Cox Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Cox Surname Meaning

The male bird, the cock, was often used as a nickname to describe the natural pertness of boys, like the habits of a strutting fowl.  Both swaggered and both could crow.  Thus cock became the general sobriquet for a sharp and forward lad.   Its use was Anglo-Saxon, predating the Norman arrival.  Alvin Coc was recorded as a dispossessed Saxon in the 1086 Domesday Book.

As time went on it was used more and more for boys and servants until it was firmly established as a surname.  As with most Christian names, a final “s” was frequently added and quite often this was combined with a “ck” and spelt with an “x” and the word was sometimes attached to the Christian name, such as Han-cock and Will-cox.   Spellings such as Cock and Cocke continued.  But the Cox spelling of the surname had begun to establish itself by the 15th century.

Other origins for the Cox surname have been suggested and these may have been applicable in certain geographic areas.

Cox Surname Resources on The Internet

Cox Surname Ancestry

  • from England
  • to America, Canada and Australia

England.   An early Cockes line began with Walter de Chelworth in Kent in the 13th century. He was said to have been a strutting Norman soldier in England who was nicknamed ‘”le coq” and his children “little cockes.”

However, Cox-like surnames initially were more to be found further west in England:

  • in the southwest of the country in Wiltshire, Dorset, and Somerset
  • and in the middle of the country in Warwickshire and Oxfordshire.

The Cox name was concentrated later around Wiltshire and Dorset and around Oxfordshire and Berkshire.

SW England.  Kockes and variants of that name had appeared in the records of Bridgewater, Somerset in the mid-15th century.  Many Coxes in Somerset were rounded up after the failure of Monmouth’s Rebellion in 1685.  Tom Cox was a famous highwayman from Somerset who was eventually caught and hanged in 1689.

Meanwhile Daniel Coxe, physician to Queen Anne in the early 18th century, was descended from a prominent Somerset line of Coxes.  Samuel Cox was a Beaminster merchant in Dorset.  Coxes from Wimborne were shipowners and William Cox of this family was an early settler in Australia (he arrived in 1800).

London.  While the Cox name above may appear a west country name, large numbers by the 19th century were in fact in and around London.  Earlier Coxes here were:

  • Richard Cox, Bishop of Ely, who was born in Buckinghamshire in 1500.  A later Cox family was to be found at Dorney in Buckinghamshire from the 1630’s.
  • and John Cox who in the 1530’s had acquired the manor of St. Albans in Hertfordshire at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.  Colonel Alban Cox of St. Albans was a Parliamentarian at the time of the Civil War.

Thomas Cox, father and son, were Quaker vintners in London during the 17th century.  

Scotland.  There was a Cox line in Scotland that came came a Dutch Cock family that settled near Dumfries.  This line apparently died out with Annie Cox in the late 19th century.

Ireland.   Captain Richard Cox had arrived from Wiltshire around 1600 and settled in Brandon, Cork.  His grandson served as Lord Chancellor of Ireland from 1703 to 1707.  A later Richard Cox began a linen industry in the 1730’s around Dunmanway.  Other descendants moved to Ulster and some migrated to America.

The Cox name in Ireland was also derived from the Gaelic Mac an Choiligh, mainly to be found in county Roscommon where they had been corabs of St. Barry at Kilbarry.  Denis Cox (Donnchadh MacCoiligh), born in Meath in 1882, was a popular singer of traditional Irish ballads.

America.  The early Cox spelling in America could be Cocke or Coxe.

Richard Cocke came to Virginia from Shropshire and acquired large land holdings in Henrico county during the 1630’s.  One line of his family later extended to Tennessee.

The London physician Daniel Coxe and his son Daniel who arrived in New Jersey in 1702 were the forebears of:

  • Tench Coxe, a member of the Continental Congress of 1788 and a well-known political economist and merchant of his day
  • and his contemporary William Coxe, one of the foremost American fruit growers at that time from his home in Burlington, New Jersey.  

The spelling of other 17th century immigrants, such as William Cox from Bristol who settled in Pemaquid, Maine, was generally Cox.  Some of his descendants were Loyalists who later decamped to Canada.  John Cox of this family operated an extensive shipping business out of Portland, Maine during the 19th century.

