- This interesting surname is of early medieval English origin, and is a metonymic occupational name for a maker of cloaks or capes, or perhaps a nickname for someone who wore a distinctive one. The derivation is from the Middle English "cape, cope", from the Olde English pre 7th Century "cap", reinforced by the cognate Old Norse "kapa". Job-descriptive surnames originally denoted the actual occupation of the namebearer, and later became hereditary. One Walter Cape, witness, was noted in the 1221 Assize Court Rolls of Gloucestershire, and a Maud Cope appears in the Subsidy Rolls of Worcestershire, dated 1275. On July 17th 1635, Richard Cope, aged 24 yrs., embarked from London on the ship "Blessing", bound for New England. He was one of the earliest recorded namebearers to settle in America. Among the several notable Copes listed in the "Dictionary of National Biography" is Charles West Cope (1811 - 1890), a historical painter, who, with six others, was chosen to prepare decorations for the House of Lords in 1844, and for Westminster Palace in 1871. During the period 1867 - 1875 he held the position of professor of painting to the Royal Academy. The family Coat of Arms is a silver shield with three gold fleur-de-lis on a chevron azure between three red roses slipped proper. A red dragon's head emerging from a gold fleur-de-lis is on the Crest. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Ailward Cape, which was dated 1190, in the "Pipe Rolls of Kent", during the reign of King Richard 1, known as "Richard 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.
Surnames reference. 2013.