This long-established surname, with the variation Coburn, is of early medieval Scottish origin, and is a territorial name from the lands so named in the Merse, Berwickshire. The component elements of the placename are either the Olde English pre 7th Century "cocc", cock, wild bird, or the Olde English "cocc", hill, with "burna", small spring, brook, stream; hence, "stream frequented by wild birds", or "hill by a stream". In the reign of William the Lion (1165 - 1214) there was a district called "Cukoueburn" in the territory of Clifton, Roxburghshire, and the surname may, in some instances, derive from this source.Locational surnames were originally given to local landowners, and the lord of the manor, and especially as a means of identification to those who left their birthplace to settle elsewhere. One John de Kocburn was a landowner in Fife, circa 1250, and Robert de Cokburne "miles" was mentioned in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland (1266). In the early 16th Century some Cockburns who settled in Danzig had their name changed to "Kaburn" and "Coburn" as a result of dialectal influences. Notable bearers of the name were Sir George Cockburn (1772 - 1853), admiral, who conveyed Napoleon to St. Helena (1815); and Sir Alexander James Edmund Cockburn (1802 - 1880), lord chief-justice of England. A Coat of Arms granted to the family is a silver shield with three red cocks, the Crest being a cock crowing, and the Motto "Accendit cantu", translates as "He animates by crowing". The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Peter de Cokburne, witness to a grant, which was dated 1190, in the "Register of the House of Soltre", during the reign of King William "The Lion" of Scotland, 1165 - 1214. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as 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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