As a closed society heavily based on its own interpretation of Christianity, the Amish are famous for their use and reuse of names. Previously, we’ve pointed this out for Amish boy names, but the same is true for Amish girls.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at 21 of the most common names for Amish women, complete with the backgrounds and stories behind them.
Almost all of these names are taken from the Bible, and you can find them in every generation of Amish women spanning over hundreds of years.
These names are in no particular order, though some are more common than others.
With all of that said, let’s discuss perhaps the most popular name for Amish women.
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Sarah is possibly the most popular name for Amish women. It’s taken straight from the Bible where the original Sarah is the wife of Abraham.
Since Abraham is considered the father of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity — which is why they’re collectively called Abrahamic religions — Sarah could be considered their mother.
Sarah is also a Hebrew word meaning princess or noblewoman. However, this is unlikely to be the inspiration for the use of the name in Amish groups.
This is because the Amish are famously opposed to the concept of pride in their everyday lives. Pride is considered the sin from which all others come, so they actively suppress their feelings of pride — at least ideologically.
As a result, it makes much more sense to understand the use of the name Sarah as it’s inspired by the biblical character Sarah, as opposed to an indicator of regality.
Linda is one of the few non-biblical names encountered in Amish circles. The origins of this name aren’t exactly clear because it could be traced back to several individual origin points, including Spanish, German, and more.
The most likely way that the name Linda entered Amish cultures is that it was inspired by a Teutonic (Old German) word meaning “soft.” It’s also possible that the name harkens back to the German word for lime trees, which may have popular inspirations for names in the first Amish communities.
Regardless of its origins, Linda is still a famously popular Amish name today, even in the face of its waning popularity among non-Amish.
The name Mary takes us back to biblically-inspired names, as Mary is most famously the mother of Jesus.
This homage to the Virgin Mary is commonly found in every Christian denomination, and the Amish are no exception. It’s popular because it’s powerful, and as long as the Amish are Christians, it will always be an impactful name.
Elizabeth is another biblical name. There are multiple Elizabeths in the Bible, including the wife of Aaron and the mother of John the Baptist.
This makes Elizabeth an impactful name just like Mary, considering its history. John the Baptist in particular played a major role in the trajectory of Jesus’ life — as his cousin and baptizer — and Aaron was the brother of Moses, who founded the Israelite priesthood.
Either way, this makes Elizabeth a profound figure in biblical history, though admittedly somewhat silent compared to the men that the Bible discusses in greater depth.
While her identity only existed in the context of her husband or children, Elizabeth is a powerful modern name that the Amish frequently use.
Aside from this, the name Elizabeth is also taken from the Hebrew words for “oath” and “God,”
Emma is a non-biblical name that traces its roots back to German origins, similar to Linda.
Emma comes from the German word ermen, which means “whole” or “universal.” It was also a popular nickname for German women whose names included the word ermen.
As a result, it’s easy to see the connection between the German-borne Amish and the name Emma. It’s simply a popular name from Amish cultural origins that’s stayed relevant century after century.
Rebecca is a biblical name that has a few different translations, including a word meaning “to tie firmly,” “to bind,” “to captivate,” “noose,” and “moderator.”
These translations derive from the original Hebrew. But the name Rebecca also refers to a specific person in biblical history.
That person, in particular, is the wife of Isaac — perhaps the most important son of Abraham.
This same Rebecca was also a famous mother in the history of the Bible. She had two children — twin boys named Jacob and Esau — who wound up founding entire nations. Despite being the younger child, Jacob went on to change his name to Israel, and the entire nation of Israel kept his name to this very day.
Rebecca is also noted as being a dutiful wife, which is high praise in the Bible despite how significantly times have changed.
Today, her legacy is literally the mother of Israel.
Arleta is a surprising addition to the repertoire of Amish name for women since it has nothing to do with Germany or the Bible.
Instead, Arleta is an Irish-Gaelic name meaning “oath,” similar to the name Elizabeth. But the Irish origins of the name are a curveball.
After all, if the Amish came from a homogenous, ethnoreligious background with very few new families added to the culture, then how did an Irish name infiltrate it?
It’s a good question — and it may have to do with the fact that redheads are also present in some Amish communities.
Red hair is the hallmark of Irish-Gaelic heritage. So if there are redheads in some Amish communities, it’s not such a stretch to imagine that an Irish-Gaelic name became popular as well.
Hannah is another biblical name that comes from the Book of Samuel. In the book, Hannah is the mother of Samuel, a revered prophet.
The name also has a Hebrew origin, meaning “favor” and / or “grace.”
