Learn the Meaning Behind Your Common Mennonite First Name (Women’s List)

When Menno Simons received the Ten Commandments back in 1536, he was also provided with a list of holy and righteous Mennonite first names, ten for women and ten for men. For centuries the original list was thought to be lost and had been spread solely by oral tradition. However, recently the Daily Bonnet has discovered the original list of Mennonite names as given to Menno Simons himself.

If your own name is not on this list, you may have to question the moral character of your parents.

Acceptable Mennonite Women’s Names and Their Meanings:

Aganetha (Agnes, Nettie): This name is of Greek origin and means “pure,” which is probably why so many Aganethas (teachers, pastor’s wives, grandmothers, etc.) have tried to throughly wash my mouth out with soap over the years. I must say, it was effective for a while, until I acquired a taste for it. Famous Aganethas: Moorehead, Varda, Dyck.

*Anne (Ann, Annie, Anna): Anne means “grace.” Therefore the next time you bow your head to pray or sing the Doxology just before dinner, why don’t you ask Anne to do it. You’ll have to pick between Aunt Anne, Great Aunt Annie and sweet little Anna. Choose the kid. It’ll be quickest and cutest. Famous Annes: Queen, Of Green Gables, Hathaway, Penner.

Edna: Woah, here’s a shocker. Edna means “pleasure,” though the specific type of pleasure is not specified. I suspect it’s more of the spiritual, rather than carnal, variety. Maybe it refers to the sensation you get from eating Edna’s molasses cookies. Pretty intense. Famous Ednas: St. Vincent Millay, Ferber, Buchanan, Fehr.

*Esther: The meaning of Esther is unclear. It might be the Persian word for “star” or the goddess (and really horrible 1980s movie) Ishtar. The Book of Esther is the only one in the Bible that doesn’t mention God, which is kind of like my Uncle Doug, but that’s a whole other story. We don’t talk about Doug. Don’t ask. Famous Esthers: Williams, Anderson, Forbes, Sawatzky.

*Elizabeth (Betty, Liz): So, apparently this name means “oath of God,” but all the Bettys and I knew were more into oats than oaths. Quaker Oats. Steel cut Oats. Oatmeal cookies. You name it, if it involved oats, they were into it. The only kind of oats they were against was the sowing-of-your-wild-oats variety. Famous Elizabeths: Queen Elizabeth I (and II), Davis, Taylor, Pankratz.

Helen (Helena, Lina): This is Greek…obviously. It means “shining light” or “moon.” Never mind what the crusty old men on the elder board say, women truly are the shining light of our communities. Famous Helens: Mirren, Keller, Reddy, Yoder.

Katherine (Katie, Katy, Kathy, etc.): This is Latin meaning “pure,” which, I guess, makes it the companion name to Aganetha. This explains why so many Katherines and Aganethas can be found playing Scrabble or Rummikub together in manors across southern Manitoba. Famous Katherines: The Great, Hepburn, Zeda-Jones, Hiebert.

*Mary: It’s not entirely clear what Mary means, but for such a pleasant-sounding name the possible definitions are rather harsh; it means “bitter” or “rebellious.” I knew a bitter Mary once. Let me tell you, she was no fun at all, constantly putting a damper on youthful escapades by pointing out how sinful everything was. Oba, that bitter Mary. Famous Marys: Queen of Scots, Pickford, Magdalene, Barkman.

*Sarah (Sara): Sarah means “princess,” though Abraham’s wife Sarah was originally named Sarai, which means “quarrelsome.” I think the Mennonites are hiding something here. Where are all the Sarais? Famous Sarahs: Palin, Silverman, Vaughan, Toews.

Unknown. The 10th acceptable Mennonite woman’s first name on the list is to simply add “Mrs.” to your husband’s name. Famous Unknowns: Mrs. Reimer, Mrs. Friesen, Mrs. Loewen, and all the others in the Mennonite Treasury Cookbook.

*Denotes a name of Biblical origin, which guarantees the bearer a place in Heaven.

See men’s list here.

(photo credit: by Mennonite Church USA Archives)