ABCs & Our Family Trees: Letter K

I have always been fascinated by language, specifically where it originates and how it adapts, mutates, and relates to other languages. That is why I found the recent series of blogs by Andrew’s Kindred so intriguing. It combined my love of etymology with my love of genealogy.  I was so inspired, in fact, that I decided to try my hand at chronicling the origins of our families’ surnames.


This is the tenth installment of a series of posts documenting the etymology of many of our families’ surnames (recent and distant, direct and indirect.)

Now that the I and J names have been discussed, next up is the letter K:

Kaufman (my spouse’s stepmother’s family)
German—Respelling of German surname Kaufmann, an occupational name for a merchant or wholesaler.

Keefer (my father’s maternal line)
German—The Americanized spelling of Kiefer, an occupational name for a cooper or the overseer of a wine cellar, derived from the Middle High German word, kuofe, meaning vat or barrel, In modern German, kiefer means either jaw or pine tree, whereas küfer means cooper. This name also might be derived from the Middle High German word, kiffen, meaning to quarrel. 

Kehrer (my spouse’s mother’s maternal line)
German—A topographic name for someone living by a bend in a road, derived from the Middle High German word kere, meaning a bend or corner. It could also be an occupational name for a cleaner, derived from the Middle Low or Middle High German word, kēren, meaning to sweep.

Keiser (my father’s paternal line)
German—From the Middle High German word keiser, meaning emperor, which was derived from the Latin imperial title Caesar. This was the title borne by Holy Roman Emperors from Otto I to Francis II . Later, it was borne by the monarch of Bismarck’s united Germany. It is very common as a German surname, originating partly as an occupational name for a servant in the emperor’s household, as a nickname for someone who behaved in an imperious manner, or from a house sign.

Keith (my mother’s paternal line—three branches)
Scottish—A habitational name from the lands of Keith in East Lothian. In the 17th Century, numerous bearers of this name settled in Ulster. It is a nickname derived from the Middle High German word kīt, meaning sprout or offspring. In the 11th Century, a party of Anglo-Saxons landed on the east coast of Scotland and assisted the native population in defeating the Danes. The Germans were apparently known as the Catti tribe. As a result of their success, they were granted lands in East Lothian, where, for many centuries, they were prominent land holders.

Keene (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This surname might be an Anglicized form of the Gaelic O’ Cathain, meaning descendant of Cathan, a personal name from a diminutive of cath, meaning battle. Second, it might be a nickname for a brave or proud person deriving from the Middle English word, kene, and Old English pre-7th Century word, cene. Third, it may have derived from the Middle English given name Kene, a short form of any of the various Old English pre-7th Century personal names with the first element cene or cyne, meaning royal. Finally, it might be an Anglicized form of the Scottish name Mac Eoin, meaning son of Eoin.

Keesecker/Kiesecker (my father’s maternal line)
German—This surname might have arisen as a nickname from Middle Low German term, kif sake, meaning a legal dispute. Or, it might be a topographic name derived from the word kies, meaning gravel or coarse sand, plus the word ecke, meaning corner, or the word ecker, a derivative of acker, meaning field.

Keller (my stepfather’s family)
German—This surname is derived from the Middle High German word kellaere, meaning cellarman or cellar master, hence an occupational name for the overseer of the stores, accounts, or household. Kellers were important as trusted stewards in a great household and, in some cases, were promoted to ministerial rank. 

Kelly (my spouse’s mother’s maternal line)
Irish—This surname is the Anglicized form of the Gaelic Ó Ceallaigh, which means descendant of Ceallach. This is an ancient Irish personal name, originally a byname meaning bright-haired or troublesome.

Kelsay (my mother’s paternal line)
English—A variation of the surname Kelsey, which is of locational origin from the villages of North or South Kelsey in Lincolnshire. The first element of Kelsey is believed to be the genitive case of the Old English pre-7th Century personal byname Cenel, from the word cene, meaning fierce or brave, plus the word eg, meaning an island.

Kember (my mother’s maternal line)
English—This surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and has two possible sources. The surname might derive from the Old English pre-7th Century word cemban, meaning to comb, and would have been an occupational name for a comber of wood or flax. The other possible derivation is from a metronymic, formed from the Old English female personal name Cyneburh, composed of the elements cyne, meaning royal, and burh, meaning fortress or stronghold.

Kemmerer (my spouse’s stepmother’s family)
German—A variant of the surname, Kämmerer, from the Middle High German word kamerære, meaning chamberlain, from the word kamer(e), meaning chamber.

Kemper (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
German—This is a status name denoting a peasant farmer or serf, derived from kemp, an occupational name for someone who grew, processed, or used hemp. It could also be a habitational name from any of the twelve places named Kempen in the Dutch-German border area. 

Kenney (my spouse’s father’s maternal and paternal lines)
IrishThis surname is of Old Gaelic origin, found in Scotland and Ireland, and is the Anglicized form of the Gaelic O’Cionnaoith, composed of the Gaelic prefix O’, meaning male descendant of, and the personal name Coinneach, an Old Irish personal name borne by a 6th Century monk and saint who gave his name to the town of Kilkenny, which means Church of Coinneach. In Scotland, this surname might be the Anglicized form of the Gaelic personal name Cionaodha, composed of cion, meaning respect or affection, and Aodh, the pagan god of fire.

Kendig/Kündig (my father’s paternal line)
German—From the German word, kundig, meaning skillful, knowledgeable, or clever. This word originated from the Middle Dutch word cunde and Old Dutch word kundi, plus the Old Dutch suffix -ig, which equates to an -ed.

