The latest New Yorker has a story by Lara Vapnyar; when I saw the name I guessed it was Indian, but it turns out to be Russian—or to be more accurate, from one of the many nationalities that were bundled into the USSR. My question is, which one? The name is not in any of my reference works, even Unbegaun’s magnificent Russian Surnames, and its indecipherability is eating away at my composure. Is it Udmurt? Bashkir? Some remote Caucasian nationality? Google has failed me, but I have confidence in my readership.


  1. Jewish? Transliterated form of the Yiddish Wappner or Wapnier? Or maybe Volga German?

  2. Lara’s surname reminds me of a Ukrainian town Vapnyarka (railway junction near Vinnitsa), though I don’t know the etymology.

  3. I have no clue.
    But I have a name question that someone asked me about: what nationality is the last name Rodri from? I was guessing it was a shortened version of a longer name.

  4. Well, you could just ask the New Yorker for her email address and ask her nicely if she might divulge it to you.

  5. Cryptic Ned says:

    “Rhodri” was an ancient Welsh king. That’s probably where Rodri comes from.

  6. It probaly came from one of the Asian former Soviet republics.

  7. Thanks, Cryptic, but when I looked at the site, I noticed that it was the king’s first name. And I found another site that explained that Rodri is a nickname (first name) in Argentina.
    Oh well, I was trying to help someone out, but I guess he won’t be able to get his answer.

  8. Sigivald: I thought of that, but I’m a lazy man, so I’m trying this first.
    SBD: I dunno — that’s certainly a possibility, but most of those languages are Turkic, and it just doesn’t sound particularly Turkic. Or anything else. I can generally identify surnames pretty accurately, but I’m stumped.

  9. LH, you’ve got your answer – h.giraffe is certainly right about Vapnyarka. It’s a small schtetl near Tul’chin (where my grandfather came from),in Ukraine. Vapnyar means painter (as in construction, not art); specifically, someone who paints walls white (with lime) – in Ukrainian.
    Ethnicity of the person with last name Vapnyar may be Ukrainian as well as Jewish.

  10. Thank you! Tatyana wins the coveted Commenter of the Week award.

  11. Michael Farris says:

    After Tatyana’s useful comment, I can see the relation to Polish wapniarz (I don’t know if it’s a real word, it would mean someone working with quicklime – wapn’).
    Had it been spelled Vapniar or Vapnjar I might have noticed it earlier …

  12. Thank you, LH (is my award drinkable?)
    Michael, I think the direction of borrowing is actually from Polish to Ukrainian, through – who else?- Jews travelling within Pale.
    The theory is open to critisism, of course.

  13. The Wapniak musical comedy “The Plasterer on the Roof”, alas, went nowhere.

  14. Nice tunes, though!
    “If I had some quicklime… diga diga diga diga diga diga diga dig…”

  15. Zizka,
    and it’s not surprising – how can you lure working-class public to the show where plasterer (not painter, as in wapniarz), goes to the roof for some inconcievable reason? What TH for? ask our unimaginative audience – and rightly so. I’m not paying that lazy bastard for his “roof” breaks away from my walls!
    OT: as I recall, you expressed interested in archeology some time ago. Here’s a toy for you.

  16. My name is Wapniarz says:

    This is Jewish name.

  17. Wapniak, Biotch! says:

    My name is Wapniak. Although originally from Poland, I don’t speak a word of it. OK, well… maybe a word. I was told Vapnyar means Limestone… but it could very well have what to do with Tatyana’s description.

  18. Marya Tilles says:

    I have just discovered that the original name of my ancestors was Wapniarz from Rosanji, Lomza, Poland. One branch went to the States and became Warner, the other branch came to the UK and became Rozainsky.
    Any connections with anyone?

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