[This article reflects the perspective of the 1950s, and relates only to names of European background]
Quite frequently one hears the remark, "That is a Mennonite name," or "That is not a Mennonite name." This indicates that there are specific names considered to be "Mennonite." This is one of the characteristics of Mennonites of various countries and areas. They have perpetuated not only certain family names and given names, but also names of settlements, villages, institutions, etc. Many names of European origin have been transplanted to North and South America.
Because of their withdrawal from the world, enforced by persecution and their principle of nonconformity, Mennonites have in certain countries perpetuated their faith and traditions within the group into which very few "outsiders" found entrance. At times conversion to the Mennonite faith and intermarriage with outsiders were almost completely absent for generations. This was true among the Swiss, German, and Dutch Mennonites in the past and was true in the 1950s among the Swiss, French, South German, Russian, and American Mennonites almost to the same degree, although intermarriage was more common in the mid-20th century than it was earlier. Among the Mennonites of the Netherlands and North Germany this isolation was given up long ago. Scarcely any Mennonite family names of the 16th century are found among the Mennonites of the Netherlands today. One reason is that during the 16th and early 17th centuries there were hardly any family names in existence in Holland in general. Instead, in addition to the given name a person retained his father's given name. Thus "Menno" added to his name "Simonsz" which meant that he was Simons' son. Menno's son in turn would add "Mennosz" to his given name. Not until the second quarter of the 17th century were family names handed down from generation to generation. In many cases the father's given name became the family name. Thus Peter Claasz became Peter Claassen; Jakob Friesz became Jakob Friesen; Abraham Dirksz became Abraham Dirksen, etc. Of these original Dutch Mennonite family names, which really were "petrified" given names, very few have survived in the Netherlands. This is mostly due to the fact that the Dutch Mennonites gave up the principle of isolation and nonconformity nearly 200 years ago. In the process of adjustment, intermarriage with non-Mennonites was so frequent and common that few of the original "Mennonite" names survived within the Mennonite fold. Also in modern times many "liberal" elements have transferred from the Dutch Reformed Church to the Mennonite Church, bringing new family names into the Mennonite church. The same is true in such German congregations as Krefeld and Emden.
However, among the Mennonites of Prussia, Danzig, and Poland and their descendants in Russia and America the 16th and 17th century Mennonite names have survived in large numbers. It is true that many new names were added in Prussia and Danzig which by now are also considered full-fledged "Mennonite" names. Many of the names ending in "ski" or "sky" are definitely of Polish origin (Sawatsky, Tillitzki, Schepansky, Koslowsky, etc.). In some instances the original name may have been changed by accepting the Polish ending. On the other hand, some of the older names died out and cannot be found either in Europe or America.
A study made by Franz Crous in 1940 reported a very interesting study on the frequency of the most common Mennonite family names among the Mennonites of Germany. He reported for East Germany 454 names in 15 congregations in the following order of frequency of baptized bearers of the name down to 100: Penner 469, Wiebe 388, Wiens 363, Dyck 281, Claassen 263, Klaassen 190, Pauls 190, Harder 188, Bartel 185, Janzen 180, Janz 178, Froese 170, Reimer 165, Franz 156, Neufeld 154, Enss 144, Thiessen 133, Friesen 121, Wiehler 120, Fieguth 112, Ewert 110, Fast 108, Regier 107, Driedger 105, Albrecht 104. In Northwest Germany he found 660 names in nine congregations, of whom only 19 had more than 10 bearers, the first ten being: von Beckerath 45, van Delden 32, Fast 24, Brons 23, Penner 21, Claassen 21, Fieguth 20, Stroink 20, van der Smissen 17, Kruse 15. South Germany had 478 names in 40 congregations; following were the leading names in order of frequency: Schmutz 154, Hege 149, Krehbiel 121, Fellmann 119, Horsch 108, Stauffer 107, Schowalter 98, Landes 98, Eymann 87, Lichti 86, Hartzler 79, Musselmann 70, Dettweiler 69, Hirschler 68, Weber 67, Galle 60, Lehman 55, Bachmann 54, Guth 54, Blickensdorfer 53, Beutler 52, Funk 52.
From Prussia, Poland, and Russia these names were transplanted starting in 1874 to the Great Plains of North America and again after each of the world wars to North America as well as South America. The Swiss-South German names were in a similar way transplanted from Switzerland, France, South Germany, Volhynia, and Galicia to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and other states during the many waves of migrations beginning in the 18th century. A statistical study of the frequency of the American Mennonite names has not been made. C. Henry Smith in The Story of the Mennonites lists names peculiar to certain settlements in America. The genealogies and family histories are a source information regarding family names. The more frequent Mennonite family names have all been treated in the Mennonite Encyclopedia.
The total of different traditional family names among the Mennonites of Europe, exclusive of Holland and the newer families in Emden and Krefeld, has been determined to be about 600. Of these, 167 names of Swiss-South German origin, and 105 names of West Prussian and Northwest German origin are treated in this Encylopedia, in addition to most of the 15 Hutterite family names. The article Amish lists 100 Amish family names.
