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      Possible Origins of The KIPNIS Name

Per A. Beider's "Dictionary of Jewish Names From the Russian Empire", KIPNIS is derived from a Ukrainian word meaning "flat-nosed", or "snub-nosed". However, I have also heard several anecdotes about this name having Italian or Greek origins. The late president of the National Container Company, Sam KIPNIS, even sent a researcher to Greece to investigate this possibility, but I have yet to find out anything else along these lines of research.

I once encountered the name of a 19th century Russian count Vassily KAPNIST. His family origins were well documented: At their point of origin in Greece the family name was KAPNISSIS. In Italy, the name was changed to CAPNISSIS and then CAPNISSI. When the family came to the Russian empire, it  was changed to KAPNIST. The phonetic similarity is striking, isn’t it? However, there is no proof that this is real origin.

Another theory proposes that KIPNIS is an Ashkenazic name derived from the Hebrew phrase "for there is a miracle" (KI-PO-NESS). This theory is unusual in that it doesn’t follow any known naming patterns for Jewish surnames adopted in early 19th century Russia.


And What About Those Pesky Little Spelling Variations?

Today, people with this name are relatively numerous. KIPNIS seems to be the predominant spelling, but several variations exist. How did this happen?  My theory goes something like this:

The first place we see the family names in any post-European record is in the ships passengers lists. And who made these lists out? The Europeans who worked for the shipping lines. And what they wrote down on those lists was what they heard through their individual language 'filters' i.e., how that immigrant said their name on that particular day. This is what I honestly feel caused all of the spelling variations we are seeing. My feeling is that a "KIPNIS is a KIPNUS is a KIPNEES is a KEPNES, etc.. And of course some family members might have later changed their names after arriving at their destination too! The family trees I have seen so far seem to bear this theory out, at least for now! 

What do you know about the name? Email us with your thoughts!

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Last modified: Saturday, 23-Mar-2002 13:55:40 EST

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