Knisely = Corn salad


What to do with downtime? Try to answer a question that my daughter asked me…

Our daughter is enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program. One of her recent school assignments was to write up a family history. As such she asked me where the Kniselys come from. (She found a web page that said we were Scottish and offered to sell her a Knisely Coat of Arms…)

My uncle, The Rev. Joseph Knisely (an Episcopal Priest who last served in the Diocese of Maryland and was rector of a parish in St. John’s in Haggerstown at the time of his death) was the only one in the family that I know of who actually took an active interest in genealogy. According to a small book he wrote, that I remember reading as a child, he found in his investigation that Knisely’s are from Switzerland and came to the United States back in the very early 1700’s. (1703 or so if I remember correctly.) Apparently the name Knisely is an americanization of a Swiss name – and according the Uncle Joe – it originally meant “the round end of a loaf of bread).

So today I decided to do a little research of my own. Near as I can find out, the Knisely name is a form of the Swiss name Nüssli. Our part of the Nüssli family were Mennonites and were driven out of Switzerland because of their religion. They initially emigrated to Holland and to Alsace-Lorraine and from there to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. (Which pretty much jibes with what Uncle Joe wrote, and with what I’ve learned in conversation with distant cousins, etc.) We made a living as millers to start off and slowly spread out across PA and northern Maryland and Ohio. (At least that’s true for the Knisely’s… There are apparently a large number of variations of the name, including Nicely.)

There’s apparently one detail though that Uncle Joe got wrong… Our original name doesn’t have anything to do with bread at all. It’s the name of small plant. A weed that’s called “Corn Salad” here in the US:

“Corn salad (Valerianella locusta) is a small dicot annual plant of the family Valerianaceae. It is also called Lewiston cornsalad, fetticus, mache, mâche, doucette, rampon, rampien, lamb’s lettuce, field salad (, nüssli, nüsslisalat, and rapunzel.”

Ah the glamour. I finally know what my name means. It’s a misspelling of a weed-like plant.

Seems right somehow. Grin.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

1 Comment

  1. Gaby says

    Now I know why I sometimes find you a little “corny”.

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