Keats Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Keats Surname Meaning

Keats is an old English surname found mainly in the west country. Its origins are uncertain. There have been two suggestions:

  • that it was derived from the Old English cyte meaning a hut, shed or outhouse for cattle or sheep. Thus the name might describe someone who worked as a cattleman or sheep-herder.
  • that it was derived from the Old English cyta meaning kite or bird. Here the surname would have developed as a nickname for someone who is greedy.

Cornwall has the similar-sounding Keast surname which may have derived from kest, meaning a straw basket.

Keats Surname Resources on The Internet

Keats Surname Ancestry

  • from SW England
  • to America and Canada

EnglandThe Keates or Keats name appeared in Oxfordshire, at Sulham House, in the 1530’s and, in the next century, at Childrey nearby in Berkshire. But Keats is mainly a name of SW England.

SW England.  Dorset has had the largest numbers of Keats:

  • the main line here has been at Corfe Castle, starting with Robert Keate in 1633 and John and Sarah Keats who were married there in 1701.
  • a Keates family has been quarrying limestone at Purbeck since the late 1600’s. Keates Quarries are still in operation today.
  • Ann Keats, a heroine at the Battle of Waterloo, was born at Fordington in 1795.
  • and there were Keats living at Bockhampton since the 1760’s and were there at the time of the writer Thomas Hardy. 

“William Keates or Keats, the original of Tranter Dewy in Under the Greenwood Tree, lived on one half of the cottage next door to the Hardy family; and his brother Charles lived just along from them.”  

Somerset had the Keats family of Wiveliscombe starting in the late 1700’s with the Rev. Richard Keats, headmaster at Blundells School at Tiverton. His son Admiral Sir Richard Keats was a distinguished British naval officer. 

Dr. William Keate was an apothecary in Wells and its mayor in 1757. His sons Thomas and Robert had distinguished careers as surgeons; while John was the Head Master at Eton College.

Meanwhile the Cornish Keast sometimes became Keate or Keats.

John Keats.  The poet John Keats was born in London, the son of Thomas Keats who worked there as an ostler at stables attached to the Swan and Hoop inn. Thomas died in 1804 when John Keats was just nine years old. His origins are uncertain and various linkages have been suggested:

  • one connects him to the Keats of Corfe Castle or to the Keats at Bockhampton
  • another theory has him hailing from Cornwall (Sennen near Lands End)
  • or his origins might in fact have been in London.

Thomas Mower Keats, a hat manufacturer in London, did have some contact with the Keats family, although he himself went bankrupt in 1818. But his son Frederick Keats did well as the part-owner of the Fortnum & Mason emporium and was Sheriff of London in 1856. Two years later he was involved in divorce proceedings.

America. George Keats, younger brother of the poet, left England for America in 1818 and settled in Louisville, Kentucky. George invested there in a steamboat and a sawmill and later in property, culminating with the Louisville Hotel in 1836. Louisville honored his accomplishments by naming a residential street Keats Avenue.

Canada. Admiral Sir Richard Keats was the Governor of Newfoundland from 1813 to 1816. But the Keats name, probably brought by Dorset seamen, existed in Newfoundland long before that time.

Newfoundland.   John Cats or Cates, variant names of Keats, was an early settler with his family at Bonavista in 1677. Among later Keats in Newfoundland were:

  • John Keates a Justice at the fishing port of Ferryland in 1730
  • William Keate recorded at Trinity Bay in 1765
  • Robert Keats recorded at Bonavista in 1794
  • and Samuel Keates at Castle Cove in Bonavista Bay in 1856.

Keats tended to be pronounced “Cates” in Newfoundland.

One line in Newfoundland was apparently related to the poet John Keats. His nephew, also named John, came to Newfoundland, married, but returned to England after his wife died. John’s son Thomas, however, started a fishery supply business in Argentina which his grandson Thomas later recommenced.

The main Keats settlement has been at Bonavista. Keats Island in Bonavista Bay commemorates these Keats. In more recent times Ted Keats grew up in the Bonavista Bay area and became a mineral prospector.

Keats Surname Miscellany

The Keats Family of Wiveliscombe.  The Keats family diaries and papers here covered the period from 1746 to 1839.  The forebear of this Somerset family was the Rev. Richard Keats, headmaster at Blundells School in Tiverton from 1775 to 1797.  He died in 1812.

Attention then turned to his son Sir Richard Goodwin Keats, an Admiral in the British Navy.

As a young officer in the Navy, the Admiral had the Duke of Clarence (later King William IV) under his wing and a lifelong friendship ensued. Numerous letters from the Duke exist in the deposit, but notes by the Admiral indicate that he had destroyed those containing anything of a political or controversial nature.

The family papers also extended to two nephews of the Admiral. One was Colonel John Smith Keats, whose diaries and accounts (including periods in South Africa) were included in the deposit. Another nephew William Abraham Keats joined the Navy and also became an Admiral.  He died at his home at Porthill near Bideford in Devon in 1874.

The Keats of Wiveliscombe also included the local vicar – the Rev. Richard Keats who had been born in 1791.  On January 5 1820, as reported in the local newspaper, he was crossing the border from Wiveliscombe to Tiverton in Devon when he fell with his horse into a ditch full of snow.

“Mr. K dismounted, but was then precipitated into the snow to a depth that confined him to the spot.  A few minutes had elapsed when a laborer appeared to have been sent thither to render that part of the road passable.

But Mr. K’s hopes of relief were baffled by the deafness of the man to whom calls for assistance were ineffectually made.

In this predicament an ingenious resource suggested itself.  Mr. K supplied himself with snowballs which he threw towards the laborer and thus attracted the attention of which he was so much in need. The man came to the spot and with his spade successfully applied himself to the liberation of the snow-bound
prisoner.  He with his horse completed the remainder of his journey in safety.”

