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About the study
A variety of explanations for the name have been put forward:-
- The Middle English "Kei", from the Danish dialect "Kei", meaning left-handed or left-footed, possibly a nickname for a clumsy person
- The Middle English "Ka", "Kae" or "Kay" from the Old Norse "Ka", meaning a jackdaw, presumably a nickname for someone who sounded like a jackdaw.
- Possibly the name for a key-bearer
- The Old French "Kay" and Middle English "Kay", "Key" or "Keay", meaning a quay; possibly indicating residence near or employment at a wharf or quay
- The Old Welsh "Kei", from the Latin "Caius".
More recently the name has also been adopted by many immigrants to English-speaking countries who originally had non-English surnames beginning with the letter "k".
The earliest recorded occurrences of the Kay name in England appear in Norfolk (1197), Northants (1199), Gloucestershire (1199), London (1207), Yorkshire (1219), Lancashire (1246), Worcestershire (1275), Sussex (1296), Suffolk (1327), Staffordshire (1331), Cumberland (1484), Cambridgeshire (1492), Somerset (1500) and Lincolnshire (1506). The widespread distribution of the name at such early dates indicates that there is unlikely to have been a single common ancestor for all Kays and that the name may well have appeared spontaneously in a number of places, no doubt for a variety of reasons.
Historical occurrences of the name
There have been may notable holders of the Kay(e) surname throughout history:
John Kay (c. 1482) - "poete lawreate" of Edward IV
John Kay (1704 - c.1780) - inventor of the flying shuttle
John Kay (1742 - 1826) - portrait etcher and miniature painter
Sir James Phillips Kay (1804-1877) - educational reformer