About Names: Keith, popular in Britain, peaked in U.S. when Rolling Stones came along

Artist Keith Haring

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 18th column, he looks at the history of the name Keith.

Keith’s a Scottish surname from the “lands of Keith” in the county of East Lothian. The place name may come from Pictish for “woods.” Clan Keith is an important Scottish clan. The name of its founder is unknown. He was a warrior who killed Danish leader Camus at the Battle of Barrie in 1010. King Malcolm II granted him the lands of Keith and the title “Camus Slayer.”

As a famous aristocratic surname, Keith attracted use when the custom of giving surnames as first names took off in the 19th century. In Britain’s 1851 census, there were 96 Keiths in Scotland and 61 in England. The 1850 United States Census found 41 Keiths, only a quarter of Britain’s total when the two nations’ populations were about equal.

One-syllable names are now out of fashion. In 2017 Keith ranked 493rd, its lowest since 1901. Perhaps in another 40 years Keith will make parents happy again.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Keiths in American history!