The surname of HARPER was derived from the Old English word 'hearpere' one who played the harp. In early times the harper was a hereditary official in the household of many great families, and the Brehon laws rank the harp as 'the one art of music which deserves nobility'. The small villages of Europe, or royal and noble households, even large religious dwellings and monastries, gave rise to many family names, which reflected the occupation or profession of the original bearer of the name. Following the Crusades in Europe in the 11th 12th and 13th centuries a need was felt for an additional name. This was recognized by those of gentle birth, who realised that it added prestige and practical advantage to their status. At first the coat of arms was a practical matter which served a function on the battlefield and in tournaments. With his helmet covering his face, and armour encasing the knight from head to foot, the only means of identification for his followers, was the insignia painted on his shield, and embroidered on his surcoat, the draped and flowing garment worn over the armour. Early records of the name in Scotland mention William le Harpur of the county of Edinburgh in 1296. Walter Harper was a tenant of the Douglas's in the barony of Buittle in 1376. The harper was one of the most important figures of a medieval baronial hall, especially in Scotland and the north of England, and the office of harper was sometimes hereditary. Surnames before the Norman Conquest of 1066 were rare in England having been brought by the Normans when William the Conqueror invaded the shores. The practice spread to Scotland and Ireland by the 12th century, and in Wales they appeared as late as the 16th century. Most surnames can be traced to one of four sources, locational, from the occupation of the original bearer, nicknames or simply font names based on the first name of the parent being given as the second name to their child.
The associated arms are recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Registered at Cambusnethan, Scotland in 167