Recorded as Cotter and occasionally McCotter, this is a surname of quite separate English and Irish origins. The English form derives from the Olde English pre 7th century word "cotter", a technical term of the feudal system for a bond tenant, a villein who held a cottage tenancy by labour-service rather than by paying rent. The derivation is from the term "cotarius", found in the Domesday Book of 1086, and describing a cottage with sufficient land to feed a family of four. The second origin is from both the Isle of Man and Ireland.It is a development of the pre 10th century Gaelic "Mac Oitir", with the latter being a fused personal name from the Old Norse "otti", meaning "dread" and "herr", an army. It is said that the clan can trace their origins in County Cork back to the 13th century, but unfortunately there is much confusion with English settlers also called Cotter, who are to be found in the same area. William and Thomas McCotter were famous Gaelic poets in the 17th century, whilst Sir James Cotter commanded the troops of King James 11nd in County Clare, before the battle of the Boyne in 1690. Patrick Cotter (1761-1806) was an Irish builder who exhibited himself as a giant in Great Britain under the name Patrick O'Brien. His height is sometimes given as eight feet. The first recorded spelling of the family name is that of Robert le Cotier. This was dated 1198, in the "Sussex Pipe Rolls", during the reign of King Richard 1, known as "The Lionheart", 1189 - 1199. 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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