Eatjenomes, or nicknames, were used among the Mennonites, as among other groups, to identify or describe more exactly a person or a family, or to differentiate one family from another. The Mennonite Low German Eatjenome does not stem from Eajennome (Eigenname), but finds its origin in ekename, which means a "name added" to a given name. In earliest times an ekename was a surname, and even in the word "surname" we have the same meaning in the French sur, which means "over" or "above," a name "over and above" the first name.
Occupations were and are a common source for nicknames: e.g., "Schusta-Schallenboajch" (Shoemaker Schellenberg); "Stoa" or "Lauftje" Jaunze ("Stoa" from the English "store," and "Lauftje" from the Russian "lavka"); "Tjnibla-Wiebe" (Chiropracter Wiebe). "Schriewa Ditj" or "Dichta Ditj" were names frequently applied to the writer Arnold Dyck.
Physical or other descriptive attributes were another source: "Lange Jeat Wiebe" (Long Gerhard Wiebe); "Fromme Petasch" (Pious Peters, member of the Mennonite Brethren church); "Turksche Thiesse" (Rough as a Turk Thiessen); "Fülle (Lazy) Wiens"; etc.
Place of residence also provided a variety of nicknames: "Kaumpsche Kloassen" (Klassen, a former resident of an island known as "Kaump" in the Dnieper River); "Mexikaunsche Friesen" (a Canadian Mennonite who had returned from Mexico); "Atj" (Corner) Siemen (a Siemens who lived at the intersection of two village streets).
Numerous other associations provided an unlimited source for nicknames. In Steinbach, MB, there was an "Offenbarungs Reima" (a minister whose favorite scriptural text came from the book of Revelation, the "Offenbarung" in German). In Paraguay there was a "Foagel Unga," a man by the name of Unger who held and tamed wild birds (Vogel in German). "Eftje Panna" and Sauntje Panna" referred to a situation where one Penner had a wife named "Eva" and the other one named "Susanna." "Schrugge Hiebat" was a man named Hiebert who took great pride in his horses, while "Hunjsche Hiebat" (Hound dog Hiebert) was known for his rough and ready ways. "Kose Kloosse" (Goat Klassen) was known for his pointed beard (goatee). "Klocke Tjreaja" (Clock Kroeger) manufactured large and durable clocks in Russia, and his descendants in Canada are still known by that name. "Schlopbeintje" (Sleeping Benches) Wiebe reputedly had nine bunks ("sleep-benches", each one providing sleeping accommodation for one or two children. -- Jack Thiessen
In an Amish community in which almost all the people are Stoltzfus, Güngrich, Yoder, Beiler, and Kanagy, and nearly all of them are rather closely related and using English in the broader public, but Pennsylvania German at home and in worship, nicknames become a practical necessity. The Old Order Mennonites also live in rural communities like the Amish, with many of them closely related. The surnames will be Martin, Witmer, Musser, Good, Bauman, Leinbach and usually a few given names prevail. The mail carrier may well have five Abner Yoders to deliver mail to. In the past this was a puzzling problem. Postal regulations have recently required box numbers to meet this problem; but businesses need to know which John Yoder gets the bill. Nicknames and abbreviations often help.
In a group that is bilingual it is not unusual to hear slightly different pronunciations of the same name. The English Jake sounds like Tscheck among the German-speaking people; Dave is Dafe, Pete is often Pitt, and Joe is often Yoss. When fond mothers and family and schoolmates of small children say it we often hear Sollie for Sol, Abie for Abe, Maggie for Margaret, and Danny for Dan or Daniel.
Among people who make use of a few Bible names, who usually pick a name of a close relative, and who have a theology that insists on simplicity, the use of a simple nickname becomes important and practical. There are surely going to be many people with identical names. A good nickname should be for one person only if it is to be really helpful.
Benjamin Gehman was known among his close relatives with identical names as Haase Bentsch because he raised so many rabbits for sale as pets and for table meat. Jacob Gehman went to Michigan as a young man and in middle age came home to Pennsylvania to live among his many Jacob Gehman relatives. They called him Michigan Tscheck. When Solomon Good was a little boy his mother called him Solly. When he was an old man, a carpenter with a serious hearing problem and a hearing aid he wasstill Solly Guth. An Amishman by the name of Peachey had a strong desire to keep his farm clean, so much so that the non-Amish people called him Particular Peachey. His German-speaking friends liked it and called him Petikla Pitchy. Naturally the non-Amish adopted that quickly. Henry had a small farm with dozens of hickory nut trees from which he harvested and sold a good crop each year. He was known as Hickerniss (Hickory Nut) Hen.
Nicknames are often used jokingly as a token of familiarity; or they may express scorn or ridicule. Among the Amish and Old Order Mennonites nicknames have an added dimension. They are a part of the simple life-style which they hold so important. Because so many who live in close contact have identical names the nickname is a practical necessity. -- Noah Good
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Peters, Victor and Jack Thiessen. Mennonitische Namen/Mennonite Names. Marburg: N. G. Elwert, 1987.
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Yoder, Don, ed. "Nicknames from a Mennonite Family." Pennsylvania Folklife 16, no 3 (Spring 1967): 42-43.
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Cite This Article
Thiessen, Jack and Noah Good. "Nicknames, Mennonite." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 9 Aug 2020. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Nicknames,_Mennonite&oldid=168375.
Thiessen, Jack and Noah Good. (1987). Nicknames, Mennonite. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 9 August 2020, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Nicknames,_Mennonite&oldid=168375.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 629-630. All rights reserved.
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