This article looks at how common Keane is as a last name in Ireland and the United States from the 19th century to the present day.
You’ll learn the meaning and origins of the Keane surname while exploring some notable and famous people that held it.
I use census records, emigration lists, and military archives to uncover fascinating patterns. If you’re studying your genealogy, check out my sources at the end of the post so you can do your own research.
How Common Is Keane As A Surname In Ireland?
The Irish government doesn’t publish detailed surname statistics for recent years. The best that they give us is the ten most common surnames of babies born in the previous year. Keane
However, an Irish genealogist studied the top one hundred surname numbers in Ireland between 1992 and 1997. Seán Murphy based his research on telephone books. This isn’t as accurate as a census but gives a good approximation.
Keane was ranked 70 in the top one hundred names in this decade with a total of 11,800 entries.
This graphic shows how it ranks compared to the 1st, 33rd, 66th, and 100th entries in the survey:
Keane In The Early 1900s
The only full censuses that are publically available in Ireland are from 1911 and 1901. Prior decades were either destroyed through government action (to reclaim storage space) or by a catastrophic fire during the Irish Civil War.
Some records exist from earlier censuses, but most of the documents are lost to history. So, we’ll focus on the turn of the century.
I used online archives to calculate the total numbers by surname. I consider these estimates due to some percentage of transcription errors. So, I’ve rounded the numbers to the nearest fifty.
There were 9,250 residents named Keane on the island in 1911.
Ten years earlier, Keane had about 9,000 residents in the 1901 census.
Population Estimates In The 1890s
A study of Irish surnames was conducted in 1890 by the head of the Civil Registrations Office. It was published as a “Special Report on Surnames In Ireland.”
The survey estimated that there were about 9,000 people named Keane in the country.
Emigration To America After The Irish Famine
The Irish have historically emigrated to Britain, the United States, Canada, and Australia. They were motivated by multiple factors, including social unrest, economic desperation, and hunger.
The peak of this migration was driven by what’s known as the Great Irish Famine, a devastating event spanning from 1845 to 1852. Potato blight had a catastrophic effect on Ireland, wiping out the primary food source for a significant portion of the population.
I reviewed the Keane name in the shipping passenger lists arriving in New York during this period. The departures were from both Ireland and England.
This picture shows how the numbers rose and fell in the years after the famine:
How Common Is Keane As A Last Name In The U.S.?
Based on the 2010 U.S. census, the name Keane ranks about 3,181 among Irish names in America with 11,459 bearers.
Although the 2010 census has exact numbers and rankings, the rank I assign here is my estimate. If you’re curious about how I got there, here’s a brief explanation…
Estimating Rank In The United States
Historically, some Irish families with Gaelic surnames took English-sounding names as translations under the influence of colonization.
As these names also have English origins, they will have been brought to the United States by both British and Irish immigrants. Because the census doesn’t ask about specific European origin (e.g. England vs Ireland), it’s impossible to identify the proportion with Irish heritage.
I reviewed the census to identify which names are predominantly Irish in origin. In order to estimate the relative rankings of “Irish” names, I’ve mostly excluded surnames that have varying origins.
Keane In Historic Times
In a country as young as the United States, tracking the popularity of a surname over time can be fascinating. This reflects other demographic shifts across the country in addition to immigration. Higher child mortality rates and longer life expectancy are just two factors.
The historic census records have been transcribed and digitized. I used online archives to run counts of surname populations.
But the totals can’t be exactly accurate due to transcription errors. So, I’ve rounded the numbers to the nearest 50 in the graph below.
This picture shows the numbers every twenty years from 1860 to 1940:
These are the numbers in the graph:
- 1860: 400
- 1880: 850
- 1900: 2,500
- 1920: 4,250
- 1940: 6,150
Keane In World War II
During World War Two, approximately 8.3 million men and women joined the ranks of the United States Army. Many were of Irish descent. Some had even been born in Ireland and emigrated.
There were registration records for 401 soldiers named Keane who enlisted between 1938 and 1946.
There were 34 who were born in Ireland.
Keane Surname: Meaning And Origin
Keane comes from the Gaelic surname O Catháin, which means descendant of Cathán. The personal name Cathán derives from the Gaelic word for a battle (cath).
Early bearers likely took the family name in deference to a warrior ancestor. So, several independent families with the name came to prominence.
One such family was powerful in Ulster, while another was influential in Connacht.
Famous Or Historic People Named Keane
Here are some notable people with the family name:
- Bil Keane (1922 – 2011): an American cartoonist who created The Family Circus strip in 1960. His first name was William, and he was known as Bill as a child, but he dropped the second l for dramatic effect.
- Jack Keane (1943 – ): an American army officer who rose to the position of general and Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army.
- Seán Keane (1946 – 2023): a renowned Irish fiddle player (violinist) who was a member of The Chieftains, one of the great Irish traditional music groups.
The Ireland 1990s estimates are from Seán J. Murphy’s research paper.
The population estimates of 1890 are based on the “Special Report on Surnames in Ireland“, published in 1909.
The population figures for the 2010 U.S. Census come from a file provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Some of the population numbers are based on my own research and calculations using online archives. I’ve rounded those numbers to the nearest 50 to account for transcription errors and other technical issues with online databases of this type.
The Irish census estimates for 1901 and 1911 are my calculations based on the Irish National Archives
I plotted the emigration figures from 1845 to 1854 based on calculations from the archives of the New York Passenger Lists (1820-1957).