Origin of the Kilby Name

Written by CraigMcCoy. Kilby, reprinted with permission

The surname “Kilby” is commonly thought to be English in origin, derived from the town of Kilby in Leicestershire or the town of Kelby in Lincolnshire. The latter is probably the chief parent of the name. Variations of it are Kilbey, Kilby, Killby, Killbee, Kelby, Gilbey, Gilbee, Gilby, etc.1)Charles Wareing Bardsley, A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, (Baltimore Genealogical Publishing Company, 1980), p. 450.

In some cases, the name may also be celtic in origin, as a variant of the name MacKilvey. Among the Irish forms of the name are MGilleboy, M’Gilboy, MacKelvie, MacKelvey, Mackilbouy, Gilby, Killby, Kilby, Kilboy, and Kilvey.2)Rev. Patrick Woulfe, Irish Names and Surnames, (Baltimore Genealogical Publishing Company, 1969), p. 368.

The town of Kilby, England, is located just south of Leicester, about 90 miles northwest of London. I visited the town in December of 1988, and found there a small village whose chief enterprise was quintessential English pub call “The Dog and Gun.” One of the patrons was an elderly historian who had been born in the building. While he never knew anyone named Kilby, he did inform me that for a man to take the name of the town he lived in, he must have been a property owner there. In fact, most of the earliest records of the name are prefaced by the word “de”, meaning “from.”

The word “Kilby” itself is derived from two words, “Kil” and “By.” “Kil” is derived from the Latin word meaning “cell.” It means church, monastery, or cell, and was adopted by both the Gaelic and Saxon speaking priests, who spoke and wrote in Latin. It is a very common prefix among towns in Ireland and Scotland, but is much less common in English towns. This is perhaps due to the fact that the Viking invaders concentrated their attacks on Saxon England where they destroyed many churches and religious sites. Scotland and Ireland also suffered Viking invasions, to be sure, but colonization was not practiced to as great an extent.3)C.M. Matthews, Place Names of the English Speaking World, (New York: Charles Scribner, 1972), pp. 157-158. Amanda S. Cato, BS Linguistics, Georgetown University.

“By” is a Danish word meaning “place of.” Over 300 towns in the area of Kilby and Kelby end with the Danish suffix “by.” Some of these towns are purely Danish in name, while others had the “by” attached to pre- existing Saxon town names (known as hybrid names.)4)Michael Wood, Domesday, A Search of the Roots of England, (New York: Oxford Press, Facts on File Publications, 1986), p. 134.

coa

Coat of Arms

Both Kilby and Kelby are towns in the “Danelaw” area–an area in the east midlands consisting of five boroughs which the Danish invaders conquered and settled around 877. The town of Kilby is at least 1,000 years old. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book as “Cilebi” in what was perhaps England’s first census in 1066.5)Domesday Book, editors John Morris and Philip Morgan, (Chichester, Sussex, England: Philimore & Co., Ltd., 1979), Vol. XXII, p. 263a (from Leicestershire entry no. 30).
The town was described thus in the Domesday Book survey:

“In Guthlaxton Wapentake [a district] Oger the Breton holds two parts of one hide [a land unit reckoned as 120 acres] in Cilebi [Kilby] from the King, that is 12 c. of land. In Lordship 8 ploughs, 2 slaves. Nine villagers with seven smallholders and ten freemen have four ploughs. A mill at 2 shillings, meadow, 12 acres. The value
was and is 40 shillings. Eurad [Everard the Saxon] held it freely before 1066.

A more colorful, if less scholarly, legend is given by Minnie Boone in her book “Our Family Heritage.” I have doubts about much of her work, but for what it is worth I will quote her in entirety:

Kilby Crest

Kilby Crest

“The name Kilbey is of Celtic origin. It was anciently Killbride.
More anciently it was a long involved word “Cillobrighid” meaning devoted to Bridget
[St. Bridget Ireland]. In the Domesday Book the name is recorded Kilbyre [which, as we have seen it was not]. Later spellings were Kilbye, Kilbey, Kilbee, and Kilby.”

Boone goes on to describe the coat of arms and the legend surrounding it:

“SHIELD–Argent (silver) with three torteaux (red discs) in fess (horizontally across the shield) between two barrulets (narrow horizontal stripes) azure (blue).

CREST–A hand issuing from a cloud points to a crozier in pale (verticle) proper (natural).

The Kilbey family Armorial Coat as recorded in Burke’s General
Armory, and verified as authentic for the line of the Indian fighters – William Kilbey 1706 by W. E. Tennesse. 
Since the earliest times the Kilbey family has been closely associated with the church. It has produced many churchmen hence the torteaux on their shield.”

“This legend has come down from Anglo-Saxon England about the crest on the Kilbey coat of arms: There was a contest as to the Abbotship of the great monastery at Petersborough. The candidate who seemingly had the best right to the position was a Kilbey, priest of one of the adjacent churches. He won “By God’s Will.” The Crozier was a symbol of the Abbot, and the Divine hand pointing thereto out of the clouds represents God’s Will.

There is no motto with the Kilbey display of arms owning
to the antiquity of the heraldic grant.6)Minnie S. Boone, Our Family Heritage, (Private Printing, 1956), p. 152.

Despite this fantastic legend, the source for which Boone does not cite, it does appear that Kilby’s are frequently found as men of the cloth, church elders, or other prominent church positions.

The Coat of Arms described by Boone appears to be accurate, or nearly so. It is almost identical to the Coat of arms used by Christopher Kilby of Boston, which in turn had been granted to Humphrey Kilby in 1660. The primary difference between the two is that the “hand issuing from a cloud pointing to a Crozier” is replaced with a Knight’s helmet and visor, capped by an ear of corn, and the inclusion of the motto “Persisto.”7)Personal correspondence with Christopher Kilby of Newington, CT, letter dated 17 April 1999. Bolton’s Americn Armory, 1964.

Foot Notes   [ + ]

1. Charles Wareing Bardsley, A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, (Baltimore Genealogical Publishing Company, 1980), p. 450.
2. Rev. Patrick Woulfe, Irish Names and Surnames, (Baltimore Genealogical Publishing Company, 1969), p. 368.
3. C.M. Matthews, Place Names of the English Speaking World, (New York: Charles Scribner, 1972), pp. 157-158. Amanda S. Cato, BS Linguistics, Georgetown University.
4. Michael Wood, Domesday, A Search of the Roots of England, (New York: Oxford Press, Facts on File Publications, 1986), p. 134.
5. Domesday Book, editors John Morris and Philip Morgan, (Chichester, Sussex, England: Philimore & Co., Ltd., 1979), Vol. XXII, p. 263a (from Leicestershire entry no. 30).
6. Minnie S. Boone, Our Family Heritage, (Private Printing, 1956), p. 152.
7. Personal correspondence with Christopher Kilby of Newington, CT, letter dated 17 April 1999. Bolton’s Americn Armory, 1964.