22 responses to The Amish Name Game
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    Al in Ky
    Comment on The Amish Name Game (February 17th, 2015 at 07:34)

    The Amish Name game is an interesting facet of Amish life. I notice sometimes in some scribes’ letters in The Budget newspaper, the writer will only mention the first name identifiers, such as “Sam Johns Willie” and not include the last name. One would have to be pretty well-acquainted with that specific community in order to know who was being referred to.

    I agree, in Daviess County Indiana, with only six main surnames, it can get confusing. I think the Amish there sometimes joke about it a little. Last year at an auction, I was visiting with two men-
    one a Graber and one a Raber. The Graber man slowly said to me, “The Rabers are all good people, but they just have something missing.”

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      Mark – Holmes Co.
      Comment on The Amish Name Game (February 17th, 2015 at 09:20)

      What would become of Holmes County if all the Yoders moved out?
      It would be de-yoderized.

      Holmes Co. is made up of two kinds of people: the Yoders and those that wish they were Yoders. 🙂

      I got a kick out of Sam John’s Willie. There really is a Sam John’s Willie. Those strings can get a bit carried away at times, going back 3 or 4 generations.
      The one thing our non-Amish neighbor seemed to get the most confused by was husband & wives’ names. Around here (and in many other communities) when you are talking about a married woman the husband’s name gets put on first to tell her apart from all the other women. So John Yoder’s wife Susan becomes “John Susan” in casual conversation to tell her apart from David Susan, Levi Susan, and Merle Susan. Sometimes it goes the other way so with all the Dan Millers in the neighborhood one is called Susie Dan and another is called Annie Dan as “nicknames” for the men, but Dan’s wife Annie is still called Dan Annie if talking about her.
      Our one neighbor thought that when we said “John Susan” it was Susan’s name and they thought it was really strange for an Amish woman to be named John-Susan, but eventually they got it figured out. 🙂

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      Comment on The Amish Name Game (February 17th, 2015 at 16:23)

      I loved this Graber/Raber joke. I can definitely picture that delivery.

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    Naomi Wilson
    Comment on The Mennonite version (February 17th, 2015 at 08:32)

    The Mennonite version

    This reminds me of a song called “The Mennonite Game.” It’s not about trouble identifying people, but rather trying to work out possible family connections whenever one Mennonite makes another’s acquaintance. These two slightly different versions of the same song are in liberal settings. The one in the first link, especially, gives at many hints that it’s at the far liberal end of the Anabaptist spectrum, even though the writer still feels some sense of family connection to Amish. The second video is a live performance on a cruise ship!

    They are both fun to listen to.


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    Comment on The name game (February 17th, 2015 at 08:33)

    The name game

    In the Budget newspaper ( it’s a weekly Amish newspaper for those that don’t know about it, and I subscribe) and the creativity that is used in relating to a person’s name. For myself and having Amish friends for over 50 years, it’s often a challenge on keeping folks straight. For the post office it would certainly be a head ache! But, if the wrong Jacob/Alvin/Daniel received a letter it would get passed on to the right one.

    A family story we have had for 45 years is the letter that arrived, and it was addressed as such; Gramma, City, State and Zip code, and no return address! And the right gramma, my mother, got it! My hometown in western WI has a population of 1500/AKA small town USA. Because it was so long ago more letters went in the mail today, and being a small town the PO looked at the post mark and where it was from, and concluded that was where my sister lived! Had my mom been the wrong gramma, she would have taken it back to the po, there’d have been a good laugh, and determined the right gramma!

    So, never underestimate the USPS and their capabilities!

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      Comment on The Amish Name Game (February 17th, 2015 at 16:26)

      Great story Terry. And now you’ve got me curious about your hometown. I lived in Hammond WI one summer in St. Croix County, became acquainted with a number of small towns in the area.

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      Comment on My Hometown (February 17th, 2015 at 18:23)

      My Hometown

      Hi again Erik, My hometown is Whitehall which is 45 miles south of Eau Claire. It is the county seat for Trempealeau Co. If you traveled from Eau Claire to La Crosse you’d go right through it.

      The big city of Hammond huh…and if I might ask what were you doing there? We have a guy from our church that is from Hammond. Mostly farming country isn’t it? Were you Amishing as we call it, in the area?

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        Comment on The Amish Name Game (February 18th, 2015 at 08:31)

        I was there for a couple of months in 2003, in my bookselling days, before I knew about the Amish 🙂 I saw a lot of Polk County, towns like Osceola and Amery. Pretty country, I think there is some farming there though not as much as some other Midwestern places I’ve visited.

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    J. Lapp
    Comment on The Amish Name Game (February 17th, 2015 at 08:44)

    Here in Lancaster County, the middle initial represents the mother’s maiden surname. In fact, on some birth certificates the middle name will be spelled out. This is the case in my father’s family. It is somewhat ironic that the result is not all that different than modern hyphenated last names.

    The one exception to the mother’s-maiden-surname rule for middle initials is when a child is being named for another family member (such as an uncle or grandparent), in this case the child is often given the same middle initial as the namesake. Of course, it is still common for even adult children to be known by their father’s name, such as when someone refers to “Ben’s Mose.”

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      Comment on The Amish Name Game (February 17th, 2015 at 16:31)

      A couple of interesting points, thanks for sharing J. I guess that would be a bit ironic assuming you mean that hyphenated last names seem to be fairly common in the more progressive Mennonite churches.

