The Kay Family Association UK

The Different Spellings

On this page, we look at the various spellings of the name that we’ve selected, and their use in England, Scotland and Wales

Kays in England

Cay (0.8%)
Key (17.1%)
Kay (53.8%)
Keye (0.2%)
Kaye (16.8%)
Keyes (1.1%)
Kayes (0.6%)
Keys (5.2%)
Kays (1.0%)
Kie (0.1%)
Keay (3.3%)

In England, the name Kay and its variants was more common in the north, the biggest concentrations by far being in Lancashire (31% of the total for England) and Yorkshire (22%). There were Kays in every county in England, but the most significant presence after Lancashire and Yorkshire was the City of London, with 10% of the national total. London was always going to attract people from all over the country (and Scotland it would seem – a third of those living there were called MacKay, McKay or McKie) but this is a very high number; from the early records we’ve seen, some of them had been there for a long time.

Kay and Kaye

It will come as no surprise to readers of a Yorkshire origin to find that the great majority of Kayes (75% of them) lived in Yorkshire. What does surprise, and may shatter a few cherished illusions, is that the Kaye variant was by no means as common in that county as might have been thought; slightly less than half (46%) of those living in the county spelt their name with an ‘e’ and the Kays without an ‘e’ were not far behind them with 38% of the total for the county. Contrast Lancashire, where less than 5% put an ‘e’ in their name.

Keys, Kies and Cays

Cay was often used in 17th and 18th century registers, but generally died out except in Aberdeenshire in Scotland and a small section of north east England around Sunderland. In 1891 it was also to be found in London, Cambridgeshire and Warwickshire. Key was, as expected, used in Yorkshire, but also occurred in a number of other widely distributed counties – London (where there were as many Keys as Kays), Cheshire, Cornwall, Cumberland, Derbyshire, Essex, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire being the top of the list.


Cay (1.1%)
Key (5.0%)
Kay (74.0%)
Keye (0.1%)
Kaye (3.1%)
Keyes (0.2%)
Kayes (0.1%)
Keys (3.5%)
Kays (0.5%)
Kie (0.3%)
Keay (12.1%)

Kay was clearly the predominant name in Scotland, but Keay had a greater presence than in England – there was a very high concentration of them in Angus particularly, and to a lesser extent in Perthshire.

To put things in perspective, here’s what we get if we include all names beginning with ‘Mac’ and ‘Mc’:

Cay (0.1%)
Keyes (0.0%)
Kay (9.3%)
Keys (0.4%)
Kaye (0.4%)
Kie (0.0%)
Kayes (0.0%)
MacKay (29.2%)
Kays (0.1%)
MacKie (11.3%)
Keay (1.5%)
McKay (41.9%)
Key (0.6%)
McKie (4.9%)
Keye (0.0%)

The Kay presence, though considerably lessened, is still significant. It is worth noting that while 29% of the Scottish MacKays and McKays were in an area centred on Sutherland in the far north of Scotland, together with the neighbouring counties of Ross & Cromarty and Caithness – the homelands of Clan MacKay – the great majority of the rest lived much further south. The south is also where we find the Kays; the map on the Kays in Scotland page clearly shows where they lived.


Cay (7.2%)
Keay (1.3%)
Kay (28.1%)
Key (34.0%)
Kaye (5.5%)
Keye (2.6%)
Kayes (4.7%)
Keyes (6.4%)
Kays (0.9%)
Keys (9.4%)

The Roman name Caius has been suggested as a possible origin for our surname and is assumed to be the root of ‘Kei’ who appeared in early Welsh legends. But there were actually very few Kays living in Wales in 1891 – only 316 families – and, as might be expected, the Key variant was slightly more common than Kay, though there were some MacKays as well. Presumably this was the origin of the Key variant in Cornwall – that variant was almost universal there. Likewise the suggestion that the Manx Kie or MacKie might a possible origin is not born out by the figures – there was just one MacKie there in 1891, compared with 42 Kays, 62 Kayes and 10 MacKays. Our DNA study suggested a separate origin for these Kays, one has to assume Scandinavian.

And Finally

For the sake of completeness, here’s the distribution of names across all countries:

Cay (0.9%)
Key (15.6%)
Kay (56.4%)
Keye (0.2%)
Kaye (14.8%)
Keyes (1.0%)
Kayes (0.5%)
Keys (5.0%)
Kays (0.9%)
Kie (0.2%)
Keay (4.5%)

As expected, the name Kay is still predominant. That’s why we call ourselves the Kay Family Association. But however we spell our name, we’re all still Kays!