Meanwhile John and Susannah Cox were reported to have lived in Permaquid, but were driven away by Indians in 1689.  They settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  Their grandson Lemuel, born in 1736, became famous as a bridge builder in Ireland, although he is little remembered today.

Henry Miller Cox provided an account of early Coxes in America in his 1912 book The Cox Family in America.   

Pennsylvania.  There was a  prominent Cox Quaker family in Philadelphia from the early 1700’s.  Rowland Cox of this family became a leading Manhattan lawyer after the Civil War.  His grandson Archibald Cox was the Special Prosecutor at the time of the Watergate scandal.  Another Cox Quaker family in Pennsylvania migrated to North Carolina and in 1806, with Jeremiah Cox, to Wayne county, Ohio.                    

Joshua Cox, Scots Irish from Ulster, arrived in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania around 1720.  Delaware Indians attacked and burned down the family home in 1756 and his sons David and John left for Grayson county in Virginia.  Some Coxes later crossed the state line into Ashe county, North Carolina.

Coxes in the South.  Charles Cox arrived in North Carolina in 1741, either from the Bahamas or from Charleston, and was granted 640 acres of land in the wilderness that was Onslow county.  He started a farm and grist mill there.  The Coxes of Onslow county have remained on the same farm to this day.  A family reunion was held in 1998.

A Scots Irish Cox family departed Ulster for North Carolina around 1750.  Edward Cox of this family migrated south, first to South Carolina, then to Georgia, and finally in the 1820’s to Alabama.  His son Edward studied medicine in Texas and later made his home in Claiborne parish, Louisiana.

At the time of the Civil War, Dr. Edward did not sign an allegiance to either the Union or Confederate side.  Stories handed down through his children and grandchildren tell of him leaving his wife and children for long periods of time to travel through north Louisiana, south Arkansas, and Mississippi to provide medical assistance to both military and civilian, North and South.

Canada.  Shelburne, a town in Nova Scotia founded in 1783 by Loyalsts, became home for two Loyalist Coxes at that time.

The first was James Cox, a ship’s carpenter from Massachusetts.  He started a shipbuilding operation in Shelburne.  His business was handed down to his son James Jr. and then to his three grandsons.  Cox’s Warehouse, built in 1902, is now a landmark building in the town.

The second was the New York merchant John Cox Sr.  During the war he ended up supporting the British and therefore had to depart.  His son John Cox Jr, however, took the patriot side and remained.

Edward Cox from Berkshire married in Canada and moved with his wife Jane to Peterborough, Ontario sometime around 1840.  Their eldest son George became one of Peterborough’s most prominent businessmen.  Starting as an insurance salesman, he invested in railroads and real estate and was mayor of the town for seven years.  He died in Toronto in 1914, one of the richest men in Canada.

Australia.  William Cox from Dorset who arrived in Australia in 1799 is best-known for the road he built across the Blue Mountains from Sydney to Bathurst in 1814.   

“Cox was given 30 convict laborers and a guard of eight soldiers and he completed the road in just six months. It was not metalled, being merely a dirt track twelve feet wide, but it was nevertheless an amazing feat to have grubbed the trees, filled in the holes, levelled the track, and built bridges in so short a time.”

William Cox has many descendants in Australia.  Three of his sons and a number of his grandsons were sheep farmers in the Mudgee district that had become accessible by Cox’s road and they were well known for the quality of their wool.  Another son Alfred moved to New Zealand in the 1850’s as a sheep farmer in South Canterbury.

Cox Surname Miscellany

Concentrations of the Cox Name.  Most of the people named Cox have been found in southern England during both the 1881 census and the more recent 1998 assessment.

This leads us to believe that the name evolved in this area, probably in one of the two most highly concentrated areas of Dorset/Wiltshire or Oxfordshire/Berkshire.  The area with the highest concentration of people named Cox today is Oxfordshire, with the town of Abingdon being the most popular place for them to live.

Cox and the Monmouth Rebels.  There were 20 Coxes who took part in the West Country Monmouth uprising of 1685 and were later rounded up.  The largest numbers came from Taunton St. Mary, Axmouth and Musbury.

These Coxes fared better perhaps than some others. Only two of the twenty were hanged and only two were transported to the Caribbean.  William Cox, a sergemaker at Taunton St. Mary, escaped to Holland where he helped to manufacture English cloth.  He was pardoned in 1686 “if he should return with his goods and effects within two calendar months.”

