King Surname Meaning, History & Origin

King Surname Meaning

Those with the surname King are unfortunately not descended from a king.

King generally started as a nickname, for someone who had displayed himself in a kingly manner or who had played the Mayday King in one of the pageants that were so popular in medieval times. Every village had its Mayday king and at the feast of the Epiphany one of the company was always elected king.

King Surname Resources on The Internet

King Surname Ancestry

  • from SW England and Scotland and from Germany (Koenig)
  • to Ireland, America, Canada and South Africa

England.  The first references to King as a surname appeared in Devon. Aelwine se Cyng was recorded there in 1050.  Early spellings in Devon and Dorset were Kynge and Kinge.

Later Kings from SW England were:

  • Jerome King, a 17th century grocer and dry-salter originally from Glastonbury in Somerset. His son Peter King, born in Exeter, rose to be Lord Chancellor of England in 1725 and was made Baron King.
  • John King, a 17th century yeoman in Manaccan, Cornwall. His son John became an eminent churchman, the rector of Chelsea.
  • while Philip King was an 18th century draper in Launceston, Cornwall. His son Philip came out to Australia with the First Fleet and stayed to be its third Governor.

The King surname later spread around the country. The names John Kynge and James King appeared in Ticehurst, Sussex around 1550. There were Kings in the southeast, from Hampshire to Essex, and in the north, in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Ireland.  King in Ireland could be an English import. Sir John King from Yorkshire had been granted land in Roscommon by Queen Elizabeth for his anti-Catholic zeal in 1603 and these Kings became established in Ireland as the Earls of Kingston. King House, their Georgian mansion, was built at Boyle in 1730.

William King arrived from England around 1620 and purchased a farm near Newton-Limavady in Londonderry.  His family remained there until 1833 when they departed for America where they established their new homestead near Fort Defiance in Ohio.

The Kings of Enniskerry were a Protestant family in county Wicklow which can be traced back to John King, a bookseller there in the 18th century.

Later Kings – the Rev. Luke White King and Sir Lucas White King – were clergymen and academic professors in Dublin. Sir Lucas married the daughter of the newspaper tycoon, Lord Rothermere, and this gave their son Cecil King the entrance he needed into the English newspaper world  As Chairman of Daily Mirror Newspapers, he was probably the most powerful figure in this industry during the 1960’s.

Alternatively King in Ireland might be an anglicization of a number of Gaelic names, in particular O’Cionga, a family which in medieval times was seated on the isle of Inismor in Lough Ree, Westmeath. Today there are sizeable number of Kings in county Cavan, with clusters around Athlone and Roscrea, and in county Galway.

Scotland. King as a surname first appeared in Aberdeenshire in the 15th century. Its best-known King was General James King who fought for Sweden in the Thirty Years War during the 17th century. The King name is now more common in Scotland in and around Glasgow.

America. Early King arrivals were English. William King and his family departed Weymouth on the Abigail in 1635 and settled in Beverly, Massachusetts. The King homestead remained there until the early 1800’s.

John King from Kent came to New England sometime in the 1680’s. His son Richard established himself as a successful merchant in Scarborough, Maine and had two prominent sons:

  • Rufus, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and later a Minister to Britain and a Presidential candidate. He made his home in Jamaica, New York. His sons and grandsons were all prominent in New York political life.
  • and William, a proponent of Maine statehood who became its first Governor in 1820.

Richard was a Loyalist (and had his house attacked by mobs), but his sons were American patriots during the Revolutionary War.

Michael King from Norwich came via Ireland to Virginia sometime in the 1660’s as an indentured servant. He ended up in Nansemond county where he prospered as a plantation owner. Later Kings of this line were to be found in Sampson county, North Carolina. William King was very briefly in 1853 US Vice President. Suspected to be gay, he lasted only 25 days in office before dying.

The largest number of Kings in America has come from Ireland. And there have been German and Jewish and even Dutch King immigrants as well.

The Dutch DeConnincks became Kings when Isaac and Mary King arrived in Delaware in 1679.

The German King names would originally have been Koenig. Early Koenigs/Kings in Pennsylvania were:

  • George Koenig/King, one of the first settlers at Tulpehocken in Berks county in the early 1700’s
  • and Michael Koenig, later King, who came to Charlestown, Chester county around 1740.

