Miller and Stoltzfus are among the most typical Amish last names
This is a result both of the Amish reluctance to proselytize, and also the difficulty of joining a group with specific patterns of behavior, language, dress, and approach to technology.
As a result, outsiders join only rarely, and a relatively small number of last names dominate. Due to naming traditions, certain first names recur often as well.
Traditional Amish last names
Certain last names are particularly common among the Amish, due to the fact that certain founders in this community had oversized influence on following generations. Some surnames are found in particular communities and regions.
Miller is the most common Amish name, seen most prevalently in the Midwest, in communities such as Holmes County, Ohio and northern Indiana. Other common names in the Midwest include:
In addition to these, Bontrager, Burkholder, Lehman, and Lambright are common in northern Indiana.
In Lancaster County and related settlements, Stoltzfus is the most typical Amish name. Other frequently-occurring names in Lancaster County and related settlements include:
Some Amish names have alternate spellings, such as Hostetler or Hochstedler, Borkholder, or Stoltzfoos. Byler is a common alternate spelling of Beiler seen frequently in the Midwest. Hershberger has the alternate forms Herschberger and Harshberger.
Certain last names are particularly common among the Swiss Amish of Indiana and other areas, and not seen so often elsewhere. Common Swiss Amish names include:
Old Order Mennonites also have specific last names common to them, such as Martin, Nolt, or Zimmerman.
Common Amish first names
Amish typically choose Biblical first names, or names with a long tradition in the particular family or community. Examples of common Biblical first names for men include:
For women, typical names taken from Scripture include:
Other traditional names for men include Leroy, Lavern, Mervin, Atlee, Melvin, Harley, Wayne, and Willis. For women: Fannie, Waneta, Katie, and Sadie.
In recent years there has been a growing trend towards more non-traditional names among some Amish. Certain groups, such as New Order Amish, may be more likely to give their children less traditional first names.
Since many Amish end up with identical first and last names, Amish need ways of telling one another apart. Often an individual may have a nickname, developing from a specific incident, or a nickname that identifies a family line. “Boys” and “Beanie” are two examples of nicknames for individual men, “Bottle” and “Nip” are others denoting family lines.
A person’s job may identify him, as in the example of “Silo Mervin” or “Printer Mo”. Amish often identify one another by referring to the parent, as in “Eli’s Barbara”.
Also quite useful is the middle initial many Amish take. In many cases, an Amish individual will not have a middle name. A single letter, usually the first letter of a father’s first name, will serve as a middle identifying initial for all of the children, boys and girls, in a family. This naming convention can vary by community.
Unusual Amish names
Some Amish last names are more rarely seen, often reflecting a recent convert to the Amish or a “line” that entered the Amish diaspora but did not produce many male descendants, or at least not many who remained Amish. Some of them are Germanic, others are not.
Less common names among Amish include Jones, Girod, Phillips, Kuhns, Barkman, Kurtz, Whetstone, Bowman, and Bawell. Some Amish names are no longer seen today, often because the last of a “line” may have assimilated with a higher church, or did not have sons who joined the Amish. These include Morrell, Briskey, Hartz, and Smiley.
The Amish church directory
The Amish produce church directories which list all of the families in a church district, showing names of parents and children. They are useful in keeping track of individual’s names, birthdates, and addresses.
The directories are also useful resources for genealogical research. Directories are produced for a given settlement, or sometimes affiliation (as in the case of the New Order or Nebraska Amish). Most directories are updated every five to seven years.
Amish medical issues
Given the closed nature of Amish society, one might suppose that Amish have genetic issues specific to an endogamous community. It is true that Amish have exhibited certain genetic conditions in their society at a higher rate than in non-Amish society.
Because of this, Amish, often along with Mennonites (who can have similar health issues), have set up clinics with the help of outsiders in order to treat rare medical problems.
The best-known such clinic, The Clinic for Special Children at Strasburg, Pennsylvania, is run by Dr. Holmes Morton and relies on donations from members of the community and outsiders in addition to the modest fees it charges. Amish and Mennonites in Lancaster County put on a yearly Clinic for Special Children benefit auction in order to raise funds for its operations.
Did you know the Amish name “Yoder” had many alternative spellings, like Yoeder, Ioder, and Jotter? Learn more in our closer look at 10 of the most common Amish surnames. Or, take our 10 Amish Terms Quiz if you think you know what Mountain Pies, Council Service, and Galluses might be…
For further information, see:
“New Names Among the Amish” 5-part series, David Luthy, Family Life, Aug-Sep 1972-June 1973
Ohio Amish Directory, Holmes County and Vicinity 2010
Amish Society, John A. Hostetler
Looking for more good reading on the Amish? Check out our list of best Amish books.