Examine any Old Order Amish community, and you will have a glimpse into the very distant past. The Amish culture, including the way they dress and speak, is reminiscent of 17th-century Europe. Do their names also reflect their old Germanic origins?
One of the hallmarks of a secluded community is a firm grip on tradition. Limited interaction with outsiders and much of the modern world make outside influence extremely unlikely. Customs, including name preferences, may adapt over time, but it’s a very slow process.
Amish naming practices haven’t experienced significant change since the birth of the Amish movement centuries ago, but do you know what the most common Amish names are? Could you correctly identify someone as Amish, by their name alone? Are there any rules prohibiting modern names?
We’re about to answer all these questions, and many more, in this insightful guide to traditional Amish names.
What this article covers:
- Amish Naming Customs
- Amish Boy Names
- Amish Girl Names
- Popular Amish Last Names
- Why Amish and Mennonite Communities Have Similar Names
- What About Town Names?
- Amish Names FAQ
Amish Naming Customs
There are distinct historic origins and cultural practices associated with names across all Amish settlements. As a result, many of the names that were there since the first Amish settlers arrived in Pennsylvania remain to this day.
There are three main reasons for this sustained name usage, namely the biblical connection, the Amish practice of honoring relatives, and shared ancestry, respectively. Let’s examine these a little closer.
Biblical Names for Boys and Girls
Throughout the passage of history, males (and many females, too) have been named after religious figures, patriarchs, and leaders, This is especially prevalent in Christendom, regardless of denomination.
The Amish are a deeply devout Christian denomination. As such, they have great reverence for the Bible, an possess a special affinity for the Old Testament patriarchs. Hence most Amish first names are taken from the first 39 books.
Naming After an Older Relative
The tradition of naming children after older family members is not particularly novel or groundbreaking. It’s seen across the globe, in numerous cultures, faiths, and ethnicities.
The custom is particularly common amongst the Amish, possibly moreso than in any other group on Earth.
This is a great honor for community elders, but it can lead to confusion when many community members end up with the same names! A way around this is to use a descriptor such as a parent or a spouse’s name ahead of it, or even a middle initial.
Ancestral Germanic Surnames
The surnames found in Amish communities are usually Germanic sounding, as most of the Amish people are the descendants of Swiss Germans. However, some of these names may have become anglicized over time here in America.
When Amish have non-German sounding names, another possible reason is a marriage between an Amish woman and a non-Amish man. His non-Amish surname would then be introduced into that settlement, ensuring its continuity for many generations to come.
The Amish have large families, therefore all their last names are virtually guaranteed to survive for all time. In this way, even non-Amish men’s surnames can become traditional Amish names in time, in that particular community.
But marriage to an outsider will only be tolerated if he has converted to her faith and been baptized into the community. Very few outsiders marry into Amish communities though (it is generally frowned upon). This is why not too many new surnames have been added to the mix since the Amish first came to America.
Amish Boy Names
Virtually every male name in any Amish community across North America comes from the Bible, especially from the Old Testament.
Firstborn sons are also often named after their fathers and grandfathers, so this custom of giving biblical names has persisted. In recent years, some less traditional boy names have crept in. However, most older Amish males will have biblical names.
Common Boy Names
Because boy babies are usually named after family members in the particular community they are in, each Amish settlement will have its own most popular boy names.
But Aaron, Abner, Abram, Caleb, Daniel, Eli, Emmanuel, Isaac, Isaiah, Jacob, Jared, and Micah are especially common male Amish names.
Why The Name Jacob Is Especially Popular Amongst Amish Males
The name Jacob became popular amongst the Amish very early on in their formation as a separate people.
This was for two important reasons.
Firstly, it was a name of a revered biblical patriarch. And secondly, it was the name of their leader.
The Anabaptists were a group of Christians who rebelled against the Roman Catholic Church in Europe in the 15th century. They were a Protestant denomination and flourished in the Swiss/Alsace and German territories.
