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About the study

The Tapper One-Name Study was started around 1985, when I began to try and trace my ancestors. It focuses mainly on anyone of that name with English ancestors. It is important to note that the name evolved separately in other countries as well, for example Sweden (where it means "€œbrave"€) and Germany. The Tappers in this particular One-Name study all originated in various parts of England, however, and have since spread to all corners of the globe.

Variant names

There are no variants, although occasionally the name may have been spelled as "€œTupper"€ due to regional accents. This is very rare though as most Tappers (even the illiterate ones) appear to have known how the name should be spelled and very few mistakes have been found in church records or registers.

Name origin

According to most surname books, the name Tapper means "€œtapster"€ or "€œinnkeeper"€ (usually female!). It seems likely that it originated in Devon, as that is where the largest number of early Tapper references have been found, and then the family spread into Dorset and from there to Wiltshire, Somerset and London.

Historical occurrences of the name

The Tappers owned some land in the 1500/1600s, but have not been very noticeable throughout English history. None have truly distinguished themselves, although there are a few who have been eminent or outstanding in some way, as follows:-

  • Olyver Tapper (1560?-1616?) was Alderman of Exeter in 1603 (and his son of the same name in 1638).
  • Richard Tapper (from Devon, birth date unknown) was one of the first 16 scholars nominated to attend Wadham College, Oxford, by its founder Dorothy Wadham. He was admitted on 3rd June 1614.
  • James Tapper (1783?-1852) fought in the Maori War of 1845. He arrived on the HMS Hazard in Kororareka with his wife and two children. On a hill above the town, the army had apparently built a blockhouse, complete with flag pole. The 96th Foot Regiment were on board the Hazard, but James was listed as a civilian. Despite this, he took part in a battle fought when the Maoris cut down this flag pole three times. He was said to have acted as a signaller and he and his family all escaped unscathed.
  • John Tapper (1823-1909, originally from Dorset), fought in the Mexican War, then later operated a ferry across the Mississippi between St Anthony and Minneapolis. He allegedly built the first house on the west side of the river there and was one of the first settlers, a hardy pioneer.
  • Daniel Tapper (1798-1860?) and his wife Ann were among the first settlers in Fremantle, Western Australia. They arrived with the ship Rockingham in 1830 and suffered great hardship before the little colony began to thrive.
  • William Court Parsons Tapper, OBE, (1874-1972) was an eminent engineer and manager of the Stepney Electricity Undertaking from 1900 until his retirement in 1933.
  • Garth Purcell Tapper (1927-1999) was a famous artist in New Zealand, whose paintings are highly sought after.

Name frequency


Distribution of the name

The highest proportion of Tappers are still to be found in Devon, with many now also centred in London, Birmingham and Dorset. There is a large Tapper branch in New Zealand, several in Australia and numerous Tapper branches in the USA (although many of those are descended from European or Scandinavian Tappers, as opposed to UK ones and therefore not included in this One-Name Study).


All occurrences of the name from the Birth, Marriage and Death entries of the General Register Offices for England & Wales (since 1837) have been extracted, together with most of the census records. All grants of probate since 1858 have been recorded as well, and all wills listed in Devon, Dorset and Wiltshire. Numerous parish registers have been searched, as well as various overseas listings.