As a result, Hannah is quite literally the translation of the name Grace, but with a stronger reference to the Bible.
This makes it a natural choice for any Amish community.
9. Rachel (Rachael)
Rachel is a famous name from the Bible, and it’s one of the only female namesakes for a full book of the Bible.
Rachel herself was one of two wives married to Jacob, whom we’ve previously mentioned is the progenitor of the entire Nation of Israel.
Like many other Old Testament names, Rachel also has a Hebrew meaning. In this case, it means “ewe” — a female sheep.
While it may not sound incredibly respectful to name a woman after an animal, the name may have come from the social context around livestock in general. A female sheep could have been considered highly valuable for its ability to give the owner wool and, more importantly, additional sheep.
Today, the name Rachel is more recognized simply as a name — and it’s lost the social connotation of livestock many centuries ago.
Leah is next on our list because she was the sister of Rachel — at least in the Bible.
Leah and Rachel were both married to Jacob, and Leah was reputedly the less-loved wife. This caused a rivalry between the two sisters that included bartering for time with Jacob, among other marital practices that would be considered strange today.
Despite the popularity of Leah’s name in the Amish culture, the practice of polygamy is non-existent in Amish circles today.
However, the legacy of Leah as a patient, active, and hardworking woman is still alive and well.
Ruth is a character in the Bible who is from the land of Moab. This is fairly inconsequential, but she marries an Israelite and enters into the culture that way.
After she marries into the Nation of Israel, her husband dies. Then, her father-in-law dies. It falls to her to take care of her mother-in-law, Naomi, by traveling to Bethlehem and earning some form of protection.
Ruth is also noted as a member of the lineage of Christ, meaning that she at some point played a part in perpetuating the family that would culminate in Jesus. This is noteworthy because of the 41 names listed in that lineage, only five are women — and Ruth is one of them.
(The exact lineage varies depending on the gospel book.)
Following these concepts of duty, perseverance, success, and holiness, Ruth earned a presence as a name int he Amish community.
Miriam doesn’t have an exact representation in the Bible, but is still considered to be biblical.
In Hebrew, it means something along the lines of “salt of the sea.”
In the Bible, however, the name Miriam is not explicitly stated. That’s because the name didn’t exist.
Instead, the name Maryam was used.
Maryam was, in many cases, the full name of the name Mary.
As a result, it’s implied — though not known for truth — that Mary, Mary Magdalene, and other biblical women named Mary were actually named Maryam but only referred to in nickname.
It’d be like if everyone you know named Jonathan were recorded on their birth certificates as Jon. After a 2000 years, the name Jon would probably be more popular.
Mildred is a non-biblical name that comes from the Anglo-Saxons — essentially the ancient British.
It’s not completely clear how this name made its way into the Amish nomenclature since the Amish are almost exclusively German and heavily religious.
However, the name Mildred essentially means “gentle strength.”
And if there’s a term that better describes the patience, wisdom, and physical power that’s required of Amish women throughout there lifetimes, we haven’t heard it.
Delilah is a biblical name that’s admittedly less common than many others on this list.
In the Bible, Delilah is the wife of Samson who is eventually talked into cutting his hair, robbing him of his strength.
The connotation of Delilah’s name is somewhat negative, considering it’s still in use today.
Delilah was not a dutiful wife or a person of faithful conviction, at least as she was portrayed.
It could be argued that Delilah was, in some way, respecting her religious heritage by helping the Philistines, the current religious leaders of her culture.
But today, history doesn’t look fondly on her.
Still, Delilah was likely the mother of Micah, a fairly minor biblical character that had some form of legacy in his own right.
As a result, it’s possible that this connection made Delilah’s name popular.
15. Magdalena (Magdalene)
Magdalena is a biblical name with a clear reference right away — it’s derived from the name of Mary Magdalene, the woman who followed Jesus throughout his life and was present for his crucifixion.
The nature of Mary Magdalene’s relationship with Christ is never fully fleshed out in the Bible, but speculative fiction — including the Da Vinci Code — takes creative liberties in creating a romantic relationship between the two of them.
While that’s possible — more than a decade of Jesus’ life is missing from the Bible, after all — it’s not fully endorsed by any religious organization, and it has no well-known evidence to back it as a legitimate claim.
Still, naming a girl after Mary Magdalene is high praise, and Magdalena is a respected name as a result.
Barbara is a name of Greek origin that means “strange” or “foreign.”
This is appropriate considering that its origin makes the name Barbara foreign itself in roster of Amish women’s names.