Charles Koenig, a baseball pitcher in the 1880’s from St. Louis, was known as the “Silver King.”

King could also be Jewish. Carole King,  the singer-songwriter, was born Carol Klein to a New York Jewish family.  Larry King, the talk show host, was born Lawrence Zeiger to Jewish immigrant parents from Austria, also in New York.

Canada.  John King from Aberdeen had come with the British army to Canada in the 1830’s and helped to suppress the Upper Canada rebellion of 1837. Four years later, he married Christina MacDougall in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario. But he died of TB in 1843, four months before the birth of his son John. This son John was a lawyer with a struggling practice in Berlin.

His son William Mackenzie King rose the political ranks to become the dominant Canadian politician of the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s – serving during this period more than twenty one years as Prime Minister. He never married and left no descendants.

South Africa. There were three related King families from Gloucestershire – those of Philip, Joseph and Henry – on-board the Kennersley Castle that arrived at the Eastern Cape in 1820. Joseph was married three times and has a large number of descendants scattered over the Eastern Cape. His eldest son Joseph King prospered in the gold and diamond boom and built himself a fine mansion outside Johannesburg.

Stephen King’s Family Ancestry

Stephen King is a best-selling American fiction writer from Bangor, Maine.  His father’s side were Scots Irish, but named Pollock not King.  He knew nothing about them because his father had abandoned his family when Stephen was two.  His mother’s side were English, descended from New England immigrants in the 1640’s.  Just click below if you want to read more about his story:

King Surname Miscellany

Mayday Kings.  A King and Queen were enthroned on Mayday and they would maintain their regal title through the year. Then there was the familiar ‘King of Misrule,’ whom every great nobleman possessed. In the manor of Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire there was also Hobbe the king in 1422.

Some early King surnames suggest that the King surname was initially a nickname. In the Hundred Rolls of 1273 we find a William Littleking and a Roger Wyteking.  Every town and village had its festival and the ‘King’ was generally proud of his title.  So were his children.  Thus it became hereditary.

Peter King of Exeter.  His father Jerome was a Dissenting grocer in Exeter and it was said of Peter King:

“He was brought up among the Dissenters under a most religious, Christian and learned education.  With a genius superior to his birth, by his industry, prudence, learning, and virtue, he raised himself to the highest character and reputation and to the highest posts and dignities.”

Born around 1670, he was fortunate in that his mother’s first cousin was the philosopher John Locke.  Locke regarded King as his adopted son and heir and took a keen interest in his education and career development.  With Locke’s support, this young lawyer was able to secure a Parliamentary seat for himself in 1701. Locke himself died three years later and King inherited half of his estate.

His political career stalled for a while, although he was actively involved in all of the main issues of the day.  King was among those who officially welcomed George I on his entry into London in 1714 and he was appointed Chief Justice of the Common Pleas later that year.  He rose to be Lord Chancellor of England in 1725.

However, his latter years saw his reputation diminished.  He had the seals of office taken away from him even before his imbecility, occasioned by apoplectic fits, took hold. He died in 1734, “little regretted by anybody.”

King House in Roscommon.  The family association with Boyle in Roscommon was due to John King, an English adventurer who had come to Ireland with Sir Richard Bingham, the royal-appointed Governor of Connacht. In 1617 the Boyle estate, which ran over 4,000 acres, was granted to King as his reward for “reducing the Irish to obedience.”

One of his sons Edward drowned while on a boat sailing to Ireland in 1637 and was eulogized by his friend John Milton in the poem Lycidas. However, Sir John King had five other sons and thereafter successive generations of the family increased the holdings in Roscommon until the Kings had become the area’s most prominent landowner.

King House itself dates from about 1730 and was built for Sir Henry King.  The Kings used their house for little more than half a century before it was damaged by fire in 1788. By this date tastes had changed and it was considered more desirable to reside in the countryside. The family moved to the nearby estate of Rockingham.

King House was sold for £3,000 to the Government in 1795.  It was then converted into army barracks and during the 19th century was occupied by the Connaught Rangers.  Later the condition of the building deteriorated.  In 1987, however, King House was acquired by Roscommon County Council and a program of restoration work was begun.

