Self-taught inventor and businessman William P. “Bill” Lear (1902-1978) is best remembered as the founder of Learjet, the first company to manufacture compact business jets.
In the world of baby names, though, he has an entirely different claim to fame: He named a daughter Shanda to create the pun-name Shanda Lear (read: chandelier).
So, what’s the story?
Bill met his fourth wife, Moya Olsen, in the mid-1930s. They met through Moya’s father, vaudeville comedian John “Ole” Olsen.
They had their first date (drinks at the Stork Club) in 1938, and tied the knot in early 1942.
Bill, who already had three children (Mary Louise, William, and Patti) from previous marriages, went on to have four more children with Moya.
Their first was a boy named John, born in December of 1942.
Their second, born in 1944, was a girl — and she was indeed named Shanda. Years later, Moya recounted:
My father said if you have a girl, her name has to be Shanda. S-H-A-N-D-A. Shanda Lear. And if it’s a boy, you name it Gonda and if you’re not sure, it’s Lava.
Their last two children were named David (b. 1948) and Tina (b. 1954).
During an interview in 2007, Shanda Lear mentioned her name while describing her father, who she said was a “quixotic, outspoken and charismatic man who had a great sense of humor. He thought it was quite funny naming me Shanda Lear.”
The song “Carrie Anne” by the British band The Hollies came out in May of 1967. It had been written by band member Graham Nash about singer Marianne Faithfull, but Graham was too shy to use Marianne’s real name in the lyrics, so “Carrie Anne” was substituted. The song peaked at #9 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart a few months later, in August.
The same year, various versions of the name debuted in the U.S. baby name data. It wasn’t until the next year, though, that the spelling Carrie Anne finally showed up:
Here’s the band performing the song in 1969. (Graham Nash had moved on to Crosby, Stills & Nash by this point, so he’s not part of the performance.)
Similar names featuring “Kerry,” like Kerrianne, also saw higher usage in the late ’60s. Three of these Kerry-variants (Kerryanne, Kerianne, & Keriann) debuted in ’68.
One non-U.S baby who was named Carrie Anne in 1967 was Canadian actress Carrie-Anne Moss, who went on to star in The Matrix as Trinity — the character that popularized the baby name Trinity impressively during the early 2000s.
The song was also one of the factors behind the swift rise of the name Carrie during the 1970s:
1972: 5422 baby girls named Carrie
1971: 5976 baby girls named Carrie
1970: 4976 baby girls named Carrie
1969: 3887 baby girls named Carrie
1968: 3978 baby girls named Carrie
1967: 3196 baby girls named Carrie
1966: 2475 baby girls named Carrie
“Carrie Anne” kicked things off, but the rise was later fueled by actress Caroline “Carrie” Snodgress of the film Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970), the Stephen King book Carrie (1974), and the book-based movie Carrie (1976) — which featured Piper Laurie and a young John Travolta.
The baby name Carrie saw peak usage in 1976 and 1977, reaching 28th place in the rankings both years.
Do you like the name Carrie? How about the combo Carrie Anne?
The simplest answer is “Biblical names,” but that’s not the full answer.
Because certain Biblical names are preferred over others, and Biblical names aren’t used exclusively.
Plus, the prevalence of a name could vary depending upon the specific Amish settlement you’re talking about.
I’ve gathered about 100 of the most common Amish names below. Before we get into specifics, though, here’s a bit of background on the Amish…
Who are the Amish?
The Amish are an Anabaptist group that intentionally maintain a degree of separation from the wider world. They wear plain clothing, eschew modern conveniences (like cars), and partake in traditional occupations such as farming, carpentry, blacksmithing, and (for women) homemaking.
The Anabaptist movement began in Europe in the 1520s, at the time of the Protestant Reformation. The Anabaptists were particularly known for the practice of adult baptism. They were also opposed to war, and they believed in the separation of church and state.
Considered radicals, the Anabaptists were widely persecuted.
In 1693, the Swiss branch of the Anabaptist movement (a.k.a., the Swiss Brethren) experienced a schism. Those who followed reformer Jacob Amman came to be known as the Amish, whereas those who did not came to be known as the Mennonites (after Dutchman Menno Simons, one of the original Anabaptist leaders).
