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Pennsylvania German Nicknames

 

The first issue of The Goschenhoppen Region was published on Peterkett (St. Peter in Chains Day), August 1, 1968.  It launched a series of columns called E’ bissel fun dem un’ e’ bissel fun sellum (A little bit of this and a little bit of that). The column was written/edited by Isaac Clarence Kulp, Jr., who was a founder of the Goschenhoppen Historians, served as the editor of The Goschenhoppen Region, and resided in Vernfield, in Goschenhoppen.

There is no better way to introduce the series to blog readers than to include a transcription of the original introduction.  

The first article, which follows the introduction, is about dialect nicknames and includes a questionnaire we hope readers will complete. 

Images of the original pages can be found at the end of this blog post.

 

 

E' bissel fun dem un' bissel fun sellum

(A little bit of this and a little bit of that)

by Isaac Clarence Kulp, Jr. 1968

 

It is the intention of your editorial staff to establish this section, “E’ bissel fun dem un’ e’ bissel fun sellem”, as a permanent feature of our magazine. It’s purpose shall be to provide a clearing table for the raw material of folklife research, items taken directly from the tape recorder and field notebook of the folklife researcher and short articles on subjects not as yet covered by definitive research projects. It is hoped that the publication of these unprocessed fruits of folklife collecting will stimulate further research into the various subjects presented and will result in definitive articles on these subjects in the future.

Another feature of this section will be the invitation extended to our readers to send us their questions and contributions on folk cultural subjects. All communications should be mailed to the editor, Isaac Clarence Kulp, Jr., Goschenhoppen Folklife Museum, Vernfield, Pa. 18973. (Blogger’s note: Mr. Kulp has gone to the great beyond and the museum has gone to Green Lane. Communications should be sent electronically to this blog.)

Note – This section is especially dedicated to Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker, pioneer folklife scholar in America, who originated the idea of this particular service to folklife scholarship and implemented the same through his column entitled, “Collectanea”, in Pennsylvania Folklife magazine during his editorship of that periodical.

The name for this section is borrowed from a Pennsylvania Dutch poem, E’ bissel fun dem un’ e’ bissel fun sellem”, by the late poet laureate of the Pennsylvania Dutch people, John Birmelin. It was felt that this was a good traditional title for a section which the French might name Pot Pourri; the Romans – the forum; or the English – Notes and Queries.

 

Leaves from the Folklife Notebook

 

The Bucher, Keyser, Kulp collection of Folk Cultural research notes and materials, housed in the archives collection in the vault at the Goschenhoppen Folklife Museum, contains thousands of separate items collected over the past eighteen years by Robert C. Bucher, Alan G. Keyser, and Isaac Clarence Kulp, Jr. These items are in the form of hundreds of pages of hand written notes, over twenty five hours of taped interviews, and many hundreds of photographs. Selected excerpts from this collection will be a regular feature of this section.

 

Dialect Nicknames

By Isaac Clarence Kulp, Jr.

 

Throughout the Pennsylvania Dutch country the former tradition of using ancient family names, Bible names, traditional German names, etc. when naming children caused a general problem of many men of one name in a single community or settlement. The identification of these men was facilitated by the use of Dutch nicknames or more precisely distinguishing pre-fixes to their Christian or given names. Following is a list of such names from the Goschenhoppen region as compiled by Alan G. Keyser and Isaac Clarence Kulp, Jr., on September 18, 1960, from notes taken from local folk informants. In the original file specific dates of collection and informants are given for each separate nickname collected.

 

For the name JACOB MILLER:

DER ROSE JELLY JAKE MOYER – he sold “rose jelly”, a patent salve. (19th century)

DER HART HAERICH JAKE MOYER – “hard of hearing Jake”, he always carried an ear trumpet. (19th century – same man as above.)

DER WASSER DROG JAKE MOYER – “watering trough Jake”. He maintained a watering trough along the road in front of his house for the use of travelers, as was a common practice in that day. (19th century).

DER KIEHDRECK JAKE MOYER – “cow manure Jake”. ‘Nuff said! (19th century).

DER GENTELMANN JAKE MOYER – “gentleman Jake” – a nifty dresser, spotless, neat. (20th century).

DER BECKER JAKE MOYER – “baker Jake” – operated a small town bakery in Harleysville, Pa. (20th century).

DER HUCKSTER JAKE MOYER – “huckster Jake” – same man as “baker Jake after he changed occupations. (20th century).

 

DER BREDDICHER JAKE MOYER – “preacher Jake” – an Old Mennonite minister of the Salford congregation near Harleysville, PA. (19th century).

DER WAMMUS JAKE MOYER – named for his “wammus” or traditional home tailored coat which he wore. (19th century).

For the name ABRAHAM MOYER:

DER BLINSEL ABE MOYER – “blinking Abe” – because he blinked his eyes so rapidly when speaking. (19th century).

DER ROTH AW’RAM MOYER (or AWERHAM MOYER) – “red Abram or Abraham” – for his ruddy complexion. (19th century).

‘EM KIEHDRECK JOHN SEI HAMLI; ABE MOYER – “cowdirt John’s calf, Abe Moyer” – the longest prefix in the collection. Abe was the son of cowdirt John and so was calf Abe Moyer or “cowdirt John’s calf, Abe Moyer.” )19th century).

