Clan Cooper History
The Scottish surname Cooper comes from the occupation of ‘cooper”, someone who made kegs and barrels, but also from Cupar, the burgh in Fife. The professional word was taken from Anglo Saxon origins – couper, cowper – and was for someone whose job it was to repair barrels, buckets and casks. In the Middle Ages this was a highly skilled job, they were able to keep these containers waterproof. The wide spread adoption of this surname is testimony to the fact that Cooper was one of the valued specialist trades in the Middle Ages throughout Europe. This name was given to those of this occupation before 1400 and probably used the Middle English spelling of ‘Couper’. There has also been suggestion that the surname actually derives from the the Dutch Kuiper or Coper which means a buyer or merchant.
The locational origins of the surname Cooper mean that it is usually associatied with Clan MacDuff, and is considered one of their septs. The name Cooper – often seen spelled Coupar/Couper/Coupir – is recorded from the thirteenth century onwards in the Fife region. A Selomone de Coupir is on record for having witnessed a charter in 1245.
Coupar, Couper, Cowper, and Cooper; variations on the spelling of this surname exist throughout Scotland. As well as being a common surname in Fife, it is also commonly found in the Highlands (including the historic counties of Caithness, Inverness-shire, Nairnshire, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland and lesser parts of Argyllshire and Moray), Orkney, and Aberdeenshire (includes all of the historic counties of Aberdeenshire, Kincardineshire and parts of Banffshire).
Cupar, Fife. The town was the seat of the MacDuff Earls of Fife, whose castle dates from the 12th century.
Cupar’s in Aberdeen – 13th Century
In Scotland the surname Cooper is common in the northeast, around the Aberdeenshire area. A John Cupar held lands here in the late 13th century and a Symon Coupare of Berwickshire rendered homage to Edward I of England in 1296. Thomas de Cupro was Canon of St Andrews in 1406 and Finla Couper of Belnakeill, Atholl, was fined for giving sanctuary to outlawed members of Clan Gregor in 1618. One family history in Clatt dates back to 1690, another in Old Deer to 1799.
Coupers at Castle Gogar – 17th Century
Castle Gogar, Edinburgh. An A-Listed Scottish Baronial L-plan mansion, built in 1625 by the architect William Ayton for John Couper, whose father had bought the estate in 1601 from the Logans of Restalrig. The lands of Gogar had been previously held by the Setons, and by the Halyburtons. In 1638, John Couper was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia. He was killed in 1640 in the explosion which destroyed Douglas Castle during the Covenanting period known as the ‘Bishops’ Wars’.
One of Sir John’s sons settled in Dumbartonshire and from this line originate the Coupers of Banheath in Dumbartonshire; of Failford and Smeithston in Ayrshire, and of Ballindalloch in West Stirlingshire.
The English poet William Cowper (1731-1800), writing to a friend confided that his roots lay in Fife. ‘I am originally of the same shire, and a family of my name is still there.’ Cowper’s poems had a strong religious tone, and his poem “Light Shining out of Darkness” begins with the now famous adage “God moves in a mysterious way/His wonders to perform.” He was also adamant that his surname was pronounced like ‘Cooper’.
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