In the early 1700s, many Amish (and Mennonites) immigrated to the New World — specifically to the Province of Pennsylvania, which had been founded upon the principle of religious freedom.
Today, over 367,000 Amish live in the U.S., and roughly two-thirds of them reside in three states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.
Common Amish names
The most comprehensive source of Amish names I came across was also the oldest, so let’s go through all the sources chronologically.
In 1960, researcher Elmer L. Smith published data on the most common male and female names among the Amish of southeastern Pennsylvania from 1890 to 1956.
The 1,337 Amish males in the study shared a total of just 72 different first names. Over a quarter of the males had one of the top three names (John, Amos, or Jacob), and over 81% had one of the top 20 names.
The 1,356 Amish females in the study shared even fewer first names: only 55. Over a quarter of the females had one of the top three names (Mary, Sarah, or Annie), and over 88% had a top-20 name.
According to Smith’s research, these were the 20 most common names per gender (plus their frequency of usage):
Amish female names
Amish male names
*Annie was ranked below Sarah in the research paper, but this seems to be a typo, given the percentages.
Smith also wrote the following:
Other given names for males may reflect the important place the martyred forefathers hold in the minds of the sect members. The given name Menno is frequently found; this honors Menno Simmons [sic] an early leader of the plain sects. Ammon is also quite common, and is traced to Jacob Amman for whom the Amish sect is named; otherwise given names are from the Bible.
(Menno, a form of the Dutch name Meine, can be traced back to the Old High German word magan, meaning “strength.” The occupational surname Amman(n), which was derived from the German word amtmann, originally referred to someone employed as an official or administrator.)
A couple of years after Smith’s study came out, Dr. William Schreiber (a professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio) published a book about the Amish of east-central Ohio. In one paragraph, he mentioned some of the names he’d encountered:
One learns here that the good old biblical names are still common with the Amish but are in competition with modern or more euphonious ones. The names of the children of large families are often a study in contrasts. In one family there are, for example, Benjamin, Samuel, Isaac, Stephen, John, Israel, Christ, Barbara, Mary, Hannah, Annie, Mattie, and Lizzie. Another family has chosen these names for its children: Sarah, Lizzie, Samuel, Benjamin, John, Annie, Marie, Daniel, David, Enos, Sylvia, and Malinda. Then there are three Amish brothers named Isaac, Levi, and Elmer. One wonders how Vesta, Delila, Dena, Saloma, Drusilla, or Verba, or boys’ names like Junie, Venus, or Aquilla came into strict Christian families?
Speaking of east-central Ohio, Barbara Yoder Hall — who was born in 1940 and grew up with ten siblings in the Amish community of Holmes County — recalled in her book Born Amish (1980) the following first names:
First names for girls are usually Cora, Mattie, Annie, Lizzie, Barbara, Fannie, Katie, Mary, Naomi, Emma, Jemima, Ella, Sarah, Levina and Mandy.
First names for boys are John, Mose, Ferdinand, Dannie, Sam, Amos, Albert, Emanual, Levi, Rudy, Enos, Eli, Jacob and Joseph.
Now for a pair of sources from the digital age…
The website Amish America, run by Erik Wesner (who is not Amish, but has visited Amish communities in 15 different states), lists the following names as being common among the Amish. He found many of the male names in Raber’s Almanac, which “contains a listing of Amish church ministers,” while many of the female names came from various church directories.
Common Amish female names
Common Amish male names
Elizabeth Emma Fannie Hannah Katie Linda Lizzie Lovina/Lavina Martha Mary Miriam Naomi Rebecca Ruby Ruth Sadie Sarah Waneta
Abram Amos Atlee Eli Elmer Harley Isaac Jacob John Lavern Leroy Mark Melvin Mervin Samuel Vernon Wayne Willis
Some of Erik’s commentary…
Eli: “You see a lot of Elis among Amish, but not many Elijahs.”
Leroy: “Seems to be more common in Midwestern communities.”
Lizzie: “Lizzie is a popular form in some Pennsylvania communities.”
Naomi: “Amish, at least in Lancaster County, pronounce this ‘Nay-oh-mah.'”
