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An excerpt from www.HouseOfNames.com archives copyright 2000 - 2014

Origins Available: English-Alt, English

Where did the English Key family come from? What is the English Key family crest and coat of arms? When did the Key family first arrive in the United States? Where did the various branches of the family go? What is the Key family history?

The name Key is part of the ancient legacy of the Anglo-Saxon tribes of Britain. It is a product of when the family lived near a dock, and may have been employed there having derived from the Old French word kay, which became kaye, keye, and keay in Old English. These were all words for docks, or quays. The original bearers of the name undoubtedly lived near some docks, and could easily have been workers there. There is also the possibility that the name is derived from the Latin personal name Caius, a name that dates from the Roman occupation of Britain. There is a record of a Britius filius Kay in 1199, in Northants; filius means "son of." There is a third possibility; in the north of England ka was a word for jackdaw (derived from the Old Scandinavian), and was often applied as a nickname; some nicknames became surnames and this could be one of them. However, the majority of examples of this name found in England are of the local type. This makes this name a polygenetic name, which means that it arose spontaneously at different times and places and meant different things.


The first dictionaries that appeared in the last few hundred years did much to standardize the English language. Before that time, spelling variations in names were a common occurrence. The language was changing, incorporating pieces of other languages, and the spelling of names changed with it. Key has been spelled many different ways, including Keyes, Key, Keys, Keye, Keyse and others.

First found in Yorkshire where they held a family seat from very ancient times, some say well before the Norman Conquest and the arrival of Duke William at Hastings in 1066 A.D.


This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Key research. Another 117 words(8 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Key History in all our PDF Extended History products.


More information is included under the topic Early Key Notables in all our PDF Extended History products.


Some of the Key family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt. Another 121 words(9 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products.


Thousands of English families in this era began to emigrate the New World in search of land and freedom from religious and political persecution. Although the passage was expensive and the ships were dark, crowded, and unsafe, those who made the voyage safely were rewarded with opportunities unavailable to them in their homeland. Research into passenger and immigration lists has revealed some of the very first Keys to arrive in North America:

Key Settlers in the United States in the 17th Century

  • Martha Key, who arrived in Virginia in 1628
  • John Key settled in Barbados in 1634
  • Richard Key, who landed in Virginia in 1637
  • Adam Key settled in Virginia in 1639
  • Adam Key, who landed in Virginia in 1639

Key Settlers in the United States in the 18th Century

  • Moses Key, who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1700
  • Eliza Key, who arrived in Virginia in 1702
  • Roger Key, who landed in Virginia in 1705
  • Thomas Key, who landed in Virginia in 1714
  • Philip Key, who arrived in Maryland in 1720

Key Settlers in the United States in the 19th Century

  • Elley Key, who arrived in New York, NY in 1811
  • James Key, who landed in New York, NY in 1811
  • Robert Key, aged 22, arrived in Georgia in 1812
  • Johannes Ahlgrin Key, who arrived in Mobile County, Ala in 1840
  • Leonard Ash Key, who landed in New York, NY in 1841


  • Francis Scott Key (1779-1843), American lawyer, author, and amateur poet, from Georgetown, who wrote the words to the United States' national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner"
  • Alexander Hill Key (1904-1979), American science fiction writer
  • David McKendree Key (1824-1900), American Senator and U.S. Postmaster General
  • James L. Key (1866-1939), American politician who served four terms as mayor of Atlanta
  • Major-General William Shaffer Key (1889-1959), American Commanding General US Forces Iceland (1943-1944)


  • Key and Allied Families by Janie Warren Lane.
  • Key is My Name by Irene Frances Key Padgett.

The motto was originally a war cry or slogan. Mottoes first began to be shown with arms in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were not in general use until the 17th century. Thus the oldest coats of arms generally do not include a motto. Mottoes seldom form part of the grant of arms: Under most heraldic authorities, a motto is an optional component of the coat of arms, and can be added to or changed at will; many families have chosen not to display a motto.

Motto: In Domino confido
Motto Translation: I trust in the Lord.


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  1. Skordas, Guest. Ed. The Early Settlers of Maryland an Index to Names or Immigrants Complied from Records of Land Patents 1633-1680 in the Hall of Records Annapolis, Maryland. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1968. Print.
  2. Papworth, J.W and A.W Morant. Ordinary of British Armorials. London: T.Richards, 1874. Print.
  3. Leeson, Francis L. Dictionary of British Peerages. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1986. Print. (ISBN 0-8063-1121-5).
  4. Filby, P. William and Mary K Meyer. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index in Four Volumes. Detroit: Gale Research, 1985. Print. (ISBN 0-8103-1795-8).
  5. Bede, The Venerable. Historia Ecclesiatica Gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History Of the English People). Available through Internet Medieval Sourcebook the Fordham University Centre for Medieval Studies. Print.
  6. Virkus, Frederick A. Ed. Immigrant Ancestors A List of 2,500 Immigrants to America Before 1750. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1964. Print.
  7. Burke, Sir Bernard. General Armory Of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Ramsbury: Heraldry Today. Print.
  8. Bardsley, C.W. A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames: With Special American Instances. Wiltshire: Heraldry Today, 1901. Print. (ISBN 0-900455-44-6).
  9. Humble, Richard. The Fall of Saxon England. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1975. Print. (ISBN 0-88029-987-8).
  10. Hanks, Hodges, Mills and Room. The Oxford Names Companion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print. (ISBN 0-19-860561-7).
  11. ...

The Key Family Crest was acquired from the Houseofnames.com archives. The Key Family Crest was drawn according to heraldic standards based on published blazons. We generally include the oldest published family crest once associated with each surname.

This page was last modified on 3 October 2013 at 14:29.

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