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For other uses, see Yoder (disambiguation).

The surname Yoder is an ancient surname first associated with the Canton of Bern in Switzerland. The first recorded use in 1260 and uses common Swiss spelling of "Joder". The surname is a shortened version of Theodorus, the name of the first Roman Catholic bishop of Sion in present day Martigny, Switzerland. Theodorus — who is also known as St. Theodore of Grammont, St. Theodule, and St. Joder — is the patron saint of Triesenberg, Liechtenstein.


The surname Yoder is derived from the name Theodorus. University of Notre Dame theologian John Howard Yoder has explained step-by-step how the evolution from Theodorus to Yoder was the result of simple, normal changes in pronunciation. The surname Yoder probably developed from the name Sanctus Theodorus in the following sequence: (1) Sanctus Theodorus; (2) Sanctus Tjordorus; (3) Sankt Tjoder; (4) Sant Tjoder; (5) Sant Joder; (6) (Saint) Yoder

The name Joder is most common in Switzerland and is widespread there. In the United States, the leap from "Joder" to "Yoder" was natural because the English spelling of the latter name phonetically reflects the German pronunciation of the name.

Saint Theodorus[edit]

Theodorus was a 4th-century missionary-monk who crossed the Alps from Italy to establish a Catholic outpost in the Valais region of southern Switzerland.


According to a well-circulated legend, in 350 while in Agaunum, Theodorus found the bones of Saint Maurice and the legendary Theban legion. Theodorus is said to have then built a basilica on the land where the bones were found. Around the year 515, the site was later converted to a monastery after the surrounding land was donated by Sigismund. The monastery is now known as Abbey of Saint-Maurice d'Agaune.

According to hagiographical material, the Theban legion was entirely composed of Christians. It had been called from Thebes in Egypt to assist Maximian in Gaul in modern day France. However, when Maximian ordered the legion to sacrifice to the Emperor and to suppress Christianity in Gaul, they refused. Subsequently, Maximian ordered the unit punished. Every tenth soldier was killed, a military punishment known as decimation. More orders followed, but the legion still refused to comply, and a second decimation was ordered. Because after the second decimation the legion still refused to use violence against fellow Christians, Maximian ordered all the remaining members of the unit executed.

Some historians suggest that the story of Maurice and the Theban legion was a pious fabrication created by either by Theodorus or Eucherius, bishop of Lyon. It is known that Eucherius cited Theodorus as his source for the story of the Theban legion. Eucherius used the story to encourage his contemporary Christians serving in the Roman army to ignore the orders of their pagan superiors and instead side with the Christians. The dissemination of the story was successful in drawing pilgrims to Abbey of Saint-Maurice d'Agaune. The institution was created ex nihilo from 515 onwards by Sigismund, the first Catholic king of the Burgundians. The abbey was unique in its time as the creation of a king working in concord with bishops, rather than an organic development that occurred around the central figure of a holy monk. The new abbey was without a doubt strengthened by the strong founding legend.


Records indicate Theodorus was appointed to be the bishop of Octodurum in present day Martigny, Switzerland. He is known to have participated in the Council of Aquileia in 381, his presence being preserved on the attendance list as "Theodorus Episcopus Octodorensis." Theodorus was also one of the signatories of a letter addressed by the Synod of Milan to Pope Siricius early in 390, informing him of their condemnation of the monk Jovinian and his followers.

In the 6th century Octodurus became unsafe because of massive migrations. As a result, the bishop's seat was moved to the fortified town of Sion, Switzerland. The bones of Theodorus were transported to the new site and later exhibited in a burial niche. This burial niche, an arched grave similar to a sarcophagus, was rediscovered in the early 1960s by excavations in the crypt under Saint Theodorus's Church in Sion.

Centuries after his death, many relics of Theodorus wound up in the fortified Valeria Church in Switzerland. Unfortunately, they were lost to the plundering of French troops during the French Revolution.


Although Theodorus was a popular figure in life, for a time his legend grew in death, especially during the Middle Ages in Switzerland and the Savoy region of France.

In the 8th century, German-speaking Walsers who had migrated into the canton of Valais in Switzerland were particularly devoted to the saint. In the 13th century when many Walsers left the Wallis region and spread to Italy, Liechtenstein, and Austria, they took the legend of Theodorus with them. They dedicated altars and bells to him, founded eternal seasons in his honor, and erected statues of him.

Today the adoration of Theodorus is found not only in the canton of Valais and among the Walsers but in the rest of Switzerland and throughout northern Italy, France, southern Germany, Liechtenstein, and Austria. The festival of Saint Theodorus is celebrated in parts of Europe on August 16.

In 1981, a postage stamp was issued by Liechtenstein to commemorate the 1600 year anniversary of Theodorus's appointment to the post of bishop. The horizontal stamp depicts a sculpture of Theodorus from the parish church of Laterns. The approximately 500-year-old sculpture is thought to be among the most beautiful visual images of the saint. The stamp was designed by Bruno Kaufmann and Walter Wachter.

Origin of the surname[edit]

Joderhuebel -- German for "Yoder Hill"—is a natural fortress on the Emme River in the Swiss Canton of Berne. German researcher Karl Joder of Ludwigshafen am Rhein believes that the Yoder family was established in the region surrounding the hill before recorded history. The oldest known documentation of the Yoder family is a 1260 record of the birth of a Peter Joder in Joderhuebel. Thus, the first Yoders emerged between the start of Theodorus's reign near 381 and 1260 when the earliest records document the existence of a Yoder.

In about 1385, a Heini Joder moved to Steffisburg, Switzerland, which is in the southern part of the Emmental. Yoders lived in Steffisburg for approximately eleven generations before they joined the politically subversive Anabaptists. In 1531, records show that a Heini Joder was imprisoned at Basel for spreading Anabaptist doctrine.


Yoders were a part of the great German migration to America between 1650 and 1730. When the Quaker William Penn established the colony of Pennsylvania, he opened it to all religious faiths, allowing complete religious freedom and worship. He sent agents into the Rhine Valley and the Rhineland-Palatinate announcing the opportunities for settlement in his colony and assuring emigrants they would be allowed freedom of worship. Germans of all faiths came to the new colony by the thousands. They found their way down the Rhine River to Rotterdam, the great Dutch port, and embarked on slow sailing boats for Philadelphia. Between 1700 and 1775 more than sixty thousand Germans came to America. Some ethnic Germans from the Duchy of Baden, Alsace (Elsass) and Switzerland also left Europe at French ports like Le Havre.

After taking the oath of allegiance to the English Crown, the Germans spread out into the area of southeastern Pennsylvania, looking for good land and places to make their new homes. They settled first in what are now Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, Lancaster, and Berks Counties. Many Yoders were among these early German pioneers.

Yoder is a very common surname among the Amish and Mennonites.

Yoder is the name of a town on Colorado's dusty and sparsely populated Eastern plains. It was traditionally a Mennonite community.


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