The Founding Father of the Amish
Jakob Amman was a Swiss Anabaptist born in the 17th century, whose teachings led to the formation of the Amish community. Amman’s teachings had put him at odds with others in the Anabaptist movement, and this led to a schism that became a whole new sect of Christian Protestantism.
It was this man who inspired his followers to move to the New World and practice their faith free from persecution. The name ‘Amish’ comes from an adaptation of his last name.
Amish Boys with the Same Name
Traditionally, middle names have been rather uncommon in Amish communities.
However, the abundance of Amish boys with the same names as other males in the community caused an obvious problem. So a middle initial was sometimes used to differentiate between them.
Nicknames to the Rescue!
The ‘same name issue’ eventually led to the introduction of nicknames to solve the problem. Amish males’ occupations, relatives, or distinguishing physical characteristics are all up for grabs when a nickname has to be thought up.
Some funny ones have arisen, which would give outsiders a good chuckle. This practice of unusual nicknames has become so well-known that a song has even been written about it. And the Amish community loves it!
Stereotypical Amish Nicknames Immortalized in Song
The Amish love music and singing, and their appreciation of music extend beyond hymns. They are also fond of country and folk music. One of their favorite non-Amish singers (but who is fluent in the Amish people’s Pennsylvania Dutch language ) is the country singer John Schmid.
He wrote a hilarious folk song about funny Amish nicknames and performed it live, much to the delight of his Amish audience. Of course, even in non-Amish society, this is often a way of resolving the problem of identical names within a family. Naming children after relatives is a common practice, Amish or not.
Amish Girl Names
Like the names for males, the most common Amish female names are also mostly biblical in origin.
Common Girl Names
Echoing this custom of names from the Bible, some of the most are Anna, Esther, Hannah, Mary, Miriam, Martha, Rachel, Rebecca, Ruth, and Sarah.
As with boys, girl babies are often named after relatives, and so these names tend to remain popular. Some more contemporary names have been added over the years, but not too many.
Names as Traditional as Their Wicker Baskets
Amish women’s names are as instantly recognizable as their beautiful handwoven baskets. They diligently craft these products following traditional methods passed down through the generations. This custom is as old as Amish history, older in fact.
These highly practical and stylish baskets are then sold to support their families and communities. They make everything from harvest baskets for the farmer’s market, to bread baskets for the kitchen and Easter baskets for children.
When you buy one of these high-quality iconic baskets, you help to support this continued tradition. Amish girls take great joy in their basket-weaving skills. In some communities, the name of the basket maker is written on the bottom of the finished product.
And just because they are rustic and handmade, that doesn’t exclude them from modern settings. Even your home office could do with a touch of old-world charm. One look at the Amish file baskets and you’ll want to introduce them to your study or workspace.
Amish Girls With The Same Name
Because so many girls have the same name, a way to distinguish between them often involves the addition of the father (or husband in the case of a married woman) at the front.
So, for example, two Annas (one with a father, Jacob, and the other with a husband, Isaac) could be identified as Jacob’s Anna and Isaac’s Anna.
Girls’ nicknames, when needed, are not quite as amusing as the boy's ones. They will often take the path of a diminutive form of the first name. Therefore, the name Elizabeth could become Eliza.
Popular Amish Last Names
The most popular Amish last names are almost always German sounding, as the majority of Amish descended from Swiss Germans and other Germanic nations.
Of course, due to the fusion of nationalities and cultures in America, some people who bear these last names are not of Amish descent. But there is usually a good chance that people with the following surnames have similar heritage, and might be Amish, or originally Amish-born.
Recognizing Traditional Amish Last Names
When members of the Amish community leave, which is rare but does sometimes happen, they may change or anglicize their first names.
However, they’ll still have the same surname, and you can usually recognize them as Amish-born from these surnames.
Of course, some non-Amish may have similar last names because of Swiss or German heritage. As there are many Americans with this history, it is not uncommon to meet Amish who have similar last names to non-Amish people. Or vice versa.
The Most Common Amish Surnames
Fisher, King, Lapp, Miller, Stoltzfus, and Yoder are very common Amish surnames. There are sometimes spelling variations, but they are found in several Amish communities.
