Finding the original derivation of any surname is not easy and certainly is not an exact science. Although some seem to relate to occupations or places the original derivation can be at best educated guesswork. Culpin as a surname has a clear advantage for the genealogist in that it does appear to be highly localised.
One genealogist researching the name told us with me with some certainty that he felt every Culpin he had come across could be traced back to a small area of North Northamptonshire and Rutland. Throughout our researches into the name over the last thirty years, the number of occurrences that contradicted this are tiny and may be resolved by further research to fit in with the criteria.
As a result the main spelling CULPIN does appear to derive from a family or small group of families that originated somewhere near to Rutland, Northamtonshire border area near to King’s Cliffe, Aperhorpe or Woodnewton.
Some derivations such as CULPINE can easily be explained as spelling variations of this original name but other variations such as CULPAIN or CULPAN clearly have other derivations. Considering the available evidence this variation appears to originate from West Yorkshire.
There has been much speculation that the origins of the surname CULPIN lie outside England and that an perhaps an early ancestor was from another European country. Given that there are known early occurrences of the name in France, that country as a possible source certainly that seems to be the best guess we can make at the moment of its origin.
CULPIN is used as a current surname in France, Belgium and parts of German near to the French border, and there is a similar name COLPIN which when pronounced even today sounds very much like our names CULPIN and CULPAN.
Phillipe Catelin, a french genealogist places the origins in a diminutive of the christian name Nicholas (often termed COL)
Nom assez fréquent dans le Nord-Pas-de-Calais et en Belgique. C’est un diminutif du nom de baptême Nicolas, formé à la fois par aphérèse (Nicolas, Nicol > Col) et par suffixation (suffixe diminutif -epin).
Jan George’s book on Culpans also traces back the origins of the Culpan form of the surname to France but with a different origin.
The name Culpan is not a common one and is known only in the Halifax area of West Yorkshire from earliest times. It is peculiar to that part of the ancient parish of Halifax allotted to William of Warren, by the King, and comes from the Old French word “culpan” or “colpan” meaning “a detached part”.
So a challenge, if you know of a CULPIN ancestor that was born or baptised in the 1400s do let us know. If you can find one living anywhere other than our target area before the mid 1500s we would love to know!