The Stories Of 5 Common Amish Family Names

Over half a century ago, Amish writer Joseph Stoll penned a series of articles on Amish surnames, titled “Amish and Mennonite Family Names.” These were published in the then-fledgling Family Life monthly, in four parts spanning December 1968 to March 1969.

I’ve chosen origin stories for five common names to share with you today. Where did common Amish names come from? Do they have any specific meaning? Did the names change at some point? Stoll answers some of those questions, and I’ve tried to fill in a few gaps.

On interest in ancestry and Freundschaft

As introduction to his articles, Stoll writes:

For many years the Amish have shown a great interest in family histories, in genealogies, and family relationships. Many people first become acquainted with each other by discussing “Freundschaft” [extended family, kinfolk, relatives -ed.] and quite possibly discovering that such and such an immigrant is a common ancestor. This interest in family trees and their branches can be of value, or it can be a waste of time and money – it all depends on the motive.

What does he mean by that? He elaborates:

…we may be tempted today to be proud of our family heritage, feeling that somehow we have been especially favored to be the descendants of the faithful martyrs of old.

True, we have been greatly favored. We have been favored indeed to have been born to Christian parents, and to have been give a godly training and upbringing. This is a birthright not to be despised.

But being born into a Christian home has its limitations. We must not forget that any person of the world has just as much right to faith in Christ as we have.

Below, I’ve listed the name, along with alternative spellings seen among Amish, when applicable. Some names were Anglicized, as you can see comparing to the original German versions. Others were not Anglicized.

In some cases, only one spelling is used, while in others an alternate version – or more – emerged. Some of these names can also be found among Mennonites. All of these surnames remain common among the Amish today. My comments are italicized.


5 Common Amish Family Names

Excerpted from “Amish and Mennonite Family Names” by Joseph Stoll. Originally published in Family Life, Dec. 1968 – Mar. 1969.

1. Beachy (Beechy, Peachey)

The original German spelling of this name was Bitschi or sometimes Pitsche. Peter Bitsche came to America from Switzerland in 1767, settling in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, about a mile from the present site of Springs. There, he and his two sons, Abraham and Peter, are buried on the old homestead. The name Beachy is still common in Somerset County, and in many other Amish settlements. The Peachey variation is most common in Big Valley, Pennsylvania.

2. Swartzentruber

This Swiss name may mean a “seller of black grapes”. In  the early 1700s a family Bible used the spelling Schwartzentraub.

The Schwartzentrubers are believed to have been natives of Waldeck, Germany. The first known immigrations occurred soon after 1800, when members of the family came to Somerset County, Pennsylvania and to Ontario. Michael and Christian Schwartzentruber were living in Ontario before 1840.

The Swartzentruber name is attached to a collection of very plain Amish churches found in over a dozen states today. Two early leaders of this conservative-minded faction bore the Swartzentruber surname, which led to the group carrying it as a whole. 

3. Lapp

There is a tradition that John Lapp, a young unmarried Amishman, came to America in 1733, fell in love with a Mennonite girl and married her, then transferred his membership to the Mennonites. He is the ancestor of most of the Mennonite Lapps.

The ancestor of the Amish Lapps is Michael Lapp, born in 1737, probably in Europe, who likely came to America at an early age. He had a family of eleven children, the eldest of whom, John Lapp, has a large offspring among the Amish of Lancaster County.

As far as the meaning of Lapp, I can add the following to Stoll’s description (original source: Dictionary of American Family Names ©2013, Oxford University Press):

from Middle High German lap(pe) ‘cloth’, ‘patch’, ‘rag’; a metonymic occupational name for a mender of clothes or shoes, or a nickname for a simple-minded person.

4. Hostetler (Hochstetler, Hochstedler)

Of these two common spellings [Hostetler and Hochstetler], Hochstetler is wrongly considered by many people to be the German original. Actually, Hostetler is the older spelling, being found in Switzerland before the family spread out to other lands. Immigrants to Germany changed the first syllable to “Hoch”.

Hostetlers Amish Quilt Shop

The ancestor of the Amish Hostetlers and Hochstetlers in America is Jacob Hochstetler (1704-76), who has become well known to succeeding generations through the Hochstetler Indian Massacre of 1757.

Again, here’s the Dictionary of American Family Names, on the meaning of Hochstetler:

Swiss German (Hochstettler): topographic name for someone living high on a mountainside, from Middle High German hohe ‘high’ + stat, stete ‘place’ + the diminutive suffix -l + the agent suffix -er.

5. Stoltzfus (Stoltzfoos)

On October 18, 1766 Nicholas Stoltzfus with his two sons and two daughters landed at Philadelphia from Zweibrucken, Germany. This Nicholas Stoltzfus is believed to be the ancestor of all those bearing the Stoltzfus name among the Amish and Mennonites today.

Nicholas purchased a plantation along the Schuylkill River near Reading, Pennsylvania. This he divided into five farms. The oldest daughter, Barbara, married John Schmucker, oldest son of the immigrant Christian Schmucker.

