This name is an example of that sizeable group of early European surnames that were gradually created from the habitual use of nicknames. These nicknames were given with reference to a variety of characteristics, such as physical attributes or peculiarities, mental and moral characteristics, supposed resemblance to an animal's or bird's appearance or disposition, or to habits of dress and occupation. In this instance, Coe derives from the Northern Middle English "kay", ultimately from the Old Norse "ka", jackdaw. The Midland form was "co" or "coo" in Middle English. Early examples of the surname include: Richard Ka (Yorkshire, 1219); John Co (Warwickshire, 1221); Gilbert le Co (Huntingdonshire, 1252) and Beatrice le Coe (Norfolk, 1273). In 1526, one William Coe of Ashill, Norfolk, was noted in the Feet of Fines for that county. The surname, with variant spelling Coo, is most widespread in Norfolk, Essex and Suffolk. Jane Coe, aged 30 yrs., who embarked from London on the ship "Susan and Ellin" bound for New England in April 1635, was one of the earliest recorded namebearers to settle in America. A Coat of Arms granted to the Coe family of Norfolk is a silver shield with three piles wavy gules between twelve black martlets. An armed arm embowed holding a chaplet, is on the Crest. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Osbert Ka, which was dated 1188, in the "Pipe Rolls of Lincolnshire", during the reign of King Henry 11, known as "The Builder of Churches", 1154 - 1189. 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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