In 1834 the Rev. Richard Keats was presented with the living at the Northfleet parish in Gravesend, Kent.  The offer came from the King, William IV, undoubtedly through the influence of Admiral Sir Richard Keats who was then stationed nearby at Greenwich.

Ann Keats, Waterloo Heroine.  The inscription on her gravestone at the churchyard in Piddlehinton in Dorset reads as follows:

“She was a Waterloo heroine who assisted at the famous battle in 1815 by aiding and assisting the sick and wounded.  She endured many hardships, having followed the British army from Brussels to Paris.  From Paris to Dunney she returned to England and from thence to the Rock of Gibraltar where she remained for four years.

She afterwards resided in this parish where she received a pension through the instrumentality of Colonel Astell.  With that of many other officers by whose kindness this stone is raised as a tribute of respect to a long life spent in true and faithful service.”

Ann was born in Fordington in 1794 and married James Winzor there in 1811. James later enlisted in the Army – probably in either the 12th and 13th Light Dragoons that were based at the Fordington barracks – and Ann accompanied him when they mobilized.  That would explain her presence at the Battle of Waterloo.

Wellington lost around 15,000 dead of his force at Waterloo.  As one eye-witness reported: “The multitude of carcasses, the heaps of wounded men with mangled limbs unable to move and perishing from not having their wounds dressed or from hunger formed a spectacle I shall never forget.”

The 12th had six officers and 106 men killed or wounded; the 13th ten officers and 80 men killed or wounded.  They must have been Ann’s primary attention.

John Keats’ Upbringing.  John Keats had a difficult upbringing.  It was his mother’s side, the Jennings, which provided most of the early family support.

His father Thomas in fact worked as an ostler at the Swan and Hoop inn which his maternal grandfather John Jennings owned.  In April 1804, when Keats was eight, his father died. The cause of death was a skull fracture, suffered when he fell from his horse while returning from a visit to Keats and his brother George at school.

His mother Frances remarried two months later, abandoning her children.  She later left her new husband and returned to the family fold destitute and disease-ridden.  In March 1810, when Keats was 14, she died of tuberculosis.

Her children were then left in the custody of their grandmother Alice Jennings. That autumn John Keats started an apprenticeship with Thomas Hammond, a surgeon and apothecary who was a neighbor and the doctor of the Jennings family.

In 1815 Keats moved to London, registering at Guy’s Hospital for courses in dressing, a step towards licensure as a surgeon. A year later he abandoned medicine for poetry.  His Poems, released that year, were not a success.  But importantly he won the respect of Leigh Hunt and his literary circle who encouraged him in his poetry.

On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer.  John Keats wrote this sonnet in 1816.

  • “Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,
  • And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
  • Round many western islands have I been
  • Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
  • Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
  • That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
  • Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
  • Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
  • Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
  • When a new planet swims into his ken;
  • Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
  • He stared at the Pacific — and all his men
  • Looked at each other with a wild surmise —
  • Silent, upon a peak in Darien.”

Frederick Keats’ Divorce.  Frederick Keats, aged 46 and a widower with three children, married Esther Marett, aged 30 with no fortune, in 1854.  They lived in some splendor at their town house in London and country estate in Oxfordshire. In 1857 they toured the Continent and then made their home in Brighton.

Frederick was often away on business and Esther must have got bored.  She formed a relationship with Don Pedro de Montezuma, a Spaniard “of great musical talents.”  They ran off together to Dublin where they posed as husband and wife. Don Pedro later disappeared.

In the divorce proceedings that followed, Frederick’s lawyer argued:

“It cannot be imputed to a man who is immersed in business that he is neglecting his wife and has not a proper affection for her because he attends to that business. What would become of MP’s who remained at Westminster until all hours of the morning?  What about barristers who go on circuit for over a month twice a year? This cannot mean they give their wives almost a license to receive attentions from other men.”

Frederick was granted his divorce.

Ted Keats and Prospecting in Newfoundland.  Ted Keats was born in 1919 at Port Blandford on Bonavista Bay in Newfoundland.  His father died when he was two and Ted began working in the woods and on the land from a very early age.  He didn’t go to school and never learned to read or write.  Instead he culled a living from rural Newfoundland where he could turn his hand to many tasks, from trapping to boat building.

Ever adaptable, Ted Keats was fifty when he entered the field of mineral exploration. In 1969 Noranda Explorations opened an office in Gander and Ted and his son Allan thought that the company might be interested in the long-lost silver mine of his grandfather.

Noranda, intrigued, gave them $250 each, loaded them and a canoe in a floatplane, and flew them to the upper Terra Nova river.

“They spent a month, month and a half, and came out in mid-November. They shot caribou when they needed something to eat, caught rabbits.  The boys were used to living off the land. They came out by canoe and they came in with some interesting rocks.”

Noranda flew in to investigate and confirmed finds of mineralization. Later Ted Keats trained as a geophysical operator.  His sons and grandsons followed in his footsteps.  Ted is now considered the patriarch of the province’s first family of prospecting.

Ted Keats died in 2010, leaving behind nine sons and daughters and 114 grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren.

Keats Names

  • Sir Richard Keats was a British naval officer who fought through the American Revolution, the French Revolutionary War, and the Napoleonic Wars. 
  • John Keats was a much-loved English Romantic poet who died in 1821 at the young age of twenty five. 
  • Ezra Jack Keats (originally Katz), born in New York to Jewish immigrant parents, was a popular writer and illustrator of children’s books.

Keats Numbers Today

  • 1,000 in the UK (most numerous in Dorset)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Keats and Like Surnames

These are the names of some literary giants.  If you are interested in the name behind the literary figure, please click on the surname below.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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