Ruby: “Quite a few Rubies in northern Indiana.”
Vernon: “[P]retty common in places like northern Indiana and Holmes County, Ohio.”
Finally, according to the blog Amish Heritage, written by a woman named Anna (who grew up Amish in Pennsylvania), common Amish names include…
Common Amish female names
Common Amish male names
Amanda Anna/Annie Barbara Betty Clara Edna Elizabeth Esther Fannie Hannah Lavina Lena Lydia Malinda Martha Mary Miriam Naomi Priscilla Rachel Rebecca Ruth Sadie Sarah Susie
Aaron Abner Abram Amos Benuel Christian/Christ Daniel David Eli Elmer Emmanuel Henry Isaac Jacob John Jonas Leroy Lloyd Mark Melvin Mervin Moses Omar Paul Samuel Steven/Stephen Vernon
Both websites noted that some Amish communities (particularly New Order Amish communities) have recently started giving their children less traditional first names.
So how do these lists square with what we’ve observed in the U.S. baby name data?
It’s hard to tell with historically popular names like Mary and John, but we can see some interesting things when we focus on relatively rare names.
For instance, the names Atlee, Benuel, Delila, Dena, Lavina, Menno, Saloma, and Willis have all been mentioned recently in my posts about names with a high degree of state specificity (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021). As you’d expect, they were associated with the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and/or Indiana. (Benuel, in fact, has only ever appeared in the Pennsylvania data — going all the way back to the 1940s.)
Several of the other names — including Amos, Elam, Fannie, Malinda, and Mervin — saw higher usage in Pennsylvania than in any other state in 2021.
I was surprised that none of my sources listed the name Barbie. Most of them mentioned Barbara (one of them was even named Barbara), and all of them included nicknames (like Lizzie). But Barbara’s diminutive form was curiously absent — even though most of its usage occurs in Pennsylvania:
Girls named Barbie, U.S.
Girls named Barbie, Penn.
Rhoda and Mahlon are two more names that I somewhat expected to see.
Ammon is a very interesting case, because the name also has significance to an entirely different religious group: the Mormons. (The Book of Mormon features two prominent figures named Ammon.) From the 1910s to the 1960s, the name Ammon — much like Benuel — only appeared in the Pennsylvania data. Since the 1980s, though, the state with the largest number of baby boys named Ammon has been Utah.
What are your thoughts on the first names used by the Amish? Which of the above do you like the most?
And, for anyone out there with close ties to an Amish family/community: What other names would you add to this list?
P.S. This post is dedicated to my delightful commenters alex and Andrea. :)
My first thought was that Debraca might be mashup of Tristaca and Debbera, but some digging revealed a far more likely influence: Debraca Denise Foxx, the stepdaughter of comedian Redd Foxx (stage name of John Elroy Sanford).
Debraca appeared with Redd on an episode of his TV show Sanford and Son in January of 1977. Perhaps more importantly, in late 1977 she was presented as a “beauty of the week” in Jet magazine. (Other Jet beauties include Meyosha and Tchanavian.)
On January 17, 1969, on the campus of UCLA, a dispute broke out during a meeting of the African Student Union. The dispute turned violent and, ultimately, two members of the Black Panther Party — Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter, 26, and John Huggins, 23 — were shot and killed by a member of a rival group, the black nationalist US Organization.
The next year, the rare name Alprentice appeared for the first time in the U.S. baby name data. It stayed there for a total of three years:
1972: 5 baby boys named Alprentice
1971: 5 baby boys named Alprentice
1970: 7 baby boys named Alprentice [debut]
Both Carter and Huggins “had been accepted for UCLA’s “high potential” program for minority students who do not otherwise qualify academically for admission.”
In 2010, a plaque in memory of the men (“slain in the ongoing struggle for student empowerment and social justice”) was hung outside the classroom in which they were killed.
I’m not sure where Alprentice’s first name came from, but his nickname, “Bunchy,” was bestowed by one of his grandmother’s friends when he was a baby. Here’s how his mother, Nola Mae Carter, told the story:
“He was real plump when he was a baby, and she came and she started […] calling him Bunchy. And that’s how he got Bunchy” — like a bunch of greens.