Kent England Research
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Kent England Research   

Genealogical Research in Kent, England, specialising in South West Kent

Over the years, I have been contacted by people from all over the World who are very interested in the Copus surname or its variants, such as Copas. Before the publication of the original version of these present notes on my then website at in March 2007, I had very rarely found any connection which could be proven between these enquirers and my own family (as far as this has been traced back, to where relevant references in parish records unfortunately seem to peter out in the ancestral area in and near Stoke next Guildford in West Surrey, around the start of the 18th Century). This has naturally been disappointing for these researchers and has also involved my answering frequently asked questions such as "Copus seems such a very unusual name - surely we must be related?"

In fact, in the 1901 Census index of England alone, there are over 500 persons named Copus (275 entries) or Copas (248 entries), so that, even allowing for the inevitable quota of misindexed entries, this is not such a very rare name as, for instance, Breewood (an ancestral surname on my mother's side of the family - rare, but unfortunately still very difficult to track down). The same 1901 Census index includes, in the whole of England, just 12 entries stated to be for Breewood, and 20 for Brewood, a total of only 32 persons. There are also hundreds of Copus and Copas entries in each of the US Federal Census indexes from 1900 on to 1930. In 1900, 200 Copus and 523 Copas entries are shown; while in the 1930 Census there are 463 persons named Copus and as many as 842 named Copas listed (but none at all for Breewood and only 10 for Brewood).

In view of the number of enquiries about the Copus surname and many and diverse Copus families which my parents and I have received over the years, I was quite delighted when, in February 2007, Brian Copus started his own website, devoted entirely to the name of Copus - surname, origins and family history. Brian is always pleased to be contacted about "all things Copus", as he himself says. This growing resource can be found at and the "Photos" page even includes, among others, a few pictures I contributed. Family historians named Copus, or interested in the surname or its variants, could not do better than visit this website.

Another "FAQ" over the years has been, "I have heard that the surname Copus is of German" (or Dutch, or Hungarian) "origin. What are your views on this?" To which, my standard reply has always been that, given that my own family has been firmly rooted in England for at least three centuries and that there was no shortage of other Copus families even in Surrey at quite early dates, such more "exotic" origins, while they would be most interesting in themselves, regrettably do not seem very likely in our particular case at least. Some persons named Copus or Copas in, for instance, the US may of course very well have had origins in countries other than England. Not surprisingly, Brian Copus is also often asked about the origins of the Copus surname, and there are useful notes on the subject on his home page, while some of the notes on his own message board also refer to this problem.

Brian himself commented in response to my recent enquiry on this matter, "I feel that I have gone as far back as it is possible to go with my personal ancestry, having got as far as William Copus, born in 1638 at Great Hasely, Oxfordshire, and that justifies being able to claim being of English origin. However, the earliest reference to the name I have found is that of the Physician Martin Copus, who was one of the Centuriators of Magdeburg in Germany and was recorded as being their treasurer, 1552-1574; he was also recorded as being a Lutheran scholar. This almost certainly confirms him as being German or Austrian. Then of course there was the composer Caspar Copus, born in 1523, who is referred to as being Hungarian. Of course I do not think for one moment that either of these gentlemen was one of my ancestors, but it does raise the interesting question as to how the name became widespread in England during the 17th century but appears to have died out as a German/Hungarian name."

Brian also kindly supplied various references to the origin of the Copus surname. As well as those citing possible German or Hungarian origins for some persons named Copus, these include, for example, one in "Surnames of the United Kingdom, A Concise Etymological Dictionary", by Henry Harrison (The Eaton Press, 190 Ebury Street, London, S.W., 1912). I have often heard it said that the origin of the Copus surname is something like "House on a hill", which does seem at least a reasonable possibility in the case of Copus families in (or originating from) England. Although it is impossible to say with any certainty how well-founded this might be (as surnames evolved some 700 years ago or so and there is no known contemporary account of the development of the Copus surname), for what it is worth, the derivation given for Copus in this Dictionary does appear to tie up with the "House on a hill" theory:-

"Dweller at the Copp-House (under Copp, and + Old English hus)". The notes on Copp referred to include the following (among other possibilities such as German derivations) - "English: topographic name for someone who lived on the top of a hill, from Middle English coppe, Old English copp, ‘summit’."

Matthew Copus
307 Dale Street
Kent ME4 6QR