The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 32
XIV.—Yellow-hammer (or ammer?)
XIV.—Yellow-hammer (or ammer?).
This well-known bird of the Bunting family is commonly called and written yellow-hammer; but the German name of the Bunting is ammer. Schnec-ammer, the snow-bunting; gold-ammer, the yellow-bunting or yellow-hammer; rohr-ammer, the reed-bunting. On the authority of these names, Yarrel restores the spelling to yellow-ammer, rejecting the h as redundant. Latham suggests that the word is from the Anglo-Saxon hama—a skin, which we retain in hammer-cloth; and he, therefore, retains yellow-hammer; and as long custom sanctions the retention of the h, it ought not to be lightly discarded.
I am decidedly of opinion that Yarrel is etymologically correct. This form is not without A.S.—i.e., the oldest English authority. Lye, in his Saxon Dictionary, gives amove as the name of a bird, on the authority of a Cotton MS. But Bosworth drops the word out of his dictionary, probably because he had failed to find it from Lye's loose reference.
I think it almost certain that we get the word, not from the real or supposed Anglo-Saxon amore, but from the German ammer. German bird-fanciers abound in England, and have long carried on a successful trade in imported birds. From them, I have no doubt, we derive the name, upon which the h has intruded by a very common corruption. Ammer, as we have seen, is the generic name of the Bunting, to which family the yellow-hammer of our English meadows and hedges belongs.
The bird has given its name to a little river in Bavaria, and the gan, or district through which it flows, is called the Ammergau, and that portion of the district which extends into the Bavarian Highlands is called Ober-ammergau (the Upper Ammer District), where the celebrated "Passion Play" is performed once in every ten years.