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This ancient German descriptive or occupation surname denoted the man who in medieval times was responsible for the stores and provisions in a castle or noble house or even monastery. The root is actually Latin: cellarius, and was ‘Germanized’ during the medieval period to ‘kellaere’. Such men were of great importance in the Middle Ages, and several of the name became high status families. Variants which became distinct modern surnames are Kellner and Kellermann.
The surname may also be Irish, an abbreviated form of Kelleher, or English, a medieval occupational name (kellere) denoting a maker of caps. However, the majority so named would be from the German origin.
The name appears early: we find one ‘Cuonradus dictus (known as) der Keller’, a.k.a. as Cuonradus Cellarius (AD 1268, Basel Records). Hermann Kelre is named as the progenitor of a noble family at Hagnau Burg in 1294.
The surname was found early in Schwaben (Shwabia), concentrated in Baden-Wuerttemburg and Rheinland-Pfalz in South West Germany, spreading northward to Nieder Sachsen. It is the 56th most common surname in Germany, with approximately 41, 590 bearers.
Early German speaking immigrants arrived in New York and Philadelphia in the early 18th century. By the time of the U.S. Federal Census of 1920, the surname had become concentrated in the states of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Illinois, with 2082, 1665 , 1502 and 1018 families respectively.
Nowadays the surname Keller holds 290th place in the rankings of American surnames with 94, 300 bearers (Source: United States Census Bureau).
There are 8 coats of arms recorded for German families of Keller in the 17th century Siebmacher’s ‘Wappenbuch’. Three griffin’s heads in pale sable (dark grey) erased (with ragged edged necks) on a golden field, with another griffin’s head as the crest make up the blazon of a high status German Keller family.
Two Famous Bearers:
Helen Adams Keller (1880-1968) born in Alabama, political activist, social reformer and lecturer. She was deafblind from the age of 19 months, probably through meningitis; but that didn’t prevent her from being the first deafblind person to gain an academic degree, nor to prevent her from becoming a leading member of the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) through which she campaigned for women’s suffrage, labor rights and freedom of association.
Gottfried Keller (1819-1890): born in Zürich, Switzerland, widely regarded as the greatest German-Swiss writer of the late 19th century ‘realist school’. Keller is best known for his short stories, such as ‘The People of Seldwyla’ and ‘Seven Legends’ (1856-74). His autobiographical novel ‘Green Henry’ (1855/1890) is a classic life story in the 19th century manner.
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