Some Amish surnames are also common in Mennonite communities, as they have a common ancestral heritage. Yoder and Miller are prime examples of this.
Dependent on the Community/Region
There are a few exceptions here and there, resulting from outside influence. But this is very rare, hence the most common surnames in Amish communities are derived from Swiss German last names.
However, certain Amish names are more common in some communities than in others. Therefore, the most common Amish surnames are influenced according to region.
Anglicization of Amish Last Names
Anglicization has sometimes occurred, and therefore some names may sound a bit different now from their original form. When this has happened, the most common reason is interaction with outsiders for official or business reasons. It may explain some of the more English-sounding Amish last names.
Why Amish And Mennonite Communities Have Similar Names
The Amish and the Mennonites share a similar ancestral and cultural heritage, which can be traced back to the very beginnings of the Amish people.
Shared Religious Ideas
The founder of the first Amish community, Jakob Amman, is said to have been influenced by some of the religious practices of the Mennonites.
Similar, Yet Separate
This common heritage explains why so many cultural and religious ideologies are shared between these two groups. There are also many Mennonite communities in America, some of them not far from Amish settlements. However, they do not intermarry. This is forbidden by both groups.
What About Town Names?
Amish town names are also quite atypical, although this is not a distinctly Amish trait. Many American towns have rather unusual names, and their origins are lost to the mists of time. This phenomenon can also be seen in other countries across the world.
How Amish Settlements Got Their Names
There are more than 450 Amish settlements throughout North America. Most of the larger settlements bear the name of the county, while smaller ones take the name of nearby towns.
This makes sense and has always been the norm. Yet more than a few of these Amish community settlements have some peculiar names, although for good reason.
The reason for this is very simple. Some counties and towns have more than one settlement, and in some cases, multiple Amish settlements lie close to each other. County or town names are then not enough for the identification of a particular settlement.
Naming of Multiple Amish Settlements
When multiple Amish settlements have developed in the same region, another feature would have to be highlighted to identify it. Simply citing the county or town name would not do, as there would still be two or more settlements with the same name.
So to further identify them, additional settlements were sometimes named after their chief activities like farming, beekeeping, chicken raising, and egg hatching. This is quite a common reason for the development of many surnames in the English-speaking world as well.
When even that did not suffice, the topography and shape of the area were used. Therefore, it is not unusual to find Amish settlements named Stone, Diagonal, or Oblong. Naturally, this has caused much amusement for non-Amish passersby who spot the signposts listing these weird town names.
Although mostly secluded from modern western society for centuries, the Amish people have a rich and colorful history. Their culture, steeped in religious fervor and history, has also given rise to an interesting assortment of names.
Some of these names are solemn and traditional, while others (such as nicknames and town names) provoke much mirth in non-Amish communities. Yet they are all a part of the fascinating world that is known as The Amish, and they should serve as yet more reason for further exploration and possibly even more collaboration.
Amish Names FAQ
What is the most common Amish forename for males?
In boys, the most common forename in America is Isaiah, followed by Caleb. Isaiah is the name of a biblical prophet from the Old Testament. This prophet is of great importance to the three major faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The name Caleb can also be found in the Old Testament of the Bible.
What is the most common Amish first name for girls?
Among Amish girls, the most common name is Sarah. Like the most common male names, Sarah was an important figure in the Bible’s Old Testament. She was the wife of Abraham (originally named Abram), the common ancestor/father of the three main faiths.
What is the most common Amish last name?
The most common Amish surnames are Yoder and Miller. Yoder is also common in Mennonite communities. It is of Swiss origin, as many other Amish last names are.
Miller, however, seems to have been adopted after the Amish arrived in North America. This name, derived from the English word for someone who mills wheat or other grain, is a common surname across America, even amongst non-Amish.
Do the Amish ever have middle names?
The Amish did not traditionally have middle names. However, their practice of naming children after relatives led to much confusion. To distinguish between members of the community with identical titles, middle initials started being used. This didn’t entirely resolve the issue, so nicknames were introduced.
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