Author Archives: Brad Igou

Brad Igou

About Brad Igou

Brad grew up in Lancaster City. While a sociology-anthropology major in college, he lived and worked with an Amish family for three months as part of an independent study. Returning to Lancaster in 1987, he secured a position with Amish Country Tours and is now president and a co-owner of the company. During Brad’s tenure, he has overseen the renovation of the Amish Country Homestead and its “Heritage Site” designation, as well as being involved in all aspects of the critically acclaimed “Jacob’s Choice” in the Amish Experience Theater at Plain & Fancy Farm. Brad has developed popular theme tours for student and adult groups, as well as the Heritage designated Amish Visit-in-Person Tour. As Editor-in-Chief, Brad is responsible for the publishing of Amish Country News, and for over 25 years has written 100’s of articles about Lancaster County for the magazine. In 1999, his compilation of Amish writings titled THE AMISH IN THEIR OWN WORDS was published.

Amish Nicknames

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.”

Where the grass is greener

One of the best parts of my work here is getting to talk with many of the Amish who live nearby. Recently, I stopped by the home of an Amish mother. Most of her children are grown now. We talked about the struggles of raising children today. While the challenges are different in our two worlds, there is more shared concern than one might imagine.

Our conversation led to the cell phone and the internet. She professed to be unfamiliar with both to a degree, but knowledgeable enough to know how they tempt young people today, whether Amish or not… and the concerns these technologies present for parents.

Amish parents, unlike many of us, don’t fully realize all that can be done with these new phones, with the “world in your pocket.” There have actually been formal meetings among the Amish where outside speakers have discussed today’s technologies and their impact.

Several hundred Amish youth have Facebook accounts. They stay in touch by texting.  We have heard that some are unable to resist the temptation to take photos at weddings, where cameras are not allowed. Since quite a few Amish businessmen have cell phones, it is not surprising that many young folks do, too.

For example, the first time I had ever seen a Blackberry was years ago in the hands of an Amish carriage maker. More recently, I was having lunch with an Amish businessman who was receiving text messages from his son while deer hunting. I felt as if I was not even present at the table. He agreed that once you possess the technology, it becomes difficult to give it up or even limit its use. Our devices can bring those far away from us closer, while at the same time alienating those sitting right next to us.

The Amish position on technology is not that “anything new is bad.” Rather, they ask, “Do you control the technology, or does it control you?” They then decide to limit it, make accommodations, adapt it, or ban it altogether.

Many visitors are incredulous to learn the Amish population continues to double here about every 20 years. Surprisingly, most Amish youth still decide to join the Amish faith and the world of the horse-and-buggy, plain clothes, and eighth grade educations. The fact remains that family and community transcend the allure of the modern world, even though much of what they see “beyond the fence” certainly looks appealing.

In the end, it was this Amish mother I was chatting with at her kitchen table who summed up our conversation about the difference between what we want and what we need. “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but it’s just as hard to mow.”

What does it mean to be Amish?

One night when an Amish friend and I were talking, I asked this question: “What does it mean to be Amish?” It’s hard for anyone to summarize a lifestyle or beliefs in a few words without much time to think about it, so I asked him to say the first thing that popped into his head.

The first thought that came to him was “security.” It was apparent he was not thinking in terms of “safety.” He described it as a close-knit brotherhood and support. This is manifested in many ways, from the older people being cared for and valued by the younger, to the family’s eating meals together daily, from church services in homes to auctions and barn-raisings for those in need.

Next, he spoke of the slower pace of life, a more relaxed way of living, but a strong work ethic. My friend then wondered what the impact of fewer farmers and more “Amish businessmen” will be, especially if people become “too well off?” He thought “prosperity” was the biggest threat to the Amish way of life, although many Amish would put cellphones (“the world in your pocket”) at the top of the list.

Another part of what it means to be Amish is the importance of a good heritage and faith; he mentioned the Christian Anabaptist martyrs of the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe. Struggles between church and state have continued into contemporary times and often make “headlines” in the media.

He then mentioned plain dress; that Amish clothing was more standardized and economical. “I don’t need to give much thought on what I’m going to wear each morning. Some people say that if the heart is right, it doesn’t matter how you dress. But if the heart is right, shouldn’t you dress accordingly?”

Similarly, he touched on not having a television, radio, computer, internet, etc. It’s not so much electricity that is the problem, as what may come into the home via the media once you have it – perhaps a concern that is not unique to the Amish.

An Amishman was speaking before a group and was asked to explain what it meant to be Amish. He began by first asking these non-Amish how many of them owned a TV. All the hands went up. He then asked, “How many people think it might be better not to have a TV?” All hands up again.  Finally he asked the group, “When you get home today, how many will get rid of your TV?”  No hands went up. “That’s what it means to be Amish!”

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