Amongst the most important of all medieval crafts was that of barrel or tub making. The origin is Anglo Saxon, deriving from the German "kuper" itself a derivative of "kup" - a container. The word being first used in England in the 8th century. Over the centuries the spelling and the later surname became confused with other forms such as Cowper and Copper, which themselves can also describe a maker of metal containers. In these cases the derivation is from the Olde English "coper", itself a "borrowed" word from the Cyprian "cyprium" meaning "bronze".
Cooper (Variants: Variants: Couper, Cowper, Cupper, Coupar, Coopper, Coopey)
An English occupational name from Middle English couper ‘cooper, a maker or repairer of wooden vessels, barrels, casks, buckets, or tubs’. It stems from the Middle English word ‘coupere’, meaning ‘a maker or repairer of wooden casks, buckets or tubs’ is derived from Latin word, ‘cuparius’. Also from Middle Dutch ‘kuper’, a derivative of German ‘kup’ meaning tub or container. Also, a Dutch occupational name for a buyer or merchant, Middle Dutch coper.
In medieval times the occupation of cooper played a vital part in commercial and community life, for in those days all liquids were conveyed in tubs and barrels. The craft of coopering is still practised today to produce wooden barrels for real ale, whisky and port (and any other liquid to be ‘matured in wood’). These occupations would have been a chief specialist trades in the Middle Ages throughout Europe.
The name is also local, from Cupar, a town in Fifeshire, Scotland, which is derived from Cu-pyre, the inclosed fire, or Co, high, a beacon fire, or signal on the coast for ships. Pyre, a beacon fire, on a high place, is the origin of the word pier, a wharf or landing-place for ships.
In 1891, the frequency in England and Wales was 75,140 with a fewer 2,984 residing in Scotland. In 1881, the county of Kent was recorded as a top surname with a total of 2,566 occurrences. In the same year, the most common Cooper occupation in the UK was Agricultural Labourer. Agricultural Labourer, Farmer were also reported as the top jobs worked by Cooper with Coal Miner being a less common occupation.
An early first recorded spelling of the family name was Robert le Cupere, dated 1176 in the Pipe Rolls of Sussex, during the reign of King Henry II, known as "The Church Builder" (1154 – 1189).
1881, 1891 Census
1881 Census in Bristol
Dictionary of American Family Homes, P Hanks OUP 2003
Homes of Family Names in Great Britain, H.B. Guppy, London 1890
The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland, P.Hanks, Coats, McClure OUP 2016
1860 Lower, Mark A Patronymica Britannica: a dictionary of the family names of the United Kingdom, London: J.R Smith. Public Domain
1857 Arthur, William An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names. New York: Sheldon, Blakeman. Public Domain