The Stoltzfuses were hard workers and good managers, and prospered financially. Large families among them was the rule.

And finally, the Dictionary on the meaning of Stoltzfus:

Altered form of German Stolzfuss, from Middle Low German Stoltefoth, a nickname composed of the elements stolt ‘proud’ + vot ‘foot’, denoting someone of haughty gait; alternatively, from Middle High German stolzen ‘to limp’ + fuos ‘leg’, a nickname for someone who walked with a limp.

Image credits: mailboxes, Beachy’s Bulk Foods – ShipshewanaIndiana; Hostetler’s Quilt Shop – Tom in NY

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    35 Comments

    1. W . Z .

      Zook

      What about Zook

      1. I was thinking to do Zook in the next post on another 5 names.

    2. MKJ

      Can anyone tell about Byer, Byerle, Beyer, Byers, etc?

      Can anyone tell about the origin of the Byerle, Byers, Beyer, Beyers, etc? Thank you

        1. Karen Baker

          Byler

          I know some Amish of the Clymer Amish, who are Bylers. They live in the town of Sherman, NY, and surrounding area.

    3. Raymond C Olson

      Five Most Common Family Names

      Miller is considered Number 1 name among the Amish all over the United States of America. Yoder is No. 2.
      If you check Holmes County Amish Directory, you ll find hundreds of Millers as well as Yoders.

      1. Maureen New York

        Byler

        Karen,

        There’s a community of Byler Amish in Palatine, [New York’s Mohawk Valley] – lovely community!

        1. Karen Baker

          Byler

          the towns of Sherman and Clymer are in the SW of NY, in Chautauqua County. The Clymer Amish came from Geuga County, in Ohio, I think during the mid 70’s. They aren’t as strict as other Amish sects. Your first year of setting up a household, you can use electricity if its already installed in the house. Businesses use propane to power machinary. I think the carriages are all black, use orange triangles, and some use windscreens. Women dress is shades of blue and teal, and no one uses zippers.

          When you read my comment in your email, did you get a notice that it might be phishing, and couldn’t be confirmed as from me? I got that message about your message. ???????

          1. Maureen New York

            Byler

            Yes, same message.

            1. Occasionally I see the same thing too. I haven’t figured out why but for me it’s always just a false alarm, probably a glitch. If the sender is wordpress or amishamerica.com it is legit.

      2. Ila J Terry

        Yoder, Miller

        I was thinking the same thing. ( Maybe as I have them in my ancestry)

    4. Geo

      Genealogy

      The Amish interest in genealogy is something shared with Mormons, although their motivation may differ. The Mormons have a genealogy website that is free for anyone to use. The software has capability to create a family tree. I am not Mormon but I found the website and their extensive genealogical archives to be very useful. Yes,non-Mormons are included in their archives, and did I say free? The website is :
      http://www.familysearch.org

    5. Maureen New York

      Amish Sur Names

      Erik,

      The conservative Troyer please.

      1. I actually have the Troyer name planned for part 2.

    6. Diane Sattazahn

      More Names, Please

      Erik, this is so interesting! Please continue to list the stories of more Amish names. I would like the history of the Gingrich name, if possible. Thank you.

      1. I can do that, Diane! You should expect part two appearing here next week. I’m glad you liked the post.

        1. Diane Sattazahn

          More Names, Please

          Thanks for doing this, Erik. Stay well.

    7. Min. Terry Miller

      Miller Name Amongst the Hutterites

      Miller is the most common surname amongst the Amish, but is also found amongst the Mennonites, but few know the name was also amongst the Hutterites. When the Hutterites fled from Russia to Dakota Territory, Miller was one of the names amongst them. When arriving in Dakota about 1/3 of the Hutterites chose to live communally, but 2/3rds decided to abandon the practise and settled on individual farms, in the Menno and Freeman area in South Dakota. The communal groups became known locally as “Hutterites” or “Hutterian Brethren”. The larger group became known as “Prairie Leut” (“Prairie People” because they lived on the prairie in private ownership.) Locally, the English nicknamed them “Hutters” and still do, but the communal groups they called “Hutterites” or “the colony people, also Hutterian Brethren.

      The Miller surname eventually died out amongst the “colony people”, but continues until now amongst the noncommunal “prairie” Hutters. In the colonies, although the name is extinct, they still refer to their blood descendants among them as “the Miller people”.

      When the Hutterians divided between communal and noncommunal groups, the non-communal (Prairie People) eventually became Mennonites, but their churches still have names like HUTTERthal Mennonite Church, Neu-HUTTERTHAL Mennonite Church, and HUTTERdorf Mennonite Church. For decades they kept many Hutterite cultural customs, but today are pretty much assimilated. Both groups settled in the Freeman, South Dakota area but expanded to many states and provinces. Today there are nearly 500 colonies (communal Hutterites)and many thousands of individuals of “Hutter” or “Prairie leut” ethnic group(including many Millers and their descendants) scattered across North America.

