How Do Amish Choose Baby Names?
Amish Cook Gloria Yoder is expecting, and she is thinking about a name for her boy or girl. How do Amish parents decide on a baby name?
Gloria shares her family’s approach – and some common Amish naming conventions – in her latest column:
While some Amish communities stick with using only one name, in our community most of us go by two names besides our last name. My second name is Beth, named after my mother’s girlhood best friend.
Choosing a name for the baby is a highlight. In some Amish communities, names get reused a lot. Naming their little ones after family members or friends, sometimes people start using nicknames to cut down on confusion.
While I like naming my children after people I appreciate, the more significant issue to me is that it is a name with an appropriate meaning that Daniel and I are fully agreed on. I don’t know what the baby will be named as of yet, but I am eager to keep looking for ideas and brainstorming about it.
This time my prayer is that God would show Daniel what the final decision will be. I like the accounts in the Bible where God gave the inspiration for names that fitted the newborn child.
I’m a bit partial to Bible names, yet I don’t feel stuck or bound to them — if we all stick to only those we’ll end up with lots of repeats.
While there are many Godly characters in the Bible, I don’t feel like that makes them superior to all others.
As Gloria notes, names for Amish boys and girls are commonly drawn from the Bible or another family member’s name.
This leads to a lot of repetition. So nicknames and family references can be critical to identifying a person (Karen Johnson-Weiner shared with us how the “Amish Name Game” works in one Swartzentruber community).
We can see that Gloria is open to less-common first names. For that matter, some readers might have noticed that some New Order communities tend to have “nonstandard” first names. Gloria’s is a New Order community.
Another note is that in some places, rather than a second or middle name, children will simply use an initial – drawn either from the first letter of the father’s first name, or first letter of the mother’s maiden name.
This means that if your father’s name is Samuel, all children in the family, boys and girls, will use “S.” In other places, if your mother’s original last name was Zook, everyone uses a “Z.”
Finally, Gloria’s approach includes one method that we can be sure few if any other Amish use:
Daniel suggested that I invite your input and ideas for baby names. So, if you have some ideas about what may be a good fit for our family, jot them down and pop them in the mail, we’d love that, for sure!
It will be neat to see if the Yoders’ new baby’s name(s) comes from a reader’s inspiration, or some other source.
I am not Amish, but tend to like Bible names. Not sure why. Old fashioned, I guess. LK
The Amish middle name/initial conventions are an interesting detail. Doing genealogical research, I wondered why some children get no middle name or even initial when other siblings do. My Father, being one of nine children, had a common modern name and no middle name or initial. Strikingly, every one of his siblings had long, ancient, Biblical, latin sounding, first, and middle, names, and some even had two middle names. I wonder what inference can be drawn.
Did your father happen to be the oldest?
My Father was 5th or 6th of 9. Even his first name was not found in family history. His brothers and sisters all had recycled names. It was Holland a century ago and the church placed orphans with church families who raised them as their own. It occurs to me the Amish being very insular may do this even today. Any knowledge on that? I can’t imagine an Amish community handing an orphan over to the English.
Aha, I simply thought maybe if he were the oldest his parents didn’t become inspired to give more elaborate names til later.
I have never heard of Amish giving a baby up for adoption to non-Amish, though it certainly works the other way around. Some Amish surnames entered Amish society in the past in this way as well. Whetstone, a surname seen today in Indiana for instance, is one example of this.
Common names in Amish Communities
I grew up in Big Valley Pennsylvania where there were lots of Zooks and Yoders. And lots of Johns and Davids and Samuels. So much so that in addition to middle initials being used, nick names often adding the father’s name to the son’s name happened occasionally. Thus Dave became “Sammy K. Dave,” and Dave’s son John became “Sammy K. Dave’s John.” I was about the same age as Sammy K. Dave’s John. We just called him John most of the time.
Another interesting thing I’ve always noticed is when Amish refer to other families (for instance attending a birthday and who else was there) instead on saying the names of everyone in the family they might just say
“The Merv’s were there” which means that Merv and his family were at the event.
A family by a first name
That was common in the Amish-Mennonite region of northern Indiana. My uncle would say something like, “The Melvins are coming over.” That meant his brother Melvin and his family were on the way.
My grandson has the name Wilder, and I think it’s a beautiful nname for a boy.