William King – from Dorset to Massachusetts.  In the register of the Abbey church of St. Mary of Sherborne in Dorset, England, there were numerous entries under the King/Kinge family name.  One such entry for 1616 reads: “Williami Kinge et Dorothiae Hayne nupt.” This is undoubtedly the marriage record of William King and Dorothy Hayne. There were no records of them in Sherbourne after that time, so they must have moved elsewhere.

By 1635 they had decided to leave for America, departing on the Abigail. The family then included William Kinge aged 40, Dorothy his wife aged 34, and one son and four daughters.

They settled initially in Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  William King was made a Freeman of Salem in 1636 and his name appeared on the roll of members of the First Church of Salem in 1637. It seems that he took an active part in the religious controversies of the time.  He identified himself with the Antinomians, a step which placed him under the ban of the Salem authorities. He was admonished to sever his connections with this sect, under penalty of being disarmed, and, by refusing to do so, he was directed to leave his gun with Lieutenant Danforth.

In 1638 he received a grant for some 30 acres at the head of the Basse river where Beverly now stands.  He moved there and it was here that the King homestead was built.  It was to remain there until the early 1800’s when it was razed to make way for a state Asylum and School for the Deaf.

The Story of Michael King.  Michael King was born in Norwich in 1630. At the age of 16 his mother sent him to the market for some purchases. While on the way he ran into the Army marching down the road in front of their home. He was so taken with the fife and drums martial music that he walked along with them forgetting about the errand he had been doing for his mother. He threw the reins of his pony over the gate post and off he went.

This “adventure” led him into Ireland and then across the seas to America.  He finally ended up in the James river valley in Virginia where he made his home. There he married Elizabeth Airy and fathered five sons and a daughter. He received land grants in Nanesmond county and established his plantation on Somerset Creek (his house there still stands today).

DeConnincks Become Kings.  The DeConninck family of Flanders have a paper trail going back to the 1500’s.  A DeConninck descendant who became King wrote of them in America as follows:

“Our Kings came over to America about 1679 from the Netherlands.  Until 1825 they lived in Delaware.  Afterwards they moved to Ohio. In 1839 they moved again to Iowa and by 1853 had settled in SW Iowa in Taylor county near to the town of Bedford.

I wrote and published a 1,300 page genealogy book Genealogy of Isaac and Mary Hankins King.  A distant cousin of mine, Dr. Robert Eugene King, wrote even a larger genealogy book in 1980 about our King family entitled History of the King Family in Flanders and America.”

Michael Koenig and the Three Kings Farm.  The Three Kings Farm was owned by the King family for nearly 100 years and by their extended family for almost 150 years.

The history of the King family in Chester County started back in 1740 with a young emigrant named Michael Koenig.   Through inherited funds Michael was to lease or purchase over 460 acres in northern Chester County in areas later known as Charleston, Pikeland and Uwchlan townships, all within the vicinity of his Three Kings Farm.

Michael and his wife Eva raised six children at the farm and they prospered. In 1771 he donated the land and founded the Pikeland Lutheran Church, located then and now at the hilltop of Pikeland Road in West Pikeland.

Michael was a noted patriot in the Revolutionary War. He died in 1790 and was buried in the graveyard of Pikeland Lutheran Church with other members of the extended King family.

King Names

  • Tom King, a friend of Dick Turpin, was an 18th century highwayman.
  • Rufus King was a prominent New York politician in the early 1800’s and a US Presidential candidate in 1816.
  • Martin Luther King was the American civil rights leader assassinated in 1968.
  • Billy Jean King won 12 women’s Grand Slam titles in tennis during her time at the  top in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
  • Stephen King is a best-selling modern author.
  • B.B. King is an American blues guitarist and singer songwriter.
  • Larry King, born Lawrence Zeiger, was the TV host of Larry King Live for twenty five years from 1985 to 2010.
  • Carole King, born Carole Klein, is an acclaimed American singer/songwriter who has been active since the 1960’s.

King Numbers Today

  • 161,000 in the UK (most numerous in Sussex)
  • 168,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 115,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

King and Like Surnames

These surnames might suggest the high and mighty of the medieval world.  Instead, they were probably the actors in a village medieval pageant who adopted the name of the character they were playing.


Return to Main Page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *