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An excerpt from www.HouseOfNames.com archives copyright 2000 - 2015

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 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 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 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

Key Settlers in Australia in the 19th Century

  • Mary Key arrived in Adelaide, Australia aboard the ship "John" in 1840
  • William Key, English convict from London, who was transported aboard the "Anson" on September 23, 1843, settling in Van Diemen's Land, Australia
  • James Key, English convict from Norfolk, who was transported aboard the "Adelaide" on August 08, 1849, settling in Van Diemen's Land and Port Phillip, Australia
  • Joseph Key, aged 25, a miner, arrived in South Australia in 1857 aboard the ship "Royal Albert"

Key Settlers in New Zealand in the 19th Century

  • Thomas Key, aged 40, a labourer, arrived in Wellington, New Zealand aboard the ship "Oliver Lang" in 1856
  • Jane Key, aged 41, arrived in Wellington, New Zealand aboard the ship "Oliver Lang" in 1856
  • Elizabeth Key, aged 19, a domestic servant, arrived in Wellington, New Zealand aboard the ship "Oliver Lang" in 1856
  • Mary A. Key, aged 15, a domestic servant, arrived in Wellington, New Zealand aboard the ship "Oliver Lang" in 1856
  • Louisa Key, aged 13, arrived in Wellington, New Zealand aboard the ship "Oliver Lang" in 1856


  • 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
  • Francis Scott Key (1779-1843), American lawyer, author, and amateur poet, from Georgetown, who wrote the lyrics to the United States national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner"
  • 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.


  1. Le Patourel, John. The Norman Empire. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. Print. (ISBN 0-19-822525-3).
  2. Shaw, William A. Knights of England A Complete Record from the Earliest Time to the Present Day of the Knights of all the Orders of Chivalry in England, Scotland, Ireland and Knights Bachelors 2 Volumes. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing. Print. (ISBN 080630443X).
  3. Bolton, Charles Knowles. Bolton's American Armory. Baltimore: Heraldic Book Company, 1964. Print.
  4. Elster, Robert J. International Who's Who. London: Europa/Routledge. Print.
  5. Markale, J. Celtic Civilization. London: Gordon & Cremonesi, 1976. Print.
  6. Burke, Sir Bernard. Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry: Including American Families with British Ancestry. (2 Volumes). London: Burke Publishing, 1939. Print.
  7. Leeson, Francis L. Dictionary of British Peerages. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1986. Print. (ISBN 0-8063-1121-5).
  8. Marcharn, Frederick George. A Constitutional History of Modern England 1485 to the Present. London: Harper and Brothers, 1960. Print.
  9. Cook, Chris. English Historical Facts 1603-1688. London: MacMillan, 1980. Print.
  10. 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).
  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 8 January 2015 at 12:49.

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