Tapper Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Tapper Surname Meaning

The Tapper surname could be English, German, Jewish, Swedish or Finnish.  There were two different origins for the name. 

English Version.  The English origin comes from the Old English word taeppere, meaning “to draw off.”  To draw off in this case would refer to wine or beer and a tapper in English would be the name for a tavern keeper or wine merchant.  John le Tapper, recorded in the 1279 Cambridgeshire rolls, was an early example of this as an occupational name.

The German Tapper probably had the same origin as the English and the Jewish Tapper may well have followed the German example.

Swedish Version.  Sweden and Finland also had Tappers.  The name here meant “brave” or “courageous” and started out as a soldier name.  Sweden and Finland used the same soldier naming system.

When a soldier was enrolled he was given a special “soldier name” by the captain of the company.  In each company the soldiers had to have a unique last name. This meant that many soldiers in a regiment over a period of time could have used the same name.  When a soldier retired he normally took back his patronymic name.  But it also was not unusual for discharged soldiers to keep their soldier name, especially during the 19th century.

Tapper Surname Resources on The Internet

Tapper Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Devon), Sweden and Germany
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Sweden today numbers some 1,200 Tappers, Germany around 1,000:

  • the Swedish name is spread around the country
  • the German name localized to Weser Ems, in an area called Ostfriesland along the North Sea coastline

Tebbe Heits Tapper of Berumbur there adopted the Tapper surname in 1811 because he had been licensed to sell beer.  Jewish Tappers, however, may have originated from Yiddish communities in Poland or the old Russian empire.

England.  The largest number of Tappers has been in Devon and the surname probably originated there.

Devon.   The Tapper name first appeared in land records in Devon in the 1500’s.  Oliver Tapper and his son of the same name were Exeter merchants in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s.  Oliver sr. was an alderman of the town in 1603, Oliver jr. in 1638.  Samuel Tapper of the next generation was a nonconformist clergyman at Limpston near Exeter where he died in 1709.

Other Devon families began:

  • with the marriage of Joseph Tapper and Isatt Mann in Bovey Tracey in 1660 (Tappers there probably dated from a hundred years earlier)
  • with the marriage of Richard Tapper and Jane Skinner in Chudleigh in 1729
  • and with the marriage of Richard Tapper and Elizabeth Heath in Totnes in 1747.

Robert Tapper left Tapper’s Gift to the poor of Bovey Tracey in his will of 1813.  And the architect Walter Tapper, the son of a local builder, was born in the village in 1861.  

Elsewhere. The Tapper name extended from Devon into Dorset and Wiltshire.

One family in the Dorset village of Shroton (or Iverne Courtney) can be traced to the 17th century and even possibly to the 14th century as there was a Tappehare recorded then in the medieval lay subsidy rolls of that parish.  Richard Tapper was married there in 1634.  He was one of the Dorset clubmen who sought to defy Cromwell at the time of the Civil War.  Later Tappers were farmers.

America.  England was not the primary origin for the Tappers in America.

Shipping data suggests that only 20% or so of the Tapper arrivals were from England, versus 30% from Sweden and around 50% from Germany (which may also have included some Jewish Tappers).  Someone noted that there were three Tapper families in Philadelphia in the 19th century – one English, another German, and a third Jewish.  The present-day CNN anchor Jake Tapper is Jewish and hails from Philadelphia.

German.  Christian Tapper and his wife Maria came to Pennsylvania from Germany in 1748.  They settled in Germany township, Adams county.  Curiously descendants spelt their name either Dapper or Topper.

Thomas Tapper, born in 1823 and the son of German immigrants in Germantown, was a colonel on the Union side during the Civil War.  Afterwards he worked as an engineer at the Philadelphia Post Office until his death in 1885.

Tappers from Germany made their home in Iowa in the 1890’s.  Harm and Antje Tapper set up their farm southeast of Webster City in Independence township.  

EnglishTwo 19th century English pioneers to the American backwoods were:

  • James Tapper, who was born in Dorset in 1810, came to Iowa in 1841 in a circuitous route that took in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New York and Cuba over a period that lasted more than a decade.  He ended up as a farmer in Clayton county.
  • while his younger brother John,  who was born ten years later, fought in the Mexican war and stayed for a while with his brother in Clayton county.   He later was a pioneer settler in what is now Minneapolis, building the first house there and operating the ferry that traversed the Mississippi between Nicollet island and the west bank.   “During those early years Captain Tapper was known by and knew nearly all the settlers within a radius of a hundred miles of Minneapolis.”

