An Anglo-Saxon name, derived from the word cote meaning small cottage, suggesting the bearer lived in same. The most famous Coats are the thread-making family of Paisley including brothers Sir Peter Coats (1808-90) and Thomas Coats (1809-83), together with Thomas's son George Coats (Lord Glentanar; 1849 - 1918) and Peter's son Sir James Coats (1834 - 1913).

Coates is used in placenames in England but also in East Lothian, Midlothian and Fife. There is also Coatbridge and Coatdyke in North Lanarkshire, together with Coatston and Coatsgate in Dumfries and Galloway.

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