First Name
in the U.S.
since 1880
Last Name
in the U.S.
in 2010
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Meaning and Origin

What does the name Key mean? Find out below.

Origin and Meaning of Key

User Submitted Meanings

  • A submission from Florida, United States says the name Key means "The Unlocking Truth Open Doors" and is of English origin.
  • According to a user from Texas, United States, the name Key is of English origin and means "Small but important".

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Webster's Unabridged Dictionary
noun Key
  1. An instrument by means of which the bolt of a lock is shot or drawn; usually, a removable metal instrument fitted to the mechanism of a particular lock and operated by turning in its place.
  2. A small device which is inserted into a mechanism and turned like a key to fasten, adjust, or wind it; as, a watch key; a bed key; the winding key for a clock, etc.
  3. One of a set of small movable parts on an instrument or machine which, by being depressed, serves as the means of operating it; the complete set of keys is usually called the keyboard; as, the keys of a piano, an organ, an accordion, a computer keyboard, or of a typewriter. The keys may operate parts of the instrument by a mechanical action, as on a piano, or by closing an electrical circuit, as on a computer keyboard. See also senses 12 and 13.
  4. A position or condition which affords entrance, control, pr possession, etc.; as, the key of a line of defense; the key of a country; the key of a political situation.Hence,that which serves to unlock, open, discover, or solve something unknown or difficult; as, the key to a riddle; the key to a problem. Similarly, see also senses 14 and 15."Those who are accustomed to reason have got the true key of books." [Locke.]"Who keeps the keys of all the creeds." [Tennyson.]
  5. That part of a mechanism which serves to lock up, make fast, or adjust to position.
  6. [Arch]
    1. A piece of wood used as a wedge.
    2. The last board of a floor when laid down.
  7. [Masonry]
    1. A keystone.
    2. That part of the plastering which is forced through between the laths and holds the rest in place.
  8. [Mach]
    1. A wedge to unite two or more pieces, or adjust their relative position; a cotter; a forelock.
    2. A bar, pin or wedge, to secure a crank, pulley, coupling, etc., upon a shaft, and prevent relative turning; sometimes holding by friction alone, but more frequently by its resistance to shearing, being usually embedded partly in the shaft and partly in the crank, pulley, etc.
  9. [Bot] An indehiscent, one-seeded fruit furnished with a wing, as the fruit of the ash and maple; a samara; -- called also key fruit.
  10. [Mus]
    1. A family of tones whose regular members are called diatonic tones, and named key tone (or tonic) or one (or eight), mediant or three, dominant or five, subdominant or four, submediant or six, supertonic or two, and subtonic or seven. Chromatic tones are temporary members of a key, under such names as “ sharp four,” “flat seven,” etc. Scales and tunes of every variety are made from the tones of a key.
    2. The fundamental tone of a movement to which its modulations are referred, and with which it generally begins and ends; keynote.
      "Both warbling of one song, both in one key." [Shak.]
  11. Fig: The general pitch or tone of a sentence or utterance."You fall at once into a lower key." [Cowper.]
  12. [Teleg] A metallic lever by which the circuit of the sending or transmitting part of a station equipment may be easily and rapidly opened and closed; as, a telegraph key .
  13. any device for closing or opening an electric circuit, especially as part of a keyboard, as that used at a computer terminal or teletype terminal.
  14. A simplified version or analysis which accompanies something as a clue to its explanation, a book or table containing the solutions to problems, ciphers, allegories, or the like;or[Biol] a table or synopsis of conspicuous distinguishing characters of members of a taxonomic group.
  15. [Computers] A word or other combination of symbols which serves as an index identifying and pointing to a particular record, file, or location which can be retrieved and displayed by a computer program; as, a database using multi-word keys . When the key is a word, it is also called a keyword.

Etymology: OE. keye key kay, AS. cæg

verb Key
  1. To fasten or secure firmly; to fasten or tighten with keys or wedges.
  2. [Computers] To enter (text, data) using keys, especially those on a keyboard; to keyboard; as, to key the data in by hand.
  3. To adjust so as to be maximally effective in a particular situation; -- of actions, plans, or speech; as, to key one's campaign speech to each local audience.
  4. To furnish with a key or keys.
adjective key
Essential; most important; as, the key fact in the inquiry; the president was the key player inthe negotiations.
Other Dictionary Sources
  1. Metal device shaped in such a way that when it is inserted into the appropriate lock the lock's mechanism can be rotated
  2. A lever (as in a keyboard) that actuates a mechanism when depressed
  3. The central building block at the top of an arch or vault
  4. Mechanical device used to wind another device that is driven by a spring (as a clock)
  5. Pitch of the voice ("he spoke in a low key")
  6. Something crucial for explaining ("the key to development is economic integration")
  7. A generic term for any device whose possession entitles the holder to a means of access ("a safe-deposit box usually requires two keys to open it")
  8. A list of words or phrases that explain symbols or abbreviations
  9. A list of answers to a test ("some students had stolen the key to the final exam")
  10. Any of 24 major or minor diatonic scales that provide the tonal framework for a piece of music
  11. (basketball) a space (including the foul line) in front of the basket at each end of a basketball court; usually painted a different color from the rest of the court ("he hit a jump shot from the top of the key")
  12. A coral reef off the southern coast of Florida
  13. United States lawyer and poet who wrote a poem after witnessing the British attack on Baltimore during the War of 1812; the poem was later set to music and entitled `The Star-Spangled Banner' (1779-1843)
  14. A winged often one-seed indehiscent fruit as of the ash or elm or maple
  15. A kilogram of a narcotic drug ("they were carrying two keys of heroin")
  16. Harmonize with or adjust to ("key one's actions to the voters' prevailing attitude")
  17. Regulate the musical pitch of
  18. Identify as in botany or biology, for example
  19. Vandalize a car by scratching the sides with a key ("His new Mercedes was keyed last night in the parking lot")
  20. Provide with a key ("We were keyed after the locks were changed in the building")
  21. Serving as an essential component
  1. A surname​.

