Being Yoder

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Sometimes our very names tell a story.

Today I’m happy to host my mom, Rebecca, as a guest poster!

She decided to take on Being Yoder.  We talked about framing this in a more story-like way, perhaps an old woman in a rocking chair, relating to the younger generations what her name has meant.  But I think I prefer to imagine sitting across the living room from Mom, while she is sitting in the recliner, the small dogs piled up on her to cuddle, as she reflects on what it means, Being Yoder.


What’s in a name?? I am discovering there is more than you might think.

When it’s your name, and you went to school in the 50’s and 60’s, it means that you were at the end of the alphabet. In a system that used alphabetization in many ways, I could usually depend on being called on last. Which meant I arrived in class with a little time before I was called upon to answer – giving me time to prepare.

Being a Yoder was great in this scenario, except of course, when I counted on it. Then the teacher decided to go backwards and I was unprepared. Gave me empathy for the B’s….

I discovered this year that my dad had it worse. Seating was alphabetical; therefore Yoder sat in the back. Dad had undiagnosed visual issues and could not see the front of the room. He would stay after school to erase the board because he could then read it. I had always wondered how my dad, who did not do well in school and got his GED when I was an infant, also read Les Miserables when he was in 2nd grade – and loved it.

The first recorded Yoder was Peter Joder (1260). DNA tests show that American Yoders can trace back to this common ancestor. He took this name to honor Saint Theodore (also known as Saint Joder), the monk/missionary who brought Christianity over the Alps and converted Switzerland. Both my grandmothers were into genealogy and I knew my ancestors were religious seekers who emigrated here several centuries ago.

Even today Yoders are prominent in Pennsylvania Dutch country and in Amish and Mennonite communities. I got a kick as a child (and later as an adult) touring through Amish country in Pennsylvania, and seeing Yoder on the mailboxes and Yoder on businesses as we drove through small farming communities. Over 40 years ago I saw an article from the paper that in some Pennsylvania town, “If you’re not a Yoder, you’re married to one” I clipped it, had it laminated, and carried it in my wallet for decades. It is probably still in some box of treasures in my house.

I often wondered about those other Becky (or maybe Rebecca) Yoders who lived a life of simplicity, with no buttons, cars, or electric appliances, including record players. I have realized over the years, though, that my father’s Yoderness had a huge impact on how I was raised and who I’ve become. His father was raised by a Yoder farmer and a Mennonite mother. Vacations were a frivolity and farming an obstacle to being away – a day’s drive in the country was a nice break and diversion (fortunately Mother’s side believed in vacations). I was raised on no-nonsense adages and basic values of the sort that hadn’t changed a whole lot over the centuries.

Many Yoders have a green thumb and a bent towards organic gardening. My great-grandfather was gardening organically in the 1920s. He survived the great depression because of his ability to diversify into the produce items that had a ready market, and the wisdom to grow greenhouse flowers for funeral homes and the like. The farm-Yoder gene continues to shape me, and I have seen that gene strongly in all the generations of my immediate branch. My branch of the Yoder family learned to love fresh corn-on-the-cob, sweet from the fields and drenched in butter. We are a bit of snobs about tomatoes which should never be refrigerated.

But there is an ethos beyond that. Yoders work hard. They care about the other guy. They value education. They care about family and living a “good” life, not necessarily one of power or prestige. They stick up for what they believe even it is not a popular perspective.

Yoder was not a common name in the area I grew up, however, and the only other Yoders I ever was aware of in the Southern Connecticut area were my uncles and cousins. Carrying this name helped me develop a “thick skin.” Elementary school classmates (the mean ones!) would taunt me by calling me “Odor Yoder! Odor Yoder!” I did not have hygiene issues but the words still hurt. When I complained to my mom she told me to ignore it and they would stop if I didn’t respond. Good advice, hard to follow but it did eventually work.

There is a town of Yoder in Oregon (where I live now) and I remember the pleasure experienced by my dad (and later my brother) to drive down the single road through town, featuring a handful of weathered buildings – the Yoder store where we bought Yoder mugs, the Yoder sawmill (not functioning at the time) and a few other Yoder named businesses. My brother discovered there is an annual Yoder reunion. He has attended the one of the big east coast gatherings of Yoders and can explain the intricacies between being a Swamp Yoder or a land Yoder. Apparently it matters.

I had the opportunity to attend my nephew’s wedding recently, and hearing the groom referred to as “Yoder” by the  numerous friends. True, it was his name, but jarring. Not as jarring, however, as when he and his bride were first announced Mr and Mrs William Robert Yoder – I instinctively looked for dad…. as did my mom. I had forgotten he carried his grandfather’s name.

An interesting final note, was that I learned both my sisters maintained Yoder as their middle names when they married, as did I.


Are there ways in which your name has shaped and helped to define you?

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8 thoughts on “Being Yoder”

  1. As another former Yoder, I can verify a lot of this rings true… But I was never so happy to change my name to avoid being at the end of the alphabet… 😉

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  2. That’s cool that she knows so much about her name!

    Givens is Irish. We got kicked out of Ireland for fighting too much. That’s pretty much all I know about it… My sister has visited Ireland three or four times, though, and she says it’s a very common name over there!

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