DER BLAECH (or WEISS) AW’RAM MOYER – “pale Abram or Abraham” – for his pale or white complexion, and in contrast to “red Abram”. (19th century).

For the name JOHN LANDIS:

DER BUSCH JOHN LANDIS – lived near a large woods or “busch”. Husband of the late Mrs. Sally Landis, “die busch John Landisin”, the foremost folklife informant in the Kulp-Keyser-Folklife tape collection. (19th and early 20th century).

DER DICK JOHN LANDIS – “fat John Landis” – named for his corpulent features. (19th and early 20th centuries).

DER KAES JOHN LANDIS – “cheese John Landis” – operated a creamery and Dutch cheese factory. (19th and early 20th centuries).

Assorted others:

DER WIEDICH HEN DARSCHTAE – “mad Hen Derstine” – because of a violent anger. (19th century).

DER SCHTEEBERGER SAM HERLI – “stone hill Sam Harley” – lived at the foot of the SCHTEEBERG – stone hill. (19th century).

DER SCHWARTZ AW’RAM CASSEL – “black Abram Cassel” – for his dark and swarthy complexion.

DER SCHOOF MILT MOYER – “sheep Milt Moyer” – a sheep raiser.

DER SAMMY BLECHEDECKEL – “Sammy tin-lid” – humorous name applied, especially by children, to an early 20th century Harleysville tinsmith, Samuel Wolford.

 

COCA-COLA JOHN KOCH – a fairly recent example of this type of usage, applied to John Koch of Harleysville, Pa. who was addicted to Coca Cola. The village of Harleysville during the twenties, thirties, and early forties of the 20th century was the Coca Cola capital of the Dutch country. It has been reported that more Coca Cola was sold and consumed in this small Dutch town in the Goschenhoppen region during that period than in any other comparably sized community in the United States. Through this cultural phenomena, Coca Cola has gained, in this area, the facetious appellation, “Harleysville Beer.”

 

 

 

Folklife Questionaire No. 1

Nicknames

 

One of the most important aspects of the Folk Culture of any rural community is the folk system of identification of persons and their positions within that community.

As we have indicated in the column entitled, “E’ Bissel fun dem un’ e’ bissel fun sellem”, in this issue of the “Region”, an important problem in the Dutch country has been the existence in one community, of many men of the same name. We have explained briefly the reasons for this, i.e. a closely knit folk cultural or religious denomination based community is usually comprised of a restricted number of family names and add to this the prevailing custom of continually drawing on traditional sources for the Christian name of a new born child, and the community finds itself in a situation of having to further identify its members. The use of the middle initial is of little help as the middle initial in the Dutch community usually refers to the family name of the mother and due to more than two centuries of inter-marriage of the traditional families in these communities, the middle initial of these men is also the same and often refers to the same maternal family name.

The most common solution to this problem of identification was the use of nicknames usually in the form of identifying prefixes or terms used before and in connection with the Christian or “given” name. An example of this type from our list is, “Der Wasser Drog Jake Moyer” (Water trough Jake Moyer). Another type was the use of the persons’ given name followed by a humorous substitute for his family name. An example of this type from our list is, “Sammy Blechedeckel” (Sammy Tin-lid).

Other types were to disregard the given name and use a humorous or descriptive substitute in connection with the family name, i.e. “Der dick Kulp (Fat Kulp), or to disregard both name and use only a substitute Folk name such as one collected recently by a member of our staff for a man with large feet – “lauderfus” (all foot).

For additional background information and interesting lists of names from various sections of the Pennsylvania Dutch country I would recommend reading the article, “Mennonite Nicknames”, Pennsylvania Folklife, Spring 1967, P.P. 42-43, and for one of the most valuable nickname lists from any one area, the article, “Amish Family Life – A Sociologists’ Analysis”, by Dr. John A. Hostetler, Pennsylvania Folklife, Vol. XII, No. 3, Fall 1961, P. 39.

The collection of these names is a very important part of folklife research because of the information they provide on the importance of identifying terminology such as geographical location, occupation, personal characteristics, etc. and as a very creative form of folk humor.

Will you, our readers, share with us nicknames used in your own communities or such as you may have heard in your own experiences? Please answer the following questions and forward your answers to: Isaac Clarence Kulp, Jr.

   Goschenhoppen Folklife Museum

    Vernfield, Pa. 18973

 

 
 

 

Blogger’s note: The Goschenhoppen Historians continue to collect and preserve information such as that requested in this 1968 questionnaire. We invite you to reply electronically via this blog or on our Facebook page as Mr. Kulp and the Vernfield museum have “relocated”.

 

  1. List the nicknames used in your own childhood community, both in Pennsylvania Dutch and English, identifying the community, the persons these names were applied to and, if you remember, the persons using the names.
  2. Explain the origin or reasons for the name.
  3. Can you relate any lore connected with nicknames, i.e. folk rhymes, poems, stories, etc.?
  4. Did women ever have nicknames? How were married women identified?
  5. Do you know of any other types of nickname used or any other way to identify persons of the same name, which has not been discussed in this questionnaire?

Images of the original pages from the 1968 issue of "The Goschenhoppen Region"

Dialect Nicknames – Images of the original pages from “The Goschenhoppen Region”

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