      Some might find it interesting that one of the “Prairie Leut” served in modern times as Governor of South Dakota. Another served as Chief Justice of the S.D. Supreme Court, and another as S.D. Secretary of Education. Numerous “Hutters” have served in both the State Senate and House of Representatives. Sadly, Representative Glanzer of Huron, of Hutter descent, died last week of the Covid virus after several years of service to the State. The state flags throughout South Dakota were lowered in his honor.

      It would be interesting to learn how “connected” the Millers amongst the Amish, Mennonites and Hutters/Hutterites are.

    8. Terry from Wisconsin

      The next five names...

      Wie gehts Erik,

      I’ll save my comments until I read the next batch of names…then we’ll chew the fat! Ha!

      Thank you for keeping us “In the loop”. We need a topic in these troubled days to provide a reason to do some jawing over the fence!

      Safe in Christ,
      Terry

      1. Name suggestions

        Sounds good Terry! Agreed.

        As for the next post, so far I plan to do:

        1. Zook
        2. Gingerich
        3. Troyer
        4.
        5.

        I am open to suggestions for the last two spots.

        1. Stephanie Berkey

          Erik, I have a few suggestions for Amish Mennonite surnames: Berkey, Bontrager, Christner, Hershberger, Hooley, Lehman, Mast, Miller, Mischler, Seese, Stutzman, Walter, and Yoder. I think Yoder and Lehman are more common ones today. Thank you for covering this topic. As it says in the Good Book, “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” ~ Malachi 4:5&6

          1. T. Miller

            Erik, I HOPE YOU WILL ALSO DO “MILLER”, both because of personal interest, but also because it is the largest family name amongst the Amish. thanks.

            1. Miller time?

              You’re right, I can’t exactly leave Miller out:) If it doesn’t show up in the next part, I expect it will in the one after that.

          2. Some good suggestions, Stephanie, thanks.

        2. Terry from Wisconsin

          More names

          How about Mast, Lambright, Yoder, Bontrager, Borntrager, Neuenschwander, Jantzi,Wengerd,
          Wagler, …that’s it for now!

          Keep on keeping on, as a pastor of ours used to say!

          Grace and Peace,
          Terry

          1. Bert

            reply

            i know some waglers from wisconsin been driving for them for a while

    9. Maureen New York

      Sur Name

      Fry, King, Esh

    10. Ila Terry
    11. Nadine

      Switzerland

      I live in Switzerland. This area all common names here. My anxlceszers are Lehmann from Freimettigen, Canton Berne.

    12. CFOAM

      Thank you for all you do Erik

      I enjoy your posts and always learn something. Excited to see this one. I’ve been struggling with my ancestry for years. Sailor, or Seyler, Seiler, Saylor, Martin, Breneiser, Snyder. They are all over the place – COB, Mennonite, Friends, Amish? Who knows? I think my brick wall must have been shunned from his family possibly a orphan because I’ve never been able to make a connection but I’ve learned alot about the various religious sects in the 1800’s – it’s been very interesting. You are my Amish connection! I’m pretty sure there’s no record of the shunned put there right?

      1. I’m very glad if the site has been helpful. The surnames you mention – none of them jumps out as an Amish name of today. Martin is a common name among Old Order Mennonites and I believe Snyder is found among them as well. People who have been excommunicated – there is no listing of that sort to my knowledge, you can find a detail like that mentioned in a historical account here and there, but I have not heard of an organized tally of names. Maybe someone else here is aware of documentation like that.

      2. Karen Baker

        Names

        I didn’t know Seiler was found among Amish names. One of my best friends is named Seiler. I’ll have to ask her if anyone has ever done any genealogical work on her family
        Snyder, I knew, was found in Amish families. The others, I’ve never heard of, as being Amish. I think Martin is the most common French name. We’re there Amish, at any time, in France? Really, all I’ve ever heard of, is the Amish being in Switzerland and Germany. But, I suppose if they were looking for religious freedom, they could have moved to other European countries. It seems that religious freedoms changed with monarchs, even during individual reigns! Catholics are ok with this king, not ok with the next.. how did anyone keep score, back in the 1500-1700’s!

    13. Marcus Yoder

      Some also came from France, like Jacob Hochstetler.
      Marcus Yoder

      1. Stephanie Berkey

        That is correct, Marcus, but Jacob Hochstetler’s father was born in Switzerland. He fled from prison to Markirch, also known as Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, control of which changed between France and Germany due to wars. See, Amish Mennonites In Germany, Their Congregations, The Estates Where They Lived, Their Families”, 1995, by Hermann Guth, page 184

        Anabaptist families had to migrate for generations to other countries due to terrible religious persecution to avoid prison or death. There were also forced infant baptisms to avoid the parents being imprisoned, and required registration at a state church (at the French German border) See page vi-vii of Both Sides of the Ocean, by J. Virgil Miller.

    14. Donna Mae Crowl

      Verkler/Verchler/Wurgler from Switzerland to Germany to France to America

      Wurgler was the name in German and they were Amish/Mennonites and came to Livingston County Illinois