Besides the patronymic system of names, the given names were primarily names taken from the Bible like those of the Puritans and other religious groups. Among the Russian Mennonites there were certain cycles and traditions according to which the same names would be repeated in the family. The oldest son would be named after the father or grandfather, and the oldest daughter after the mother or grandmother. The succeeding children would be named after uncles and aunts. The Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church record, started in Germany during the 17th century and continued in Russia and Kansas, is an interesting source of information on this practice. During 1695-1799 (Prussia), 921 given names were checked. This list contained only 40 different names, all the others being repeated. Heading the list of male members in frequency was Peter (90), followed by Jakob (74). Among the female names, Ancke (Anna) ranked highest (107) with Marike (Maria) following (79). The names still had a Dutch ending, indicating the cultural and linguistic adherence to their background. In 1860-1875 (Russia), among the 1,328 Alexanderwohl names checked there were only 54 different given names, which indicates the unbroken tradition of repeating the same names in the family. The names had become Germanized. Peter still ranked highest (118), followed by Heinrich (116) and Jakob (98). Maria (143) was now more frequent than Anna (101), after which Helena (95) followed. After the Alexanderwohl congregation had moved to Kansas in 1874 great adjustments were made to the new environment. How rapidly they were made is indicated by the change in given names. In 1919-1925, 175 names were checked, of which 109 were different. Entirely new German and English names had been added, very few of which are repeated. A complete adjustment was made by the time World War II ended. Of the 168 names checked of the children born 1945-1953 there appear 122 different names, most of which are typically American names rather than Bible names. Hardly any are repeated more than two or three times and most of them appear only once. Most popular was Clifford. At the end of the alphabet was Zyleene.
Although no other American Mennonite church has a record of over 200 years it can safely be assumed that the changes which have taken place in given names are very much the same. The Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church has always been one of the more conservative Mennonite congregations. It can be assumed that some others have made this adjustment much more rapidly. On the other hand, such groups as the Amish, the Hutterites, and the Old Colony Mennonites still perpetuate the tradition of giving their children only the biblical names commonly in use in their circle. In South America Spanish influences are noticeable in the choice of given names, while in Russia it had already become a practice in some circles before World War I to add Russian endings to the given names. After World Wars I and II Russian names became very frequent. Another Russian practice accepted by the Mennonites of Russia was the adding of the father's given name to the bearer's given name somewhat similar to the original Dutch practice. P. M. Friesen would be called Peter Martinovitch Friesen, Martin being the given name of his father.
The Mennonite settlement (colony) names, particularly in Russia, were frequently the name of the river on which they were located (Chortitza, Molotschna, Kuban, etc.), or the owner from whom the settlement had been bought (Ignatyevo), the province in which they were located (Orenburg, Samara), or the name of the Russian town or village next to which they were located (Arkadak, etc.). In North and South America the selection of a name for a settlement was somewhat different. In Manitoba the name for the largest two settlements was derived from the fact that the government "reserved" the land for the Mennonites to the east and west of the Red River, and therefore the names "East Reserve" and "West Reserve" originated. In Saskatchewan the two large Mennonite settlements received their name from the nearest large places at which the Mennonites settled, "Hague settlement" and "Swift Current settlement." These in turn were transplanted by the migrants to Mexico next to the "Manitoba" settlers of Mexico. In the United States there are few Mennonite settlements consisting of a larger group of villages in existence since the immigrants settled on individual farms. The Alexanderwohl settlement with a number of villages was an exception. In Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil the Mennonites have perpetuated the tradition of establishing themselves in a compact settlement. The major settlements in Paraguay are Menno, Fernheim, Friesland, Volendam, and Neuland. In Brazil the name "Witmarsum" and in Paraguay "Friesland" indicate that the settlers wished to emphasize their Dutch background.
The Mennonites of Prussian-Russian background have been most loyal in perpetuating village names from Prussia to Russia and to the Great Plains of North America and Mexico and South America. Some of the names have been repeated in many of the settlements established by them.
Crous, Franz "Mennoniten-familien in Zahlen." Mennonitische Geschichtsblätter (August 1940).
Reimer, Gustav E. Die Familiennamen der westpreussischen Mennoniten. Weierhof: Mennonitische Geschichtsverein, 1940.
Voth, Mel. "Given Name Changes in the Alexanderwohl Community." Research paper, 1954. Mennonite Library and Archives, Bethel College (North Newton, KS)
Wiebe, Herbert. "Mennonitische Familiennamen in den Weichselniederungen von Graudenz bis Thorn." Mennonitische Geschichtsblätter (August 1939).
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 809-810. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
©1996-2013 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.
MLA style: Krahn, Cornelius. "Names (Mennonite)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 19 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/N356.html.
APA style: Krahn, Cornelius. (1957). Names (Mennonite). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/N356.html.