Why aren’t there people named Cobbler?

OK, per Google and Facebook there are some.  But very, very few.  Why?  Were there that many more wheelers, coopers, sawyers, and carters than there were cobblers?


(Maybe helpful:  the Census Bureau’s list of the 89,000 or so most common US surnames.)


16 thoughts on “Why aren’t there people named Cobbler?

  1. Stephan says:

    In Germany, Schuster (=cobbler) is a common last name. No idea, what that means…

  2. JSE says:

    According to Google language tools, “Schuster” covers both “cobbler” and “shoemaker” — is that right? “Shoemaker” isn’t a particularly common English surname, but there are more of them than there are Cobblers.

  3. Florian says:

    I was going to make the same remark as Stephan. You are right, a Schuster both produces and mends shoes. However, the analogue of cooper in German (Faßbinder) is rare.

  4. JSE says:

    Do “Schuster” and “Schumann” cover the exact same ground? I think of both as common.

    Other versions: “Cordonnier,” “Zapatero,” which are both in use as surnames, but in both cases these seem to include shoemakers as well as cobblers.

  5. Stephan says:

    Indeed, Schuster does cover both. However, there is of course also the Schuhmacher which is the literal translation of shoemaker and at least nowadays the official name for the profession.

    I also checked the German Wikipedia now, which says that Schuster is on place 64 of the list of most common last names in Germany. Schuhmacher is not on that list. However, Schubert, which in fact means Schuhmacher, is on place 50.

    Well, so here’s my question: is there also some equivalent last name in the U.S. / in other English speaking countries indicating the same profession which is more common?

  6. JSE says:

    I can’t find one. Shoemaker ranks 1,093, the best for any name containing the word “Shoe.” The name “Cobb” ranks 400, but seems to be unrelated to cobbling.

  7. Adolfo says:

    In Spanish Zapatero means a person (in fact a man, the woman would be zapatera) that makes, mends or sells shoes.

    In Spain it ranks 1914 among “first” surnames and 1874 if you consider both “first” and “second” surnames (there are even 13 people named Zapatero Zapatero). Not common, but not rare either, although in recent years the name has become quite well know since the President of our Government in 2004-20111 was José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and he was usually called just Zapatero.

    I do not know about other Spanish speaking countries.

    Looking at the statistics, I just learned that there are in Spain a few people named Zapatera, but only 289 counting both first and second surnames. No wonder I never met one!

  8. NDE says:

    Maybe “Cobbler” is disfavored compared to Zapatero etc. because “cobbler” s also a kind of pie?…

  9. Henry Cohn says:

    According to http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=cobbler%2Cshoemaker&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3, the word “shoemaker” has always been more common than “cobbler” in books in English, and it looks like the ratio may be rather high around 1800 (although Google’s data becomes very sparse at about that point). So one theory is just that “cobbler” was never a very common word. Another theory is that profession-based names are often old, and the further back you go, the less likely it is that someone would specialize only in repairing, and not making, shoes (I imagine it takes a pretty well-developed economy to support that level of specialization).

  10. plm says:

    I find it surprising that nobody mentioned that the term has (or may have) a pejorative connotation, unlike shoemaker or cordonnier.


    Also the quote: “The cobbler should stick to his last.”

    The etymology is blurry but I think at least that shoemakers would not usually refer to themselves as cobblers, contrary to cordonniers in France, or zapateros in Spain. In particular, they would (usually) not call their business “cobbler”, while cordonnier is standard in France. I cannot tell for german usage.

    The etymology being uncertain may reflect the fact that the word was used only in specific contexts or phrases, where it sounded particularly appropriate (the word may actually be onomatopoeic), and so would not be readily used as a formal description of one’s activity, unlike shoemaker, baker, etc.

    I think those reasons add up to a good justification for the rarity of Cobbler as last name.

  11. JSE says:

    Cool! Note that on this one:


    “cooper” and “miller” (common names) dominate “shoemaker” and “cobbler” (uncommon names) in the late 18th century, while “shoemaker” and “miller” are by far the two most common in most of the 19th. But I think surname fixation takes place even further back, before the range in which ngrams gives us reliable frequency data.

  12. plm says:

    I find Henry Cohn’s reasons quite good too, and the fact that the word cobbler may be more recent than shoemaker also adds to that (etymonline gives late 13th and ca. 1100 respectively).


  13. Fergal Daly says:


    along with “cobbled together” might make it less popular.

  14. Artie Prendergast-Smith says:

    Although Cobbler seems to be the extreme case, maybe it’s enlighenting to ask why other profession-names also seem to be underrepresented. The clearest example I can think of off the top of my head is Farmer: it is ranked 357 on the Census Bureau’s list, below (for example) Chandler, Barber, and Fletcher. Not so rare, but why aren’t there more?

  15. ARaybold says:

    Perhaps Farmer is not so common because when people were adopting surnames, a majority of the population labored in agriculture, and in particular, it was the primary occupation of those without specific skills, and a part-time activity of many who did have additional means of making a livelihood?

    More generally, perhaps surname frequencies are partly dependent on when the word entered the language? From a very brief search, it seems ‘cobbler’ made its appearance in English around the 14th. century, 400 or more years after ‘smith’.

    ‘Farmer’ apparently doesn’t show up until the late 14th century, and I get the impression it originally referred to a person renting land for agricultural use, of whom there would be perhaps an order of magnitude fewer than there were agricultural workers.

  16. JSE says:

    Update: lots of great discussion of occupational surnames, with specific reference to the shoe trade, at Languagehat: http://www.languagehat.com/archives/005099.php

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