Recorded as Cathra, Cathrae, Cathraw, Cathrow and possibly others, this is probably a surname of Scottish origins, although there is at least one other possibility. If Scottish it almost certainly originates from a place now called Stracathro, near the town of Forfar. This place in ancient times was called Cottrhali, from pre 7th century Norse Viking. As such it literally translates as 'The cats tail', but geographically refers to a thin piece of land, later known as a strand or strath, hence the modern place name.The second possibility is said to be French. If so it may be 16th century Huguenot Protestant, and derive from the female name 'Catherine'. This is from the Ancient Greek word 'katharos' meaning pure. As regards recordings, the surname in any spelling was apparently first recorded in Scotland, the earliest example that we have being that of William Cathraw, who was a burgess of the city of Perth in 1509. Later we have the recording of Helen Cathrow at Brechin in 1613, and more recently that of Isabella Cathrae, at Newstead, Melrose, on September 5th 1909. The surname at least in some spellings, is quite well recorded in England. Early examples from the surviving registers of the city of London include Frances Cathrow, at St Dunstans Stepney in 1652, Elias Cottro, who married Ann Betts at the same church in 1728, and William Cathro who married Elizabeth Page at St. Georges, Botolph Lane, on February 11th 1755. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as the Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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