2 conversations i remember
From conversations I had with a close Amish friend after the births of 2 children…
An English woman asked the baby’s name. She said Barbara; the woman thought the she said Margaret and repeated that back. My friend said “No, I would never pick such a fancy name!”
After Wollie’s birth, I asked if it was a family name. She said “No. We really don’t like the name very much, but we had a friend named that, and we liked him.”
Picking baby names is fun
First of all, I like the idea to have one middle name that includes the mother’s maiden name initial. But I do think everyone should have a “regular” name as a middle name, too.
My mom had a girl’s name all picked out when I was born — Karen; but, when she saw me gave me the name of Sandra. My maiden name was very Irish, beginning with O’, so the Irish name Kathleen was very lyrical. My sister became Karen, with a middle name for a favorite cousin.
My daughters were named Miranda Kathleen and Katherine Leigh. Karen, Kathleen, and Katherine are from the same derivative, Akaterina, and means pure. Sandra is related to Alexandria and Alexander and means protector or helper of men/people. I’ve always identified with my name.
I like names that are different, but which mean something and can be nicknamed various ways to reflect the personality of the child as s/he grows. So, Miranda could be Mandy or Randy. In the family she was called Manda K; when she was younger (and didn’t appreciate a “different” name) she went by Mandy; as she matured, she liked Miranda.
Katherine became known as Kate, with a family name end Kata Lee.
Since your last name is Yoder, you might consider giving several middle names to make an anagram nickname. For instance, Matilda Abigail Yoder would become “May;” Jonathan Obadiah Daniel would become “Jody.” Or “Jon D.” My grandma’s name was Matilda Angelina — she always wished her first name had been Angelina. So, that’s how it goes.
don’t know as I’ve given you that many new things to consider, Gloria. We did not have but 2 children. But I did appreciate having different initials for all of us! Hope this gave you inspiration! God bless you little one.
Inspiration for names
Naming a child after someone liked or admired, though the name itself is not liked is appealing. It honors a person, not a name. I like the idea of waiting until something about the child inspires his or her name.
I like male to female or female to male names. Such as: the father, Daniel can name his daughter Danielle. Or, the beautiful name of the archangel Gabriel can also be feminized as Gabrielle (or Illa for short).
How about Celine ?
How about Celine for a girl ? That’s my first name, a french first name that means “sky”. I would be happy to know that an amish baby has the same first name like me 🙂
I’ve never seen the name Celine among the Amish, but that might be a nice addition to someone’s family. One of my Amish friends named one of their sons after an English neighbor, so if you have any Amish acquaintances you might inadvertently end up inspiring someone!
I’m not from neither living in US but from Europa so don’t have any amish acquaintance, unfortunately. I really like visiting amish communities and your website!
Great to hear that Celine, thanks!
Naming babies after English friends
I’m English with a number of Amish friends in Lancaster Co. One family that I’m close to just had a baby girl (2nd girl, 6th child in all) and they chose her middle name after my first name. It was a lovely surprise and quite an honor. So yes, it does happen sometimes although it’s probably not going to be with a first or even second-born baby. =)
That’s great Beth! I think I’d agree with you that you’re more likely to see that further down the line, but given the size of Amish families that makes it more possible:) I bet you’ll feel a special connection with that baby.
We like biblical and family names. I always think the meaning of a name is so important. The children often live up to their names. Our children’s first and middle names: Isabella Marie Jo, Nikolai Halfdanson, Lawson Creed, and Reuben Steele – Isabella means pledged or devoted to God, Marie and Jo have good meaning and are the middle names of grandmothers and other family members. Nikolai means Victory of the people, Halfdanson is something I made up based off the Norwegian tradition of giving the firstborn son the Fathers band plus son as a last name – my husbands name is Halfdan – we both have Norwegian heritage… Lawson by definition is Lawrence’s son but to me it meant a son of Gods law – Creed: a faith or statement of faith… Reuben – the firstborn of Jacob, a tribe of Israel. Means: behold a son. This was my first child I delivered into my own hands, I lifted him up and exclaimed “it’s another boy” so it was only fitting. Steele is a last name of a dear family friend that passed, an honorable man – it could mean “true as Steele”. It is so neat to see where the Father leads us in naming our children. I hope sharing this inspires you and others! Blessings! —K
Very interesting names and origin/meaning behind them!
Name for boy & girl
I use to take care of a church cemetery and read all the old names. Most of the old ones were born starting with 1850. The one that I liked best was `Gunnar`& for girl `Ada` great old names.