There are two things I’ve learned since marrying into my Bohemian farm family. First, you can always tell the good Czechs by the poppy seed in their teeth. And secondly, Czech last names are nearly impossible to pronounce correctly on the first try – unless, of course, you were born Czech.
A good Czech name like Cwach may be the perfect last name for setting yourself apart (to no surprise, changing my email address after the wedding turned out to be a cinch). But as we’ve started to seriously consider officially branding our farm, the hard-to-pronounce last name no longer seems ideal. While Cwach Farm is unique, outsiders can rarely pronounce it, much less spell it. This has led us to exploring alternative names to better market the farm as we hopefully grow and evolve in the future.
For years, Dan’s parents also tried to brainstorm the perfect name, to no avail. A few weeks ago, we spent a long car ride tossing ideas back and forth with my mother-in-law. Stuck on the road for six hours, we decided to revisit family history and see if a name could be drawn from the folks who started the farm nearly 150 years ago.
Like many pioneer and immigrant families, the Cwachs have interesting roots. Our sixth-generation farm can be traced back to John (Jan) Cwach and his son, Mathias, who were born and farmed in Bohemia. In 1867, John, his wife Mary and Mathias sold all of their belongings and began to immigrate to America. The family got as far as Bremen, Germany, when money ran out. For 18 months, Mathias and his parents worked at the ship docks to earn enough money for passage to the U.S. They arrived in New York in 1869 and traveled to Missouri, where they mined iron ore at Iron Mountain for three years.
In 1872, the Cwachs set out for the Dakota Territory (the way the story is told, the family bypassed Iowa farmland as they sought rockier ground, as that was the material with which they were used to building the foundation of their homes). John, Mathias and Mary finally settled in Yankton County and began to farm and ranch with just two horses, two oxen, two milk cows, six cattle, one pig, one wagon and one piece of machinery. In the spring of 1878, Mathias married Josephine Pechan, who gave birth to 12 children who would continue the tradition of family farming in Yankton County.
While Farmer Dan and I love the idea of incorporating ancestry and heritage into a farm name, we also are drawn to names with interesting backstories and a bit of whimsy. Thanks to Dan’s brother Kevin, who as a kid loved to frequent exotic livestock auctions, the farm has housed a variety of animals in addition to their traditional cattle operation, from pigs to chickens to horses to sheep to two loveable donkeys, Becky and Jenny, who are closing in on two decades of living with the cows on the farm. (Dan and I both agree that there’s something about Two Donkey Organic Ranch that has a quirky ring to it.) There was also a brief period where a pair of unruly goats ruled the farm. (Long story short: What started out as a pregnant goat named Selma and her companion Isabelle soon turned into Selma and Isadore, the billy goat. A few generations of goats later, the herd was quickly ousted once they discovered how fun it was to hop on top of grandpa’s new Cadillac.)
There was also a brief period where a pair of unruly goats ruled the farm.
We’ve also got a number of memorable landmarks on our ranch that deserve consideration – Beaver Creek, Turkey Canyon and Cactus Hill, to name a few. There’s a weathered red door tucked away behind the big white barn that seems particularly fitting for a family of proud USD Coyotes. Behind the rolling hills of the pasture you can see Mount Pisgah, the highest point in Yankton County. There’s something about incorporating imagery from the area’s natural flora and fauna that strongly appeals to me, as our pasture is one of my favorite and most beautiful spots on earth.
Our hope is to create a name that brings to mind tradition, family and the love of working the earth. Most importantly, we hope it’s something that will last the test of time, so we can pass it down to our children and grandchildren, who hopefully will choose to carry on the legacy of family farming.
If you feel inspired or have found the perfect farm name for yourself, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org- we’d love to hear your ideas and your stories.