Why Quakers are called Quakers: the name “Quaker” was originally intended as an insult, until the Religious Society of Friends took it on and claimed it for themselves.
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It’s not unlike how people will take a pejorative term and own it, take pride in it. Methodists, Mormons, there are other words that ethnic groups will use that were initially used as pejorative terms and they claimed them with pride.
How Quakers Got Their Name
Initially, it was a pejorative term. Friends (Quakers) initially called themselves Publishers of Truth, Friends of Jesus, Primitive Christianity Restored or Revived. They simply saw themselves as a movement restoring original Christianity.
Early on, there were those who accused Quakers of being enthusiasts, of outrunning their guide. One of the first instances of that was in Fox’s first imprisonment when he was thrown into prison by a judge up in Darby, England. The judge bade Fox to tremble and quake at the authority of the court, and Fox replied, “No, it is thou, judge, who ought tremble and quake before the authority almighty God.” And the judge said, “What are you some sort of QUAKER??” (enthusiast, what we today might call some “wild eyed Pentecostal”) and the name stuck as a pejorative term. It was not meant to be taken in good light by others.
Named It and Claimed It
Quakers (Friends) took it on themselves. They named it and claimed it; said, “yeah we’re Quakers! We’re moved by the Spirit.” In their meetings for worship they would tremble and quake and shake. They would often cite scriptural evidence for that. How when the reach of Elohim, or the spirit of God descended on the prophets or others in the days of old in the Hebrew scriptures or the Christian scriptures, they would tremble and shake. They would often use that as proof texts, “We are Quakers.”
So Quakers claimed it and eventually when they eventually became known as the religious society of Friends, they would also add on “Also known as Quakers” or “(Quakers)”
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.