Kemp Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Kemp Meaning
The Middle English and German word kempe
was a status name for a champion, a professional fighter or jouster who
engaged in
single combat on behalf of others.
For example the King’s
champion at his
coronation had the duty of issuing a general challenge to battle to
anyone who would deny the king’s right to the throne. The Norfolk
is a term for an old warrior who has seen many a battle.
The surname
spelling began as Campe or Kempe and later gave way to Kemp.

Kemp Resources on

Kemp Ancestry

Fred Hitchin-Kemp in his 1902 book A
History of the Kemp and Kempe Families of Great Britain
that the Kemp name was mainly to be found in the eastern and southern
counties of England. Early sightings of the name were:

  • Edmund Kempe in Norfolk in 1099
  • Alan Kempe in Suffolk in 1273
  • and Ralph le Kemp in Sussex in 1296.

SE England.
Ralph Kempe who lived in the early 1300’s and held the Olantigh
manor near Ashford was the earliest known ancestor of the Wye Kempes
Kent. Two famous descendants were John Kemp, the 15th century
Archbishop of Canterbury, and his nephew Thomas Kempe, Bishop of
London. An account of the time read:

with two great men of this name, John Kempe, born at Wye in Kent,
Archbishop of
York and afterwards of Canterbury. He
died a very old man in 1453. The other
was Thomas Kemp, his nephew, who was consecrated Bishop of London in
1449 by
his uncle the Archbishop.”

Sir Thomas Kempe died in 1607 and he was the last of the
family to live at the manor.

Will Kempe, a comic actor on the
London stage at the time of Shakespeare, is believed to have been
related to him. The Kempes intermarried with the nearby Digges
family and some of them were to cross the Atlantic to America. Other
Kempes moved to Lavethan in Cornwall and to Slindon in
Sussex. A later descendant was the property developer Thomas Read
Kemp who built Kemp Town in Brighton in the early 1800’s before fleeing
his creditors and dying in France.

East Anglia.
Another notable Kempe family began in East Anglia with Nicholas
Kempe in the early 1400’s. They
resided at Spains Hall at
Finchingfield in Essex
and at Cavendish in Suffolk. Their
numbers included the 16th century judge George Kempe.
William Kempe the mute died at Spains Hall in
1628; while
Kempe was supposed to have been knighted by Cromwell on the steps
of the house in 1641 (
home in Huntingdon was but a short distance away and Stephen Marshall,
Cromwell’s favorite preacher, was the incumbent at Finchingfield). This Kempe line died out in the 1750’s.

John Kempe and Margery Brunham married in King’s Lynn, Norfolk
around the year 1393. It was Margery Kempe who became famous –
writing The Book of Margery Kempe, a work considered by some to
be the first autobiography in the English language. The book
chronicled her pilgrimages to various holy sites in Europe and Asia, as
well as her mystical conversations with God.

local gentry at the small village of Gissing near Diss in Norfolk,
starting with
Robert Kempe in the early 16th century. For
generations the bulk of the population there were Kemp family tenants. The last of these Kemps, Sir Robert Kemp,
died in 1936.

There was also a Kemp outpost in Cornwall, dating back to the 1500’s
at Lavethan. James Kempe, the son of Nicholas and Joanna Kempe,
was born at St. Gerrans in 1637. The American politician Jack
Kemp was said to
have been of Cornish origin.

Scotland. Kemps in
Scotland are thought to have a similar meaning but be of Viking origin.

“It appears that a branch of Norwegian
settlers with the name Kemp first settled in Scotland in the Orkneys
but later moved to safer ground on the mainland and further south as
the Vikings began their forays and invasions into the area.”

They were to be found in the Black Isle in eastern Rossshire, near
Inverness in the Highlands. This isle was a hotbed of Jacobite
in 1745. After the defeat at Culloden many Kemps emigrated. Some
Kemps in Rossshire
may have been English ironworkers at

America. Edmund Kempe had
married Mary Digges in Kent and they were in Virginia by 1653.
Their son Colonel Matthew Kemp was a Virginia colonial politician, a
Speaker at the Virginia House of Burgesses.

