Clearing up Confusion Over Names: John & Jack

Larry Pearce

In my wife Susan’s paternal and maternal Miller genealogy it was necessary and convenient to use a mystical, and perhaps at times mythical, character as a sort of marker, a signpost to measure and compare ancestors before and after. The fact that he was born in Europe, was one of the first Swiss-German Anabaptists to come to America, and eventually settled in our Somerset County covers all the bases, so to speak. Today he is the link between Susan’s maternal Anabaptists in the southern part of the county and paternal Lutheran, Reformed, Dunkard/Brethren families in the north. Researchers over the years, sometimes mistakenly, have referred him by many names: John, Hannes, Annes, Indian John, Wounded John, and even Crippled John. You may read his fascinating story at Hannes “Indian John” Miller. In this brief essay I will give some general background on the name John that everyone can agree on and theorize as to how the confusion over his moniker came to be. I’ll end with an ironic twist that connects my family, at least in name only, in other parts of Pennsylvania to Susan’s. May I suggest that you read 18th Century German Naming Customs for context and possible application here.

According to Wikipedia, “John” is the English and masculine given name that comes to us from the Latin “Iohannes.” This looks like the formal German “Johannes” (pronounced with a Y), which has at least four lesser forms: Hans, Hannes, Johann, and Jan. Similar soundings may be found in almost all other languages in the Western world. For example, in Italian we have “Giovanni”; in Scottish we have “Ian”; and in French we have “Jean” and “Jacques,” from which the common English nickname “Jack” is derived. We’ll come back to these last ones later as it pertains to my family as well.

Before the Latin, “John” was found in the Greek and even earlier in Hebrew as “Yehochanan,” meaning “Yahweh (or Jehovah) is generous (or merciful).” John Hyrcanus, nephew of Judas Maccabeus, was a provincial king and everyone knows John the Baptist, the apostle John, and several other early Christians. In the New Testament Greek, Ananias was a disciple from Damascus and husband of Sapphira. Unfortunately, this was the same name for the high priest of the Jews who put Paul on trial (John 18:13).

After the emperors, kings, popes, and patriarchs, John has remained one of the most popular names in the Christianized Western world. Before we take a closer look at the confusion over Hannes “Indian John” Miller, let’s consider another often-misunderstood person of note, the founder of nearby Johnstown. Joseph Schantz (1749-1813) was among the Swiss-German Amish-Mennonites who settled in eastern Pennsylvania in 1769. He no doubt knew our Millers, but in coming west in 1793 he chose to settle to the north of our ancestors, at the fork of the Conemaugh and Stoneycreek Rivers. Whether it was mishearing or Anglicizing his last name, folks knew Joseph Schantz as Joseph Johns. Despite leaving specific instructions for use of his property in 1800 when the City of Conemaugh was formed and he moved just outside its limits to better farmland, area residents called it Johnstown. Finally, in 1834, the name was legally changed and today a statue of Schantz stands guard in Central Park over his city. Another injustice is that it’s among many war memorials. The Amish continue to detest warfare. Also, the meaning of the name “Schantz” refers to a lowly peasant and is often metaphorically used as a nickname for one who gambles and a military trench or redoubt. So “Schantz” and “Johns” have completely different connotations, historically. By the way, Schantz sold a great deal of his river bottom property before moving south to General Charles Campbell, a possible ancestor of my mother. Read about this in the story “Along the Waterways”.

Not unlike Joseph Schantz, or Johns, our Hannes Miller must have gone by many derivations of Johann. Did “the English” in Pennsylvania know that the “J” in Johann was pronounced as a “Y”? Why not just call him “John”? In addition, I’m certain that this simple, more common name, when combined with the news of his injury from the Hochstetler Massacre of 1757, became more memorable when combined with “Indian,” “Wounded, or “Cripple.” Was he also known as “Annes”? The “H” in the front of Hannes is rather soft, so perhaps he was called that. We know for sure that one of his sons John (b.1752) carried the English given name and the nickname “Annes” and/or “Junior” all his life to be differentiated from his father.

As we said above, Hannes “Indian John” is an easy benchmark in the study and comparisons of Susan’s families, but some disagreement exists over who his father was. Was it Christian or Jacob? There is evidence for each. Hannes had both uncles and sons with the same names. No wonder the confusion for historians In another article I recognize the possibility of Hannes’ father being Jacob but list the many Christians in the Miller family. Comparatively speaking, because it’s a little more rare, John is much easier to locate, but we continue to research, hopefully with an open mind.

Now, as a footnote, as promised, one more application of the name “John.” One of the most widely used nicknames for this given name is “Jack,” which no doubt comes from the French “Jacques.” In my family the Jack surname appears both paternally and maternally, going back through the British Isles to the French. Several questions immediately arise: Since French was the language of the English State for centuries after William the Conqueror landed in 1066, when did my family change from “Jacques” to “Jack”? Are my mother’s Jacks related directly to my father’s? Are either or both related to Capt. James Jack, of Revolutionary War fame and the “Mecklenberg Declaration of Independence” (1775)? They are all distant cousins. Have a look for other instances of John, Jack, James, Jacob, Jacques, etc. in my Jack Family Tree and Introduction.

After more than a decade of researching our ancestors, one principle seems to reappear among families: The further one goes back, the more common ancestors we have. Yes, names are added through marriages, and spellings change as new lands and cultures are adopted, but persistence usually leads to better understanding of the people and names we give them.

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