The Amish are a group of insular Christians who reject modern luxuries in the name of keeping themselves humble before their god.
The Amish have been around for centuries since their founder, Jakob Ammann, caused a “schism” with mainstream Mennonites and founded a strict denomination based on a rigid interpretation of the New Testament.
As you may imagine, this harsh understanding of biblical instruction has had a hard time capturing the imagination of most modern individuals. A life without cars, electricity, and the Internet (to name a few conveniences) seems unfathomable now that we’ve come to rely on them for everyday life.
As a result, the Amish communities throughout the United States showcase a very small number of surnames, compared to the public at large. This is because many Amish communities — particularly the more conservative Amish — live in isolated, rural areas with few methods to travel long distances (if any at all).
So, as the generations of Amish progress, the families in a town intermarry. Some Amish communities have intermarried for decades or centuries, resulting in the finite number of surnames we just mentioned.
But what are these surnames? What are the most common Amish last names, and what do they mean?
In this blog, cover the following Amish names and their origins:
Let’s start with Stoltzfus.
Meaning: Proud Foot [literally translated from German]
The last name Stoltzfus is prolific in many Amish and Mennonite communities.
Meaning “proud foot” when literally translated from German, the Stoltzfus family name is spread across places like Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the same way that other towns have a lot of people with the last names Smith or Baker.
While the metaphorical meaning of Stoltzfus isn’t entirely clear — like why someone would be proud of a foot or why their pride would concern a foot — its literal translation from German is commonly thought to be the name’s intended meaning.
Meaning: Anglicized version of Swiss name Joder, which is short for the name Theodorus
Yoder is another incredibly common surname for the Amish, particularly in Pennsylvania.
Yoder ultimately derives from the Swiss name Theodorus, which was more common a few centuries ago. The English equivalent is the more common Theodore.
Theodorus would commonly be shortened to Joder in Switzerland around the time of its use as a surname, which probably happened around the same time as the emergence of the Swiss Mennonites.
(This is just a guess based on how many Amish and Mennonites share this last name.)
Once yesteryear’s Joders came to the New World, they likely Anglicized (or “Englishized”) their name to Yoder.
Meaning: Derives from the Norman name Peachey, common in Kent
Typically, Amish and Mennonites share a lot of common surnames. But Peachey is one name that is seen more in the Amish than anywhere else.
The reason is hard to pin down. Peachey isn’t a Swiss last name, so it’s unlikely that the Peacheys had anything to do with the Swiss Mennonite movement like the Yoders or Zooks.
Instead, Peachey is more likely an old Norman name dating back to about 1060 and located around Kent, England.
How this name made it to the Amish community is uncertain, but it’s nevertheless common.
Meaning: Cloth; patch; rag [literally translated from German]
Lapp is a German name that likely found its way into the Amish community by way of the Swiss Mennonites and surrounding areas.
Most likely, Lapp is an occupational surname that designated someone who worked with textiles in one way or another, most likely by creating clothing or some other kind of cloth.
Lapps may have been as present as Yoders or Zooks during the formation of Swiss Mennonites, who eventually birthed the Amish ideology by way of Jakob Ammann.
Like Peachey, the surname King is a curious last name to find in the Amish since it’s English.
As a result, it’s equally challenging to pin down where the name may have originated, particularly for a people who claim such a strong connection to Switzerland and Germany.
It’s possible that the Amish surname King originally came from Konig, which is the German word for “king” and still seen as a surname in some areas with an Amish presence.
At the same time, King isn’t a last name that’s compatible with the Amish movement. This makes it hard to reconcile exactly how it entered Amish nomenclature.
Kings are accustomed to worldly and exotic goods, as well as an extreme level of comfort in a world that they directly run.
The Amish are called to separate themselves from the world, live a life of necessity, and deny themselves luxuries.
Could an early Amish convert have had a sense of humor and called themselves “king” as they converted?
If so, such a deep appreciation of irony would probably qualify them as the world’s first hipster.
Meaning: Derived from an old German word meaning “measuring stick,” usually indicative of someone who worked in inspection or measurement
Beiler is a ubiquitous last name that’s found across all Amish areas, especially Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
The name itself translates to mean some kind of measuring device, which could have also been used as an occupational surname for someone who worked in weights, measurements, or something similar.
This kind of work would have been important to the Amish, who earned their livelihood off of livestock and crops.
Whether this position would have been some form of prestigious work or simply an indicator of someone’s living is uncertain. But today, it’s common with the Amish.
Meaning: A feudal tenant or vassal [literally translated from German]
Lehman is an incredibly old surname that traces its origins back to German feudalism. Literally translated, it means someone who acts as a vassal on another lord’s behalf.
In other words, a lehman (not to be confused with “layman”) watched over the land that their boss owned in a position of a minor governmental power, like a baron or duke.
As a result, the last name Lehman gives us the same issue as the last name King. If someone can trace their lineage back to the work of royal emissaries, how did their family get tossed in with the Amish?
We’ll probably never know for certain. But like with King, I like to think it was someone who enjoyed a good joke.
Meaning: Derived from the English occupation of milling
The surname Miller is common throughout America in general, and it is not restricted to the Amish. Its English origins also indicate that it likely didn’t come to the United States with the Amish when they left for the New World.
Instead, Miller is probably a common last name that has, over time, made its way into just about every community you can imagine.
It may not be Amish in origin, but who doesn’t know someone with the last name Miller?
Meaning: Probably “jeweler,” likely derived from the German word “schmuck,” which means jewelry
Smucker is a fascinating surname that has a multitude of different possible meanings.
However, out of these meanings, there aren’t many that make sense to apply to someone as a last name.
For example, one option is that Smucker comes from the German word “schmuck,” which means to kiss or cuddle.
But if this is true, that means that someone in old-time Germany took the name “Kisser” or “Cuddler” as their family crest.
And that just seems… weird.
But Smucker may also trace its origins back to an occupational surname, which seems more likely since occupational surnames are so much more prevalent than surnames about how good someone puts their mouth on someone else.
In this case, Smucker could literally translate to “jeweler” since “schmuck” means “jewell.”
This is also a fun interpretation since it gives a whole new dimension to Smucker’s jelly.
Meaning: Black [literally translated from German]
Schwartz is a common last name in a lot of religious circles in the United States, including the Amish and Jews.
In all cases, it almost certainly goes back to the literal German translation for the color black.
Much the same way you may have met someone with the last name Green or Black, there are Amish families with the last name Schwartz.
Meaning: English occupational surname indicating someone who weaves
Weaver is another occupational surname that either originates from England (since it’s English) or translated at some point from the German surname Weber, which means “weaver.”
Regardless, the name either entered the Amish community via converts in the early days of the Amish faith or it became Anglicized once a Swiss-German Amish family moved to America.
Pronunciation: [Rhymes with “Book”]
Meaning: Derived from the Swiss canton “Zug,” indicating someone who can trace their heritage back to Zug, Switzerland
The last name Zook is common across areas rich with Amish and / or Mennonite followers. It could have many meanings, but the most likely is that it comes from the name Zug, which is also the name of a Swiss canton.
This is the most likely origin point of the name Zook for the Amish since the Amish themselves came from Swiss Mennonites.
As a result, it’s easy to imagine that a family from the Zug canton of Switzerland started following Jakob Ammann (or his descendants) using the last name Zug as an indication of where they were from.
After they arrived in the Americas, the name likely changed over time to Zook.
Today, Zook is one of many changed names that can trace its origins to the Zug canton of Switzerland. Others include Zug (untranslated), Zaugg, and Zuck.
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