Robert Kemp was a
Quaker from Yorkshire who came to Maryland in 1664. He married and secured a
tract of land called Bolton in Talbot county.
His son John was the first of five father-to-son John Kemps that
and worked on the Bolton farm. Kemp
descendants were to live on the property for nigh on two hundred years

Edward and Ann Kemp came to Groton, Massachusetts from Norfolk in 1658
and Ebenezer Kemp
of this line fought in the Revolutionary War. Afterwards Ebenezer
moved his family to Gorham in Maine.

German Kemps.
Kemps in America are mainly of English origin. Conrad Kaempf
(Kemp in America) came to Philadelphia with three of his sons from
Germany in 1733 and made for the German community in Frederick county,
Maryland. Some Kempes/Kemps
arrived from Germany in the 19th century and a few also from Sweden.

Kemps were one of the families that left
Charleston, South Carolina for the Bahamas in 1776 to start a new life
there. They were to be found on the
island of Eleuthera. Some later
emigrated to Canada

South Africa.
in South Africa are as likely to be of Dutch as of English

  • Pieter Kemp arrived in the Cape in the early 1700’s and
    his family settled at Stellenbosch.
  • Dr. Johannes van der Kemp was
    a Dutch missionary who came to Port Elizabeth in 1803 and left what is
    now called the Van der Kemp Memorial Church.
  • and Jan

    the Eastern Transvaal was a commando leader against the British during
    the Boer War.

John and Anne Kemp from Sussex were among the 1820 British settlers and
James and Martha Kemp from Kent arrived on the Eastern Cape sometime in
the 1830’s. They were brother and sister and had apparently left
England because Mary was bearing an illegitimate child. Joshua
Kemp was father of the first board of commissioners in Port Elizabeth
in the 1840’s. South African Kemps were covered in M.V. Hall’s
1995 book Kemps of the Border.

Australia. Anthony Kemp

had come out to Australia
in 1795 as part of the NSW Corps. He was one of the key
participants in the Rum Rebellion that removed the existing governor of
the colony and established an interim
military government. He later settled in Tasmania and became a
successful merchant and farmer there.

Charles Kemp was one of Sydney’s early successful businessmen. He
had arrived with his parents from London in 1825 and rose “from
obscurity to eminence and influence.” He had started out in
newspapers and expanded into banking, insurance and railways.

New Zealand.
James and Charlotte Kemp, missionaries from
Norfolk, were very early arrivals in New Zealand. They
came to the Bay of Islands via Sydney in
1818 and helped found the Church Missionary Society station at Kerikeri. The Kemps lived on until 1860 in their mission
house, the present Kemp House, into which they had moved in 1832. In 1974, the house, the oldest existing
building in New Zealand, was presented to the nation by their great
Ernest Kemp


Kemp Miscellany

Wye Kempe Origins.  Ralph Kempe,
also known as Radulphus de Campis, was born in Kent sometime in the
1270’s.  He was the first to hold the manor
of Olantigh and also the first of the Wye Kempes.

Hitchin-Kempe in his Kemp history concluded that Ralph Kempe was
not, as
some had thought, the son of John Kempe, a Flemish weaver who had
settled in
England under royal protection – because this John Kempe had appeared
much later
in 1313.

Ralph Kempe might have been
related to an earlier Kempe recorded in Kent in a legal document in
Canterbury.  Robert le Kempe in 1227 was
“granted the
tenancy of five acres of land at Holborough at a yearly rent of 12
pence.”  This Kempe was thought to have had
connections.  The Kempe name had been
long established there. 

The Kempes of Spains Hall in Essex.  There has been a house on the site of Spains Hall for nearly ten centuries. The hall was named after Hervey de Ispania who held the
Manor at
the time of the Domesday Book in 1086.
The estate passed to the Kempe family on the marriage of Margery
Ispania to Nicholas Kempe in the early 1400’s.
The façade of the present Elizabethan house was built in 1585.

