Place Names

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Place name studies relating to Anabaptists and Mennonites hold interest for folklorists, ethnologists, and historians. Some names such as Anabaptist bridge, cave, ditch, etc., in Switzerland recall the persecution that compelled Anabaptists to seek secluded places for worship. Some reflect markedly different social conditions, e.g. Menniste Hemel (Mennonite Heaven), a rural area between Amsterdam and Utrecht where wealthy 18th-century Mennonite merchants built villas. In North America places hearing Mennonite names may recall early settlers: Weaverland and Johnstown, Pa; Jansen, NE; and Erb Street, in Waterloo, ON. Some may have been very shortlived, e.g. Camp Evart and Buller, Funk, Schrag, Sudermann, and Unruh Stations on a map published by an 1873 committee exploring settlement possibilities in Dakota Territory for Russian Mennonite immigrants. Amish, Iowa, once a postal address, became a crossroad settlement known locally as Joetown. Lelystad, The Netherlands, memorializes Mennonite engineer, Cornelis Lely, who planned the reclamation of the Zuiderzee. Even such insignificant places as North American rural railroad crossings have varied names of former owners of land sold or given as right of way to railway companies.

Mennonite migrations have carried place names from country to country, e.g. Gnadenthal, a Mennonite village name transplanted within the Soviet Union and carried to Kansas, Manitoba, Mexico, Paraguay, and Saskatchewan. Some place names are widely known among Mennonites out of proportion to their relative importance nationwide. Akron to many Mennonites means Akron, PA, with the Mennonite Central Committee headquarters, not Akron, Ohio, much better known by most Americans. The Weierhof in the Palatinate, a hamlet unknown by the average German, is visited by dozens of American Mennonite tourists each year. The Swiss may have heard of the Bienenberg as a former spa. To Mennonites it is synonymous with European Mennonite Bible School.

Some names seem to be flukes. According to legend Menno, SD, adjacent to but outside a Mennonite community, received its name as a result of a railway employee's mistake in distributing station signs.

Name changes pose special problems for Mennonite scholars, particularly 20th century changes in Eastern Europe. J. K. Zeman provides assistance for those studying Moravian Anabaptists. For other guides to name changes as well as for histories of place names, researchers should consult "Names, Geographical" in library subject catalogs.

A companion study to Mennonite place names is a study of surnames and nicknames derived from places, e.g. Augsburger (someone from Augsburg), or Tennessee John Stoltzfus, leader of Amish Mennonites from Pennsylvania who moved to Tennessee in the 19th century.


Zeman, J. K. Historical Topography of Moravian Anabaptism. Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Society, [1967].

Zürcher, Issac. "Täufer auf und in Orts-, Flur- und Strassen­namen." Informationsblätter 1 (1977/78): 13-15.

Author(s) Nelson P Springer
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Springer, Nelson P. "Place Names." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 13 Jun 2021.

APA style

Springer, Nelson P. (1989). Place Names. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 13 June 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 704-705. All rights reserved.

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