Swedish.  Tappers here headed for northern Midwestern states such as Minnesota.  In the 1850’s Otto and Johanna Tapper made their home in Carver county where they farmed.  Things went well for a while, but then tragedy struck:

  • Otto was killed in 1882 when a team of runaway horses threw him down a steep slope.  He died instantly.
  • twenty years later his son Andrew Tapper became the first and last person to be hanged in Carver county after his murderous assault on a work colleague.

Canada.  Some Devon seafarers settled in Newfoundland.  Their numbers included Charles Tapper who may have come to Torbay as early as the 1760’s.  There is a small cove on the north side of Torbay where he settled and became known as Tapper’s Cove.  Some Tappers moved south to America.  But many have remained at Torbay.

Australia.  Daniel Tapper and his wife Ann were among the first settlers in Freemantle, Western Australia.  They arrived on the Rockingham in 1830 and suffered great hardship before the little colony began to thrive.  The Tapper homestead was located on Bibra Lake.

One of their sons John became a lighter-boat captain out of Fremantle and later went into whaling.  In 1867 he was presented with a testimonial from the people of Fremantle for his prompt action on his whaleboat in saving lives during a storm.  He died in 1882 when his ship Ruby sank in a cyclone off the coast of Western Australia.

New Zealand.  James Tapper, origin in England uncertain, ran away to sea in 1798 at the age of sixteen.  He later joined the British army.  He left London for Australia with his family in 1832 and they moved to Kororareka on the Bay of Islands in NI, New Zealand five years later.  He fought in the Maori War of 1844 and was badly wounded defending the flagstaff. He died in 1852.

Tapper Surname Miscellany

Shipping Data on Tapper Arrivals in America.   The following Tapper numbers by country of origin were recorded:

  • Germany, 43
  • Sweden, 24
  • Britain, 17
  • Poland, 2

James Tapper – His Wandering Journey from Dorset to Iowa.  James Tapper was born in Dorset in 1810.

In the spring of 1828 he emigrated to Newfoundland where he remained until 1832; thence to Halifax, Nova Scotia where he spent two and one-half years; and from there went to New York City.

In 1835 James took a trip to Cuba, where he was employed in the copper mines.  This being the time of the yellow fever epidemic he became a victim to the disease and returned to England.

In the following spring he became acquainted with and married Ellen Irwin and in the fall of that year he went to New Orleans; thence to St. Louis where he worked at his trade one year.  About that time the Government was erecting Fort Atkinson and he went there in 1840.  He remained at Fort Atkinson about two years.

In the fall of 1841 he came to his final stopping place, Giard township in Clayton county, Iowa.

Thomas Tapper. A Colonel in the Civil War.  Thomas Tapper had been born in Germantown, Pennsylvania to German immigrant parents in a modest family dwelling on Haines Street in 1823.

Before the Civil War he had worked as a machinist and engineer. He helped raise troops at the start of the war, and was appointed Captain, Company G , in May 1861. He was wounded in action a month later on the Peninsula campaign and then fought at Second Bull Run.  He continued with the regiment seeing action at Fredericksburg and Cloyd’s Mountain and was promoted to colonel in May 1864, a month before he mustered out of service with his regiment.

A family genealogist believed that he worked as an engineer at the Philadelphia Post Office after the war until his death in 1885.

Reader Feedback – Daniel and Ann Tapper.  Thank you for amending this entry.  I know that there was an article Child Okeford – The End of an Era written by John Housley which had David and not Daniel.

I had intended to contact Dorset Family History to ask where John Housley found the information on other family joining Daniel and Ann in Australia. I assume it is referring to the Norris brothers of Ann Tapper nee Norris who emigrated to New South Wales in the 1860’s.

Regards,  Margaret Thompson

Tapper Names

  • Sir Walter Tapper was an English architect of the early 20th century known for his church buildings in the Gothic revival style. 
  • Jake Tapper is the chief Washington correspondent for CNN.  He is Jewish from Philadelphia on his father’s side.

Tapper Numbers Today

  • 1,300 in the UK (most numerous in Devon)
  • 1,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 1,500 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)



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Written by Colin Shelley

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