William Kempe who died there in 1628 was the
subject of the following story that went the rounds in the village:

appears that the squire, returning from a banquet, used foul language
to his
wife, whose gentle nature was so hurt that her tears were with
stopped.  When the squire returned to his
sober senses he vowed that for seven years he would speak no word to

vow he most rigorously
kept, filling up his days with manual labor by way of further penance.  His toil resulted in the formation of seven
pools or fishponds, each one larger than the last, stretching away from
hall to the woods near the town.  His
self-inflicted punishment was just completed – they said that it was
the very
day that he could once more speak – when he died.”

story, though told with variations, was
founded on fact.  The tablet to the
memory of William and his wife in the Kempe Chapel of Finchingfield
church read
as follows:

“Here lyeth William Kempe
esquire, pious, just, hospitable, master of himself so much that what
scarce do by force and penalties he did by a voluntary constancy hold
his peace
seven years; who was interred June the 10th 1628, aged

Kemps in Rossshire and Nova Scotia.  The Kemps
in Rossshire in Scotland may have had Viking roots.
Another theory is that some of these Kemps could
have come from northern England to work at the ironworks at Gairloch.

Kemp lived in Gairloch in the late 18th
century.  He was married three times and
had many children.  Some of them stayed
in Scotland.  Most emigrated to Nova
Scotia, arriving there in and around 1820.
Many of them changed their names from Kemp to Kempt.

Kemp from Kemp’s second marriage settled in Lunenburg, Nova
Scotia.  Murdoch Kempt went first to Pictou in Nova Scotia and
then moved onto Boularderie and settled in what is now known as Kempt’s
Head.  A number of Kempts followed the Rev. Norman McLeod in the
1840’s in leaving Nova Scotia to found a new colony in New Zealand.

Ebenezer Kemp of Groton, Mass and Gorham, Maine.  Ebenezer Kemp Senior was a bayonet-man in Captain James Prescott’s company of
soldiers in
1758 during the French and Indian Wars.  He
died in 1780 while the Revolutionary War was still raging.
His son Ebenezer Junior, born in Groton in 1749,
was a member of the Groton company of minutemen who marched to Concord
Lexington with Captain Henry Farwell’s company in 1775.

took part in the Battle of Bunker Hill where he was severely
injured.  The
tradition of the family is that he had his hip dislocated when he was
prisoner by the British; but immediately afterward he managed to
hobbling off, it was said, with the aid of General Warren’s gun.”

the war, he purchased land in Otisfield, Maine where he resided for a
time.  Then about 1785 he moved to Gorham
and cleared the farm where his descendants were to live for many

Jan Kemp and his Bible.  Jan Kemp from the Eastern
Transvaal was a commando leader against the British during the Boer
His family lost their Bible at that time.

Bible, printed in 1748 in Gorinchern in Holland in an old
Dutch dialect, was removed from the Kemp homestead at Elandsfontein
Bethlehem by a British soldier in 1900 during the second Anglo-Boer
Kemp wanted the Bible back as it was the custom to pass the Bible on
generation to generation.  The first inscription had been made in
1815 and
the last in 1897.”

It was finally
returned to the family in 2004.

Anthony Kemp in Australia.  Anthony Kemp, born in London, was an important figure man in the early
history of both New South Wales and Tasmania.

Kemp was one of the key participants in the Rum Rebellion of
1808 that
removed William Bligh, the appointed governor of the NSW colony.  He was at that time “well-known for
turbulence and malevolence and for a tongue which spares none in its
slanders.”  Despite or perhaps
because of his various run-ins with the authorities in Sydney, he was
in 1816
permitted to settle in Tasmania.

town which developed in Tasmania in the area where Kemp had his largest
holdings – his Mount Vernon estate north of Hobart – was renamed
Kempton in
1840.  It was here that he established
and developed Tasmania’s infant wool industry, bred horses and cattle,
introduced a hardy North American variety of corn.

Kemp has sometimes been referred to as the
“father of Tasmania.”  This is
said to have been an allusion to the number of his children (seven sons
eleven daughters) and to the number of his grandchildren who married
into other
prominent families in Tasmania.  Kemp
himself lived onto 1868, dying at the ripe old age of ninety five.



Kemp Names

  • John Kemp was a 15th century English cardinal, Archbishop of  Canterbury, and Lord Chancellor of England.
  • Edward Kemp was an English landscape architect, one of the leaders in the design of parks and gardens during the Victorian era.
  • Jack Kemp was a star American football quarterback who became a Republican politician in the 1970’s. He was the Republican running mate in the 1996 Presidential campaign.

Select Kemp Numbers Today

  • 30,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Hertfordshire)
  • 17,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Kemp and Like Surnames  

Some surnames have come from SE England, in particular the counties of Kent, Surrey and Sussex.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.




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