This unusual name is from the Cumbria and Furness regions in the far north west of England. The "modern" surname is a developed spelling from a now "lost" village or hamlet apparently called "Copthwaite" or something similar. This translates as "the small farm (thwaite) on the hill top (copp)", the origin being Old English pre 7th Century. Such "hilltop" habitations were originally defensive particularly in the border county, an area subjected to raids from both England and Scotland. After the assession of James 1 to the joint English and Scottish Thrones in 1603, the "Border" area was subdued and this may account for the abandonment of the original village. The name development follows the "link" spellings as follows, Helen Copthwaite (1578, Peurith), Matthew Copperthwaite (1713, Greystoke). Roger Cowperthwait (1746, Stanwix, Cumbria) to John Cowperthwaite of Crosthwaite on September 12th 1790. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Roger Copthwit, which was dated March 4th 1569, a witness at St. Andrews Church, Penrith, Cumbria, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, known as "Good Queen Bess", 1558 - 1603. 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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