What's in a name?

cooper ('koop-er) n. [from Latin: cupa, a cask; Middle English: couper; Middle Dutch: cuper]. A person whose work is making or repairing barrels and casks.

Source: Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (1980). New York: William Collins Publishers, Inc.

Cooper crest And a bit more detail (quoted years in boldface), courtesy the Oxford English Dictionary:

cooper [Occurs in 15th c. as couper, cowper, cowpar... (It is not and Eng. derivative of coop, which, so far as appears, has never had the sense 'cask'.) An old spelling remains in the surename Cowper, pronounced Cooper by those who bear it.]

1.a. A craftsman who makes and repairs wooden vessels formed of staves and hoops, as casks, buckets, tubs.

A dry cooper makes casks, etc., to hold dry goods, a wet cooper those to contain liquids, a white cooper pails, tubs, and the like for domestic or dairy use.

  • 1520 MS Acc. St. John's Hosp., Canterb., Paed to the couper for new bottomyng of a bukket.
  • 1589 Pappe w. Hatchet Now you talke of a cooper, Ile tell you a tale of a tubb.
  • 1837 WHITTOCK Bk. Trades 161 The 'Dry-cooper' is employed in making sugar hogsheads and other casks.

b. On board ship: One who looks to the repair of casks and other vessels.
  • 1867 SMYTH Sailor's Word-bk., Cooper, a rating for a first-class petty officer, who repairs casks, etc.

c. From the practices of the journeymen coopers employed on vessels in the Thames, the word acquired in the end of the 18th c. an evil connotation.
  • 1800 COLQUHOUN Comm. Thames 65 No inconsiderable portion of the pillage fell to the share of Journeymen Coopers...necessary to repair casks and pack ages, which have suffered injury in the stowage. They have even been known to break hogsheads wilfully to obtain plunder.
  • 1840 MARRYAT Poor Jack xviii, Then we've the Coopers and Bumboat-men and the Rat-catchers and the Scaffle Hunters and the River Pirates...all living by their wits.

These definitions and examples, believe it or not, are merely a sampling of what the OED has to say about coopers/Coopers.

Oxford English Dictionary (1989; CDROM ver.2). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

By the way, the tartan off to the left side here is, in fact, the Clan Tartan of the Cooper family. It came from the Scottish Tartans Museum in Franklin, NC. (They have a wonderful shop and sell every available tartan and many other items.) If you can't visit them in person, then by all means check out all the wonderful online tartan images at their website!

 C  O  O  P  E  R

In good company . . .

Well, okay, Cooper is a pretty common name, but you can still tell people that you're (perhaps? probably? somehow?!) related to these famous or influential folk:

  • Gary Cooper (1901-61): Star of the silver screen (High Noon, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls), but then we didn't need to tell you that, did we?! What you may not have known is that that wasn't his real name: actually, Cooper was unchanged, but for some reason someone (maybe a studio exec, maybe young Frank himself) decided that Frank Cooper could be improved upon.
  • James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851): US novelist, born at Burlington, NJ. Best known for his frontier adventures, like The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and The Pathfinder (1840).
  • Leon Neil Cooper (1930- ): US physicist, born in New York City. His theory of the behavior of electron pairs (Cooper pairs) in certain materials at low temperatures was a major contribution to the theory of superconductivity.
  • Peter Cooper (1791-1883): US inventor, industrialist, and philanthropist.
  • Thomas Cooper (1517?-1594): Well-known and respected British lexicographer, also Bishop of Winchester and Dean of Christ Church (Oxford). Main claims to fame: he revised Sir Thomas Elyot's Latin-English dictionary (Bibliotheca Eliotae, 1548) and wrote the once much-used Thesaurus linguae Romanae & Britanicae (1865).

If you'd like to read even more about the name Cooper (and other famous Coopers throughout history), there's a detailed and thorough page, The Origins of the Family Name Cooper, which makes for a very interesting read. And if you know of other information about the name/word Cooper that isn't included here, please let us know, at noregrets@iname.com. Thank you!

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This page was last updated on:
May 27, 2000