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    Tom Geist
    Comment on Schwartz (February 17th, 2015 at 10:29)


    In trying to visit “The Budget” scribe in Parsons Kansas I stopped at one Swiss Amish persons place to ask directions. “In the paper the name was only listed as Chris _ _ Schwartz” I said to the guy. “Do you know where Chris Schwartz lives?” And he says, “Which one?” Not thinking, and not knowing the community I asked if there were many. He said, “Here in Parsons we have 89 families, two of them with the last name Schrock and all of the rest are Schwartz, so yes, we have a LOT of Chris Schwartz’s.”

    So many Schwartz that at the end of the scribe letters they say something like, “All people listed above are Schwartz’s unless otherwise noted.”

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    Trish in Indiana
    Comment on The Amish Name Game (February 17th, 2015 at 10:32)

    I have written (but, sadly, not published) a couple of novels. When naming characters, novelists generally go one of two routes: symbolic names, or names that try to sound like the real world. I have never been much for symbolic names, so I would simply open my phone book at random once to get the first name, and again to get the last name. Well, in Elkhart County, you end up with a few too many Pennsylvania Dutch names to get it right on your first try! As my sister commented when I told her of this struggle to name my characters, “You can’t have five unrelated characters all named Yoder.”

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      Mark – Holmes Co.
      Comment on The Amish Name Game (February 17th, 2015 at 10:38)

      That’s funny, Trish. If the story was written in a big Amish community, you probably could get away with 5 unrelated Yoders. 🙂

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    Comment on name fail :) (February 17th, 2015 at 12:14)

    name fail :)

    I’d so fail at this. I can’t even keep my cousin’s kids organized in my head…I only have 4. My wife’s HUGE family? I gave up on that years ago! 🙂

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    Comment on Name Game (February 17th, 2015 at 18:04)

    Name Game

    Mark: I liked those jokes and I especially laughed at the de-Yoderized one, no offense to any of many Yoders *smile*.

    Terry: I think that is a sweet story about your Gramma and the old US Postal Service! My city isn’t small but is close enough that I think after a bit, even today such a letter just might make it’s way to the right Gramma!

    Trish: I hope you publish your novels someday and I would love to see one with 5 unrelated Yoders. Let the readers do the work!

    Finally, in any primarily Amish town, if someone with my name lived there, I don’t think there would be much of a problem finding them.

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    Comment on Nomenclature (February 17th, 2015 at 18:23)


    Funny. My Lutheran relatives referred to children as “Leonard’s girl” or “Clyde’s boy” – and in context to which side of the family was being visited.

    Virginia’s girl was Ray’s girl at her husband’s parents’ or siblings homes, and Virginia’s girl at her own parents’ or sibings homes.

    I wonder if this is some sort of Germans from Russia, or just plain Teutonic, habit.

    Old school WASPs often gave their daughters their mother’s maiden name as a middle or first name. One of my maternal ancestresses was the daughter of one Elizabeth Perrine (or Perine) and her husband John Dill – and her name was Catherine Perine Dill. The same was done with boys, which could lead to duplicate a middle name and surname being duplicated if they spouses were cousins.

    I don’t think that would work if everyone in town were a Yoder or a Swartzentruber.

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    Comment on John Schmid and Amish Nicknames (February 17th, 2015 at 23:34)

    John Schmid and Amish Nicknames

    My mother used to teach German at Monroe Central in Adams County, Indiana. When she taught there, she lived in Berne. When she was setting up her bank account there, the banker glowed about his Amish customers being about the best with whom to deal, with but one exception; “They’re all named John Schwartz!”
    I heard John Schmid sing a song about Amish nicknames on a CD that was from a live concert in Shipshewana. He said the song was written by Ezra Petersheim and was mostly about the folks in the Mayesville, Wayne County area, but he’d sung the song in every state he’d been in and everybody knows someone. I don’t know how to put the audio file on here, but I did find a shorter version on Youtube. Hope any who listen find it entertaining. Thanks for keeping this site going, Erik. Macht’s gut!


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      Comment on The Amish Name Game (February 18th, 2015 at 08:11)

      My pleasure Nicholas. Thanks for sharing this John Schmid clip. Seems like an Amish nickname song would be a sure hit in the right circles 🙂

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    Comment on The Amish Name Game (February 17th, 2015 at 23:38)

    Oh, I forgot to mention that in our German Baptist culture, we do the same as the Amish with the husband/wife naming, but e don’t call people by nicknames using their parents’ names. However, identifying someone by their parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles is rather common.

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    Comment on Writing Amish names (February 18th, 2015 at 11:05)

    Writing Amish names

    I love this article! Names are certainly an issue when you write Amish novels, as I do. You want to stay true to the location and the practices of each community, but people become easily confused when reading and there are 3 “Danny Petey Jakie” names. lol. Thanks for the information, Eric.

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      Trish in Indiana
      Comment on The Amish Name Game (February 18th, 2015 at 11:41)

      Maybe I needed to be writing “Amish novels” instead of science fiction!

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      Comment on The Amish Name Game (February 18th, 2015 at 13:19)

      I enjoyed this too Vannetta, all the credit goes to Karen here for the great inside look at the name game in NY.

      I can imagine it would be unnecessarily confusing to have two or three characters with the same name. I’ve never written fiction but the closest I came to that was coming up with fictitious names for the interviewees for my Amish business book, which I did as a nod to privacy/humility. That was pretty easy as long as I remembered to keep my Stoltzfuses in Lancaster and my Troyers in Holmes County.

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