Stoltzfus is a surname that’s common in both Amish and Mennonite circles. It’s also present among non-Amish and non-Mennonite individuals who may have been born in areas with a high population of Amish and Mennonites because of intermarriage.
But what does the last name mean? And why is it so popular among Amish and Mennonites?
We’ll answer those questions (and more) in this blog.
What Does the Last Name “Stoltzfus” Mean?
The last name “Stoltzfus” is a German compound word. The word “stoltz” means “proud,” and the word “fus” means “foot.”
As a result, “Stoltzfus” literally translates to “proud foot” as most people understand it.
Being a “proud foot” could have several historical, contextual, and cultural connotations to it that are no longer present today. Considering the name can be traced back to Nicholas Stoltzfus, a man born in the 1700s, it’s understandable that idioms, metaphors, turns of phrase, and other methods of speech would change over a few centuries.
So back then, the name “proud foot” most likely didn’t mean that someone was proud of their feet. Instead, it could mean that they strut or have an exaggerated method of walking, perhaps tied to their wealth or nobility among commonfolk.
Interestingly, this metaphorical understanding of the name “Stoltzfus” is also present in other cultures that use the same name. This includes the Scottish surname “Proudfoot,” which is thought to have been earned by individuals who had a cocky walking style.
As the years progressed, the name “Stoltzfus” continued to proliferate among German-speaking families, and that included both the Amish and Mennonites.
So why would two cultures who hold earnest beliefs against pride also have so many people with the last name “Stoltzfus?”
Why Is “Stoltzfus” So Common among Amish and Mennonites?
It’s difficult to point to a single reason (or even a group of reasons) why “Stoltzfus” is so common among Amish & Mennonites.
However, there are a few schools of thought that could point us to different answers. Regardless of whether one or more is true, the final outcome is the same — the commonality of the last name “Stoltzfus.”
Possibility 1. Nicholas Stoltzfus & His Family
The first and most widely-accepted answer is that Nicholas Stoltzfus was the sole progenitor of the name “Stoltzfus” in the United States.
This means that when he came to the New World from Zweibrücken, Germany, he immediately set about establishing his land, estate, and family.
That family, in turn, began to intermingle and marry among other families in the rich and fertile valleys of Pennsylvania.
With large families being the norm in the 1700s — and still the norm with Amish and Mennonites today — the name Stoltzfus became more and more common, especially the Pennsylvania region swelled with more people.
This at least explains how the name became common. But how did it become common among Amish and Mennonites, specifically?
Interestingly, Nicholas Stoltzfus is recorded as arriving in Philadelphia in 1766 before settling in Central Pennsylvania to farm.
That’s roughly the same time that the Amish are though to have come to the New World from Switzerland.
In a nutshell, this means that Nicholas Stoltzfus and his family could have settled land that neighbored Amish and Mennonite followers, intermarrying with the families and propagating the surname.
Possibility 2. Concurrent Migration of Stoltzfus Family Members
While Nicholas Stoltzfus is credibly thought to be the origin of the surname among Amish and Mennonites in America, it’s also possible that he wasn’t the only Stoltzfus to make it to the New World.
While there’s not much documentation to support this idea, it’s possible that there may have already been “Stoltzfus” families within the Amish in particular around the time of their migration from Switzerland to the New World.
This could have been possible for several reasons.
First, Mennonites — the denomination from which the Amish originated — were founded in the Netherlands. Their ideas spread to neighboring countries, and soon after their founding, the Swiss Brethren (essentially Swiss Mennonites) sprang up in Switzerland.
Geographically, this means Mennonites and their ideology would’ve traversed south out of the Netherlands, across German (or German-adjacent) territories, and eventually into Switzerland.
During that time of movement, it’s entirely possible that someone with the surname Stoltzfus could have come along and also moved to Switzerland, following this new and novel ideology.
That person — or other Stoltzfus families — then could have been present for the schism of the Swiss Brethren, the historical event in which Jakob Ammann split from the Swiss Brethren to start his own denomination.
Then, this Stoltzfus family could have travelled with the Amish into Alsace-Lorraine and been exiled by France before sailing to the New World — already Amish.
Again, there’s not much (if any) documentation to support this possibility.
However, there’s also not a lot of documentation pertaining to Amish migration in general. After their founding, they were essentially homeless and drifting for a new place to live. They were kicked out of Switzerland and then France before landing in Pennsylvania and spreading west.
So could this have happened and remained undocumented? Certainly. It could also be more believable, if you have a hard time believing that one person’s family is responsible for every Stoltzfus in the United States.
Still, the case for Nicholas Stoltzfus is much more effectively documented.
The Outcome: The Popularity of “Stoltzfus”
Regardless of whether any of the cases above are true for the genesis of “Stoltzfus” among Amish and Mennonites, the outcome remains the same.
In fact, each of the above possibilities also comes with the same likely series of events that led to “Stoltzfus” thriving as a surname in these communities.
Considering the time period (mid-1700s), the geographic proximity of these families was almost certainly the #1 determining factor in who they married.
If Nicholas Stoltzfus and his family was neighboring Amish and Mennonite lands, then his family would have intermarried with their cultures, and the name “Stoltzfus” would have thrived.
A major reason for the growth of the surname, especially among Amish circles, is that Amish and Mennonites continue to produce large families to this day, while mainstream American culture is seeing a general decrease in the number of children per family.
So while “mainstream” (for lack of a better word) Americans are having 2.5 or fewer children, Amish and Mennonite families are still having six or more.
As a result, just from the sheer quantity of people born, the name Stoltzfus has become more common among Amish and Mennonites.
This is also important to note since the Amish and Mennonites are not large subcultures in the United States. This means that there aren’t that many unique surnames among them already.
So, in order for one name to become more common than another, all that has to happen is that a Stoltzfus has a whole generation of only boys — and then their future wives take the last name “Stoltzfus.”
If this pattern repeats over multiple generations, then we can reasonably credit the popularity of “Stoltzfus” among the Amish and Mennonites to the happenstance of settling in the New World, intermarriage, and several generations of mostly (or exclusively) male children among the families.
This pattern would have also repeated in areas that have high concentrations of Amish and Mennonite today, including Indiana, Kansas, and parts of Canada.
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