However, there was a Saint Barbara in Catholic tradition who was martyred by her father. Her father was then killed by a bolt of lightning in a Zeus-esque manner of punishment.
Barbara was then sainted, and her legacy survived in the Catholic Church.
So why is this important to the Amish?
Saint Barbara’s sainthood predates the creation of the Amish by something like 900-1400 years, depending on the dates that you accept as Saint Barbara’s life.
So it’s completely possible that the name Barbara proliferated the Christian tradition prior to the creation of the Amish.
This would mean that would-be Amish families had women named Barbara in them already, ensuring they continued to carry the name through to the modern day.
Abigail was a woman in the Bible who was the wife of King David, one of the most important characters in the chronology of the Old Testament.
Abigail’s name literally translates to “my father’s joy” in Hebrew, which makes it a natural choice for any father who’s exceptionally proud to have a daughter.
Like many other women on this list, Abigail is remembered for her loyalty to her husband and her physical beauty.
Unlike the other women on this list, Abigail is also noted for her incredible intelligence.
This makes Abigail a fairly complex name when it comes to Amish naming conventions.
On the one hand, the Amish are dedicated followers and supporters of antiquated gender norms. Naming a woman after someone who was a loyal wife is, in Amish culture, an enormous compliment that can hardly be exceeded.
But the connotation of intelligence is a contradiction of that from a cultural standpoint.
The Amish are not large supporters of education, intellectualism, or other forms of mental growth. They stop school after eighth grade, and life’s work starts after that.
So to name a woman Abigail — aware of its implication of intelligence — doesn’t quite add up, at least from an outsider’s perspective.
The catch is that the interpretation of “intelligence” is completely subjective. So while intelligence may mean that a woman is observant, clever, eloquent, etc., in Amish culture it could only mean that she’s smart enough to be a dutiful wife.
Again, this makes Abigail a fairly complex name in terms of its meaning. But its origins make it a clear choice for any Amish family.
Esther is a biblical woman who was the Jewish wife of the king of Persia. Literally translated from Persian, Esther means “star.”
Esther is memorable because of her decision to risk her life (and probably more) to save her people from complete annihilation.
In this regard, Esther could be seen as a mild form of a savior — though not in a Messianic sense — that allowed the Nation of Israel to persist through one of its greatest trials.
Esther’s story is still celebrated by Jews today during Purim, but this is not a holiday that the Amish observe.
However, the self-sacrifice that Esther shows is a noble quality in Amish communities. This, among other reasons, could by why it’s still popular today.
19. Joanna (Joanne)
Joanna is the French form of the feminized name John. It comes from the name Johanna, which means “God is gracious” in Hebrew.
While it’s strange that a French name shows up in Amish nomenclature, it’s not entirely inexplicable.
When the Amish were started, they were all but exiled from their native home in Switzerland. They travelled to the region of Alsace, which is a mountainous area between France and Germany.
Historically, Alsace has changed hands between France and Germany many times following any number of wars. At the time the Amish inhabited it, it was under control of King Louis XIV, who eventually exiled them.
After that time, the Amish fled to the New World to escape religious persecution.
It’s conceivable that, in the time the Amish spent in Alsace, some form of French culture established itself in their own way of life.
This would explain why the French variant of Johanna started to be used by the Amish, while its meaning explains why it remains popular today.
Karen is a non-biblical name that traces its origins back to England and, even further, Denmark.
Denmark is important to note here because it’s geographically close to Holland, which is the birthplace of Menno Simons.
Menno Simons is important to note because he founded the Mennonites, from which the Amish would eventually split.
So how could Karen have made it to the vernacular of the Amish?
It’s a long trail to trace, but it could have happened like this:
- The name Karen is used for someone in Denmark
- That person encounters someone from Holland
- The person from Holland either encounters a Mennonite or names children who encounter Mennonites
- They go on to use the name in the Mennonite denomination
- The Amish split from the Mennonites
- The Amish continue to use the name Karen
Is this probable? Who can honestly say — but it’s one possibility.
The name’s popularity and meaning most likely continue to make it a solid choice for Amish families. Considering it derives from the word “pure” in Danish, it would certainly have the support of any religiously-oriented family — like those found in Amish communities.
Veronica is a minor biblical character who is remembered as the woman who offered Christ her kerchief as he passed her one day.
Afterward, his likeness miraculously appeared on the kerchief, and that led to Veronica’s name being remembered.
Her association with Christ — along with the Greek meaning of “she who brings victory” — make Veronica a powerful religious name that memorializes the first Veronica while offering some level of inspiration and honor to those who follow her.
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