This name, with variant spellings Cottam, Cot(t)on, Cottom, Coatham etc., is of English locational origin from any of the several places named with the Olde English pre 7th Century "cotum", meaning "cottages", for example, Coatham in Nottinghamshire and the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cottam in the East Riding of Yorkshire and in Nottinghamshire (near Retford) and Cotham in Nottinghamshire (near Newark). In the English Midlands several places named Coton or Cotton also derive from "Cotum", for example, Coton in Cambridgeshire and Oxfordshire, and Cotton in Shropshire and Northamptonshire.The -um ending is however, preserved only in the northern counties. In 1212 one, Ralph de Cottum was recorded in the Pipe Rolls of Yorkshire. On January 16th 1701 Sarah, daughter of William Cottham, was christened in Great Mitton, Yorkshire. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Randulf de Cotton, which was dated 1185 - "The Pipe Rolls of Worcestershire", during the reign of King Henry II, "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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