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Amish Nicknames

 

Anyone 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 (Jonathan).

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.

Getting Personal
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 daughter."

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!

Earned Nicknames
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 cousin.

The Rest of the Story
The most unusual nicknames often have the most fascinating stories. Here are a few, provided by a local Amishman...

"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 this...

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 cutter" people.

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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