Kern (my spouse’s stepmother’s family and my brother-in-law’s family)
German and English—This surname can be German, or English-Cornish, and sometimes Irish. Equally it has multiple meanings and derivations. If German and hence Anglo-Saxon (English), it probably derives from the pre-7th Century word gern, meaning desire. However, the surname can also be locational from the town of Kern, Germany. If Irish and possibly Cornish, the derivation is from the pre-10th Century Gaelic personal name Ceirin, meaning the little black one. As such it was a name given to the first chief of the clan, who was presumably dark-haired or of dark complexion.

Kessler (my father’s paternal line)
German—This is an occupational name for a maker of copper cooking vessels, derived from the Middle High German word kezzel, meaning kettle or  cauldron. The modern German word is kessel.

Kilb/Kilby (my brother-in-law’s family)
English—A habitational name from either the village of Kilby in Leicestershire, or the similar named villages of Killerby in the counties of Durham and North Yorkshire. The translation of the village names might be the child’s settlement from the pre-7th Century Old English and Norse word cilda-bi. This was a personal name of endearment given either to a first child or, more likely as land ownership is involved, to the eldest child of a local chief. To this has been added the Scandinavian element of -bi, meaning a settlement or farm.

Kinchen (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This surname might be from the thieves’ slang term kinchin, meaning child, which was probably derived from the German word kindchen, a diminutive of kind, meaning child.

King (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This nickname was given with reference to a variety of personal characteristics—physical attributes or peculiarities, mental and moral characteristics, or habits of dress and behavior. From the Middle English word king, ultimately from the Old English pre-7th Century word cyning, meaning king, used to denote someone who conducted himself in a kingly manner, one who had played the part of a king in a medieval pageant, or perhaps won the title in some contest.

Kingham (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
English—A locational name from Kingham in Oxfordshire. The name derives from the Old English pre-7th Century personal name Caega, plus the word ham, meaning a village, estate or homestead. As a surname, therefore, it denotes someone who comes from the village of Caega’s people, Caegingaham.

Kingsbury (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
English—This is a locational name from Kingsbury, Warwickshire; from Kingsbury, a now defunct medieval village near the town of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire; from Kingsbury, Middlesex, now part of Greater London; or from Kingerby, a village in Lincolnshire. In all cases, this placename means the king’s fortress, from the pre-7th Century Old English word cyne, meaning royal, and the word burg/burh, meaning stronghold or a fortified dwelling of a king or noble.

Kinkead (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
Scottish—This is a habitation name from the lands of Kincaid near Lemoxtown in Campsie Glen, Stirlingshire. It might be derived from the Gaelic word ceann, meaning head or top, plus the word caithe, meaning the pass, or it might be derived from the word cadha, meaning quagmire.

Kippert (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
German—Perhaps this is a spelling variation of the surname Klippert, which is an occupational name for a maker of clogs, derived from the Middle Low German word klipp, meaning low shoe or clog or derived from the Middle Low German word klipper, meaning wooden stick or clapper.

Kleb (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
German—This surname might be a variation of the German word klebe, meaning to stick, adhere, cling, glue, or paste. Klebe is derived from the Middle Low German word kleven.

Klopper/Klotter (my father’s paternal line)
Dutch/German—The Klopper surname might have been derived from the Dutch verb kloppen, meaning to tap, knock, beat, or sound, and could have been either a nickname or an occupational name, i.e. bellringer. Or, this surname might be from the Middle Low German word klūteren, meaning clutter.

Komnenos/Komnene (my mother’s paternal line—two branches)
Greek—This surname is locational in origin, referring to someone from the village of Komne in Thrace, a geographical and historical area in southeast Europe, bounded by the Balkan Mountains to the north, the Aegean Sea to the south and the Black Sea to the east. It comprises southeastern Bulgaria (northern Thrace), northeastern Greece (western Thrace) and the European part of Turkey (eastern Thrace). In antiquity, it was also referred to as Europe, prior to the extension of the term to describe the whole continent. The name Thrace comes from the Thracians, an ancient Indo-European people inhabiting Southeastern Europe.

Koontz (my father’s paternal line)
German—An Americanized version of Kuntz, a German surname, this surname from the old personal name Chunizo, possibly derived from the Old High German word kuoni, meaning bold, brave, or experienced, or from chunni, meaning race or people.

Kraft/Craft (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
German—This is a nickname for a strong man from the Old High German word kraft, meaning strength or power.

Kramer (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
German–This is an occupational name for a shopkeeper, peddler, or hawker, derived from the Middle High German and Middle Low German word kram, meaning trading post, tent, or booth.

Kressler (my spouse’s stepmother’s family)
German—This is a habitational name for someone from Kressel in Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

Kuhn (my father’s maternal line)
German—This surname is the German word kühn, meaning bold.

Kuykendall (my spouse’s mother’s maternal line)
Dutch—A topographic name for someone who lived by a church in a valley.

Well, that’s it for the K surnames… Next up are the L surnames.


For more information on the origins of many surnames, check out Almwch Data, Behind the Name, Irish Origenes, Surname Database, Surname Meanings and Origins, Surname Web, and Wiktionary.

#etymology     #familytree     #surnames

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Categories: Cole-Marriner Line, Extended Families, Harwick-Bush Line, Noel-Ardinger Line, Spangler-Kenney Line, Surnames from A to Z, Taylor-Thomas Line, Watts-Stark Line, Williams-Stott Line | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “ABCs & Our Family Trees: Letter K

  1. Fascinating! l love this series of posts. I haven’t gotten to the Ks in my lineage yet, though… soon. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so glad you enjoy this series, Amanda. As you know, I always enjoy reading your family surnames posts too. I can’t wait to read the next installment!

      Liked by 1 person

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