Some visitors unfamiliar with the Amish see their conservative dress and lifestyle and, for some reason, think the Amish are a serious, austere group of people who rarely smile or laugh. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Our Amish friends love to laugh and joke, and their sense of humor is especially exhibited in… nicknames.
One category of nicknames derives from physical or personality traits. Examples are Big Ben, Brownie Eli, Black Sam, Chubby Jonas, Skinny Davie, Porky Dan, Shorty Abner, Toey Steve, and Limpy John. The color of their hair or beard gave the names to Red Elmer, Pinky Eli, Sandy Crist, and Whitey Manuel. I especially like “See More Sam,” whose eyes were set wide apart.
Perhaps more interesting are names based on personality. “Balky John” was stubborn; “Boom Daniel” liked to bellow loudly; “Lummicks Amos” was clumsy; “Coonie Jonathan” liked to hunt; and “Doggie Aaron” loved dogs. An Amish friend informed me that “Coonie’s son married Doggie’s daughter.”
Another set of nicknames comes from funny or memorable incidents associated with a person. “Gravy Dan” earned his nickname because “at a threshing dinner he once poured gravy instead of cream in his coffee.” Another Amishman received the name “Stover” because he once moved a stove from one farm to another, and charged for the service at both ends! “Slinky” got his name from when he played baseball in the schoolyard and scrunched himself down like a slinky when he was at bat. And then there is “Pepper Yonnie,” who got his name when he put some pepper on the heat stove after a hymnsing, and made people sneeze. He apparently cleared the room!
Occupation often figures into a nickname. ”Butter Jake” made and sold butter, “Elevator Ike” invented a farm elevator, “Crusher John” worked in a stone quarry, “Jockey Joe” traded horses, and “Lawyer John” seemed to have skills in legal matters, even though he was not a lawyer.
Then there was “Chicken Elam,” who owned a chicken farm, and “Chickie Dan,” who worked for him. “Cherry John” used to sell cherries, but was known as “Butcher John” when he had that occupation. “Junkie Jake” likes to buy and sell antiques and collectibles. And of course, “Horseradish Sam” gets his name from selling ground horseradish in jars.
The newest name I learned about had to do with an Amishman who milks Dutch Belt cows, which are black cows with a white “belt” running down their middle. Because these cows are black with white in the middle, the farmer has gotten the name of (what else?)… “Oreo Alvin.”