English Place-name Society

Survey of English Place-Names

A county-by-county guide to the linguistic origins of England’s place-names – a project of the English Place-Name Society, founded 1923.


Major Settlement in the Parish of Keyham

Historical Forms

  • Caiham 1086 DB 1359 BPR
  • Cayham 1220 MHW 1247 Ass 1252 Fine 1362 LCDeeds 1369 Peake 1491 ShR 1504,1507 Ipm
  • Cahiham c.1130 LeicSurv
  • Kayeham 1225 Cur
  • Kaiham 1199,1200 P 1233 Cur 1279 BM
  • Kayham l.12 Rut 1220 Cur 1226 Fine 1414,1428 ShR 1535 Ipm 1570 Rental
  • Kayme 1502 MiscAccts 1538 Ipm 1541 MinAccts
  • Keam(e) 1576 Saxton 1601 LibCl 1688,1722 LML
  • Keyham 1517 Fine 1535 VE 1604 SR


A problematical name because of the interpretation of the first element. This must be some use or extension of use of OE  cǣg 'a key'.A simple and reasonable explanation is that the specific is the OE  pers.n. Cǣga , presum. an original by-name for a tall, thin man, a key-shaped fellow. (Pers.n. plus hām is a very common p.n. type in early English toponomy.) The alternative is the use of the sb. cǣg , but in which sense is here difficult to conceive. Keyham was no doubt an early estate on the line of a Roman road, an estate prob. previously a Romano-British land unit. OE  cǣg in its literal sense 'a key', applied to something that could be locked, seems a particularly unuseful application in such a context.Ekwall DEPN s. n. Kew offers cǣg as transferred topographically to a projecting piece of land, something key-shaped. Keyham stands midway upon a long, thin ridge that stretches for 5 miles south-west from what later became the site of Barkby Thorpe towards Billesdon Coplow before turning back upon itself to the west in a conformation that remarkably resembles the keys and latch-lifters found in pagan Anglo-Saxon inhumation graves. The shape of the ridge is effectively displayed on the first edition map of the one-inch Ordnance Survey of 1835. But whether a feature of this size and extent would have been perceived as such a key- shape by Anglo-Saxons on the ground is very questionable. Therefore, either 'Cǣga's village, estate', or 'the village, estate on the key-shaped ridge (or even on the ridge called 'The Key')', v. cǣg , hām ; but the interpretation with the OE pers.n. seems preferable.