"How quickly the tenor of a moment can change. Of course, Gerda thought, American names were enough in themselves. Only immigrants had names with two meanings. To be American, your name was just your name and that was enough for America."

from "The Meaning of Names"


A consuming tale of one family’s confrontation with the violence and hatred that swept across America during the First Great War for Peace. Set in 1918 in the farm country at the heart of America, The Meaning of Names is the story of an ordinary woman trying to raise a family during extraordinary times.

 “Suddenly, ‘liberty cabbage’ replaces ‘sauerkraut’ on food menus, job advertisements warn ‘no krauts need apply,’ and neighbors demand the nearby university stop teaching courses in ‘that vile language....’ Shoemaker crafts eminently realistic characters; her descriptions of unreasonable fear and hatred are particularly effective.”
—Publishers Weekly


  • One Book One Nebraska 2016
  • Omaha Reads 2014
  • Governor's Recommended Reading List: World War I

Praise for the Novel:

  • “The Meaning of Names is a major addition to the literary canon of the Great Plains, contributing deeply to our understanding of the immigrant experience during the years of WWI when the 100% American campaign pitted Americans against one another. In the midst of this fraught political moment, a small cast of characters in Stuart, Nebraska quietly plays out their communal and familial roles until they’re brought together in a dramatic struggle for life. The Meaning of Names is a breath-taking story that illuminates the bonds that hold us together and the fears that tear us apart while spotlighting the endurance and love of one woman and her family.”
    Ladette Randolph, author of Haven’s Wake
    *****

  • “Karen Shoemaker’s rich historical novel is reminiscent of the fiction of Willa Cather and every bit as memorable. Shoemaker captures the hearts and souls of her characters in intricate, poetic detail even as she tells a story of lives rent by suspicion and wartime prejudice. Against the dramatic skies of the Great Plains, and the beauty of the landscape, unfolds a tale of faith and science, love and death.”
    Timothy Schaffert, author of The Swan Gondola
    ****

  • “In The Meaning of Names we find the Vogels struggling to get by on their Nebraska farm in the midst of the First World War, rising anti-German sentiment in town, and a fierce and virulent flu epidemic, Gerda and Fritz, their children, Dr. Gannoway and his wife Miranda, their friends the Baums, Father Jungels – these characters and their little town of Stuart, Nebraska, are so real, so pulsing with passion and care, that I hated to have to leave them behind. Reminiscent of Willa Cather’s My Antonia, Shoemaker’s novel is an essential read for anyone who cares about the Midwest, about its demanding landscape, its rich and tragic history, and its remarkable, breathtaking beauty.”
    Amy Hassinger, author of The Priest’s Madonna
    ****

  • “The Meaning of Names is a hauntingly, tender story set in Nebraska during World War I, a time when nationalism led to prejudice against German-Americans, a time when the influenza pandemic of 1918 killed millions. Against this grim backdrop, Karen Gettert Shoemaker weaves an enduring story of faith, family, and love. This is a wonderful debut novel, and Gerda Vogel is a character I’ll remember always.”
    Lee Martin, author of Break the Skin
    ****


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