Surname is the name prefixed by “sur,” an old French word for on, which is a derivative from of the Latin “super," meaning over or above; therefore, it means additional name. As early as the 14th century it was spelled as “sirname” or “sirename," which according to folk etymology suggests that it meant man's name or father's name.


Surnames, which are also known as family names or last names, provide an indication as to which family a person belongs. In Western Societies children inherit their father’s surname. There is also a patriarchal tradition for a woman to change her surname upon marriage to that of her husband.


Today we take surnames for granted and assume that they have always existed. In reality they have evolved from a need to identify individuals other than by the vagaries of a given name and other identifiable factors.  This is perfectly demonstrated by the legend of Robin Hood, Earl of Loxley, and his Merry Men; Little John, Much the Miller's Son, Will Scarlet, Arthur a Bland, David of Doncaster, Will Stutely, Friar Tuck, and Alan-a-Dale. These would have been actual names, and not nicknames substituting for the proper name, i.e. Buffalo Bill the American Old West hero, whose real name was William Cody.


The Evolution of Surnames


There is some uncertainty as to when surnames were first used, but it is believed their usage coincided with the development of large concentrated populations and the need to identify individuals, i.e. for taxation purposes. The Chinese, during the reign of Emperor Fu Xi in 2852 BC, are said to have introduced surnames to facilitate their population census. In England the introduction is attributed to the Norman’s Domesday Survey in 1086. During the 13th and 14th centuries, surnames were adopted by the nobility and landed classes, which then devolved down to the rest of society. By 1400 most people in England and the Lowlands of Scotland had surnames, but many Irish, Highlanders and Welsh people didn't adopt them until the 17th century, or later. The origin of British surnames can be traced to specific definable categories:



Smith, Archer, Baker, Milner, Cooper, Warner

Personal characteristics:

Short, Long, Brown, Whitehead

Geographical features:

Hill, Lee, Wood, Fields

Place names:

Hamilton, Sutton, Sheffield, Liddington


Richardson, Williams, Johnson


Tillotson a from a diminutive for Matilda

Clan names:

MacDonald, MacNeish, Campbell, Wallace


Church, Chapel, Parish Bishop, Priest, Abbot.


Castle, Croft, Barnes, House


The History of the Keep Surname


The name Keep is of early medieval English origin and has been recorded as:


ate Kepe:

Thomas ate Kepe 1327 Sussex

atte Kep:

William atte Kep 1290


Robert de Keepe 1332 Cumberland

de Keepe:

Henry Keepe 1611 Northamptonshire


Walter Kep 1230 Buckinghamshire


John Kepe 1290 Buckinghamshire


William Keppe 1583 Bermodsey


That the spelling of surnames has varied over time is due to very low literacy rates and the reliance on phonetic recording, or a deliberate choice of the family.


Keep may be residential, describing a person who lived at a castle, as in the Keep; or possibly occupational, describing a gaoler from the Middle English word "keep," from the verb "keepen," meaning to hold or possibly defend. There is a school of thought that suggests that the name Keep comes from de Kyper. If so, the prospects present an exciting new dimension to the DNA project, especially when you consider all the potential spelling variations in respect of de Kyper.


From his research , Philip Keep of Norwich, England, discovered that during the 11th century, prior to the French invasion by William the Conqueror, the Keep family name was spelled as Cheppe in Old English.  See the British and Irish Keeps page for more information.

   The Keep Family 
Keeps Worldwide
The DNA Project 

Our Surname


Whilst the purpose of this website and its research is to find out more about our ancestors, one cannot ignore the Keep surname. This is an important factor in the project, and is an indispensable precursor in tracing the Keep lineage.

 A Castle Keep
The Origin of Surnames
The Keep Family
The Keep Family
DNA Project
John Keep of Longmeadow
Colonial History
Walter Kep, English History
The East Midlands Keeps
The North American
Keep Families
The European
Keep Families
The British and Irish
Keep Families
The Southern Hemisphere
Keep Families
How to Participate
Contacts and
Keep Family Links
The Keep Family
Keep Trivia
The Keep Family Contributions to Society
Table of Contents