Notable Persons Named Key

Key is a singing, rapping, actor, dance, presenter, model (people), singer, rapper, dancer, and model. Key was given the name Kim Ki-bum on September 23rd, 1991 in Daegu. Key is also known as The Almighty Key and Diva Key.


Key Wane is a hip hop music record producer and songwriter. He plays Bass drum and Piano. He has been prominent since 2006. Key was given the name Dwane Marshall Weir II in 1991.


Key Pittman was a senator. He was most prominent from 1913 to 1940. Key was born on September 18th, 1872 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He breathed his last breath on November 10th, 1940.


Key Poulan is a musical artist.


Key was born in 1929 in Vancouver.


Notable Persons With the Last Name Key

Keegan-Michael Key is an actor, writer, and comedian. He has had major accomplishments since 1999. Keegan-Michael was born on March 22nd, 1971 in Detroit.


Francis Scott Key was a poet, lawyer, and district attorney. He holds the title The Star-Spangled Banner. Francis was born on August 1st, 1779 in Frederick County , Maryland, U.S. He passed away on January 11th, 1843.


John Key is a Chairman of the International Democrat Union, 38th Prime Minister of New Zealand, 31st Leader of the Opposition, 12th Leader of theNational Party, and Chairman of theInternational Democrat Union. John was born on August 9th, 1961 in Auckland, New Zealand.


Key is a singing, rapping, actor, dance, presenter, model (people), singer, rapper, dancer, and model. Key was given the name Kim Ki-bum on September 23rd, 1991 in Daegu. Key is also known as The Almighty Key and Diva Key.


Ryan Key is a pop punk, punk rock, alternative rock, and acoustic music musician, singer-songwriter, and singing. He plays Piano, Guitar, Keyboard instrument, Gibson Les Paul Studio, Gibson SG, Gibson Explorer, and Vocals. His most notable accomplishments were from 1997 to 1997. Ryan was given the name William Ryan Key on December 17th, 1979.


Tim Key is a poetry comedian. Tim was born on September 2nd, 1976 in Cambridgeshire.


Where is the name Key popular?

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Popularity of Key as a last name

The map shows the relative popularity of the name Key as a last name in each of the states. See other popular names in Alabama, Tennessee, or Georgia.

Ethnicity Distribution

Ethnicity Key U.S.
  White 68.56% 64.26%
  African American 24.61% 11.96%
  Asian, Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander 0.90% 4.85%
  American Indian and Alaska Native 0.99% 0.69%
  Two or More Ethnicities 2.33% 1.76%
  Hispanic or Latino 2.61% 16.26%

Of Last Name Key

People with the last name Key are most frequently White or African American

Entire United States

Fun Facts about the name Key

  • How Popular is the name Key? Key is the 29,806th most popular name of all time. As a last name Key was the 1,037th most popular name in 2010.
  • How many people with the first name Key have been born in the United States? From 1880 to 2017, the Social Security Administration has recorded 161 babies born with the first name Key in the United States. That's more than enough people named Key to occupy the territory of Pitcairn Islands (United Kingdom) with an estimated population of 66 (as of July 1, 2008).
  • What year were 5 or more babies first named Key? The name was first given to 5 or more babies in the year 1914 when it was given as a first name to 5 new born babies.
  • When was Key first recorded in the United States? The oldest recorded birth by the Social Security Administration for the first name Key is Tuesday, January 19th, 1875.
  • What year had the most people named Key born? The highest recorded use of the first name Key was in 1993 with a total of 12 babies.
  • Weird things about the name Key: Your name in reverse order is Yek. A random rearrangement of the letters in your name (anagram) will give Yek. How do you pronounce that?
  • How many people have the last name Key? In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau surveyed 33,501 people with the last name Key.
  • How likely are you to meet someone with the last name of Key? If you manage to meet 100,000 people in your life, chances are that 11 of them will have Key as their last name.

What Keys Have Visited This Page?

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  • Sources:
  • U.S. Census Bureau: Frequently Occurring Surnames from the Census 2000 (public domain).
  • U.S. Social Security Administration: Popular Baby Names, Death Master File (public domain).
  • 1913 Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary via the Collaborative International Dictionary of English (License)
  • Other Dictionary Sources: WordNet 3.1 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University (License).
  • Wiktionary: Titles and License.
  • Notable persons via Wikipedia: Titles and License. Click each image for the attribution information.