Tom Cox, Highwayman.  Born in Somerset sometime around 1666, Tom Cox was the younger son of a west country gentleman who grew up into a startlingly handsome youth with a penchant for women and gambling, passions which soon swallowed up his meager inheritance.  Egged on by the shady characters with whom he spent his time, it was not long before he was persuaded to look to the highways to supplement his losses by relieving those more endowed of their guineas.

Tom was just 25 years old when he met his Maker in 1691 on the gallows near Newgate in London.  He had been caught robbing a farmer on Hounslow Heath.  The crowd which gathered to witness his execution cheered this handsome highwayman, still immaculately dressed in his favorite white waistcoat and breeches and sporting a hat adorned with cherry-colored ribbons.

Jonathan Swift wrote the following verse on his hanging:

  • “And when his last speech the loud hawkers did cry
  • He swore from his cart ‘It was all a damned lie.’
  • The hangman for pardon fell down on his knee;
  • Tom gave him a kick in the guts for his fee.”

Sir Richard Cox and His Linen Venture in Ireland.  The Gentleman’s Magazine of October 1749 had the following laudatory account of the activities of Sir Richard Cox:  

In the year 1733 Sir Richard Cox came into the possession of a large, fruitful, but uncultivated tract of land, inhabited by a race of beggars, grown by habitual wretchedness so hardened that, though sensible of the smart, they were not ashamed to prefer hunger and idleness to labor and competency.

He therefore directed his thoughts to remedy this evil; and wisely concluded that nothing but the establishment of a staple manufacture on the premises would answer the purpose.

He chose linen.  Having procured a quantity of flax seed in 1735, he prevailed upon them to sow it. By the dint of perseverance, and a series of admirable expedients to rectify his own mistakes, to render sloth infamous, to excite emulation, and to increase his colony, he has at last fixed on such an establishment that bids fair to be perpetual.

Already the little town has undergone a wonderful change. In 1735 it contained at most but 50 houses, many of them fit only for beggars.  It now contains 117 houses, whose inhabitants are fully employed.”

Cox was in fact much praised for developing this linen industry around Dunmanway in county Cork.

Daniel Coxe in New Jersey.  Daniel Coxe was an eminent London physician who claimed an earlier descent from Daniel Coxe of Somerset in the 13th century.  He purchased land in New Jersey in the 1680’s but never went there. He even later served nominally as the colonial Governor of New Jersey.

His son Daniel did visit his father’s North American lands in 1702 and after returning to England twenty years later published an account of his travels and a description of the lands that his father had claimed.

This claim was in fact upheld in court in 1731 and hundreds of families were forced to repurchase their own property from Colonel Coxe or be forcibly evicted.  The ensuing scandal was one of many injustices that inflamed American anger against the British during the years leading up the Revolutionary War. There were lawsuits and riots.  Colonel Coxe was burned in effigy; but to no avail.  As a result, many Hopewell residents left New Jersey altogether, disgusted at what they perceived to be the colony’s rampant political corruption. 

The Coxes of Onslow County.  Charles Cox arrived in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1741 from either the Bahamas or Charleston, South Carolina.  He was soon granted by the English Crown 640 acres in the wilderness that was then Onslow county.  The consideration of this land grant was that he should clear eighteen acres within three years and make the property his home.   He met all of these conditions.

Historical records show that Charles Cox began to operate a grist mill there in 1745. This mill operated continuously until 1931 and the nearby mill-pond was a familiar sight for later Coxes on the property. These Coxes were Loyalists during the Revolutionary War, as were most of their neighbors.  They did not fight in the conflict.  However, neither did they have to leave their home after it was over.

The Cox family has lived continuously on the same farm in Onslow county through today.

Cox Names

  • Richard Cocks was an early English trader for the East India Company in Japan.
  • William Cox was a pioneer settler  and road-builder in Australia.
  • Richard Cox was the originator of the “Cox’s Orange Pippin” apple in Berkshire in 1825.
  • James Cox was Governor of Ohio and campaigned on the Democratic ticket for the Presidency in 1920.
  • Archibald Cox was US Solicitor General and later Special Prosecutor to investigate the Watergate scandal.

Cox Numbers Today

  • 93,000 in the UK (most numerous in Oxfordshire)
  • 108,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 55,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Cox and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

They could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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