who spends any time among the Amish soon notices the way they refer to
other Amish. Since so many people have the same names, a person is
sometimes identified by the name of his parents and grandparents, such as
"Amosís Johnís Sammy" or "Jakeís Suzieís
Mary." Sometimes a man gets a nickname from his wifeís name. "Lomey
Abe" got his name from his wife, Salome; "Rache Crist" from
his wife, Rachael; and "Salina Crist" from his wife, Salina.
But most interesting are the more
inventive nicknames that are often used when talking about people. Very
little seems to have been written about all this, so I am pleased to offer
you a sampling of names and the meanings behind them. Some of the names
also offer insight into the Amish sense of humor.
Maurice Mook, in the summer 1968 issue of Pennsylvania
Folklife, offered an informal study of Amish nicknames. He grouped
them into certain categories, and I will use some of his observations and
examples, as well as my own.
On a First Name Basis
The first characteristic nickname
is one common in all cultures---the abbreviated first name. Common
examples are Mose (from Moses), Sol (Solomon), Ike (Isaac), and Yonnie
In the Genes
The next category of nicknames
derives from physical or personality traits. Some names based on physical
traits include Big Ben, Brownie Eli, Black Sam, Chubby Jonas, Skinny
Davie, Porky Dan, Shorty Abner, Toey Steve, and Limpy John. The color of
their hair or beard gave the names to Red Elmer, Pinky Eli, Sandy Crist,
and Whitey Manuel.
Perhaps more interesting are names
based on personality. "Balky John" was stubborn, "Boom
Daniel" liked to bellow loudly, "Lummicks Amos" was clumsy,
"Coonie Jonathan" liked to hunt, "Doggie Aaron" loved
dogs. An Amish friend informed me that "Coonieís son married Doggieís
He Did What?
Another set of nicknames comes
from funny or memorable incidents associated with a person. Maurice Mook
tells of Gravy Dan, an Amishman in Ohio, who earned his nickname because
"at a threshing dinner he once poured gravy instead of cream in his
coffee." Another Amishman received the name "Stover"
because he once moved a stove from one farm to another, and charged for
the service at both ends! And then there is "Pepper Yonnie," who
got his name when he put some pepper on the heat stove after a hymnsing,
and made people sneeze. He apparently cleared the room!
Occupation often figures into a
nickname. "Butter Jake" made and sold butter, "Elevator
Ike" invented a farm elevator, "Crusher John" worked in a
stone quarry, "Jockey Joe" traded horses, and "Lawyer
John" seemed to have skills in legal matters, even though he was not
a lawyer. Then there was "Chicken Elam," who owned a chicken
farm, and "Chickie Dan," who worked for him. "Cherry
John" used to sell cherries, but was known as "Butcher
John" when he had that occupation.
All About Town
Where a person lives also enters
into nicknames. Gap Dave, Kinzer Jake, Quarryville Elmer, and Dry Hill
Johnny all get their nicknames from the areas of Lancaster County in which
they live. Tennessee John is a well-known Amishman who got his name when
he moved from Lancaster to Tennessee.
From Poutsy to Sewer Sam
The story behind some nicknames
seems to have been lost. A few interesting ones are Poutsy Dave, Binks
Stoltzfus, Tojo, Pud Sam, Swifty Davie, Zip, Bootsie, Buzzie, Shep, Nick,
Squirrelly, and Sewer Sam. Then again, maybe we donít want to know how
Sewer Sam got his name!
Sometimes this can get confusing. For
example, Squirrelly was Nickís brother, and brother to Sammieís Dave
and Sammieís John. Are you with me? And Swifty Davie married Pinky Davieís
The Rest of the Story
The most unusual nicknames often
have the most fascinating stories. Here are a few, provided by a local
"Buck Dave" and his sons got
this name from the farm they bought, which had a forge formerly owned by
someone named Buckley.
"Piggy Amos" got his name from
his school days, when he pretended to be a pig during a recess game.
"Double Decker Ben" received his
name because of the unique barn he owned.
The "Push Esh" family got its
name when they rescued a horse that had gotten stuck in a snowbank.
A boy named Sam owned a car many years
ago, when it was almost never tolerated for the young people. He and his
friends tried to keep it a secret, and referred to the car as "the
Chamba." In time, he got the nickname of "Chamba Sam."
"Rhymey Aaron" is one of my
favorite nicknames. When he spoke, he seemed to naturally (without
thinking) speak in rhymed sentences. One day a minister told him he should
stop speaking that way so much. Aaron responded with a four-line rhyme in
the dialect which, translated into English, would be something like
Itís not so much I try,
The words just seem to fly;
A cow the age of three,
A good heifer she will be.
I think nicknames are a natural
development of the closeness of the Amish community, where people grow up,
go to school, work, and worship together. Iím sure scholarly folks could
analysis these nicknames and come up with all kinds of conclusions. For
me, they are simply a delightful example of the Amish sense of humor and,
in their own way, point out the Amish are individuals, not "cookie
And so, dear reader, you can see
If you were Amish it would be
Very likely that your name
Would no longer be the same!
Amish Country News
Article by Brad
Igou (August, 1996)
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