This interesting surname with variant spellings Kay, Kaye, Kayes, Keay, Keays, Keeys, Key, Keye, Keyes, Keys, Keyse, is derives from a number of different sources. Firstly, it may be an occupational name for a maker of keys or for someone who held the office of key bearer, deriving from the old English pre 7th Century "coeg" meaning "key". Secondly, it may be a topographical name for someone who lived by a wharf or was employed on one, deriving from the middle English, old French "Kay(e)", meaning "quay".Thirdly, it may be from the middle English given name Kay of Celtic origin from the old Welsh "cai" meaning "corn", which was borne by the boastful foster-brother of King Arthur. This name may be ultimately derived from the old Roman given name Gaius. Fourthly, it may be a nickname from the jackdaw, deriving from the Northern middle English "kay" old Norse "ka". Finally, it may be a nickname for a left-handed man, deriving from the Danish "kei" meaning "left". One Cecilia de Kay (1199) is recorded in the Pipe Rolls of Gloucestershire and Adam Kay (1218), "The Assize Court Rolls of Yorkshire". One Margaret Key, aged 20, a famine emigrant, sailed from Liverpool aboard the Queen-of-the-West bound for New York, on April 11th 1846. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Geoffrey Cai, which was dated 1197, in the Pipe Rolls of Norfolk, during the reign of King Richard 1, known as "the Lionheart", 1189 - 1199. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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