Latvian Surnames: Wihnstihn/Vinsteins/Vinakmens

“Vinakmens” is a fairly uncommon Latvian surname. It is “Vin”, meaning wine, and “akmens” which means stone. Immediately when I began looking for my Vinakmens ancestors, the surname “Weinstein”, holding the same meaning caught my attention. For time being I dismissed the possibility that the surname had evolved into a Latvianized version of Weinstein and continued my other speculations as to why someone would choose the surname Vinakmens during the Latvian naming process.
Interestingly, “wine stone” is also a name for an occurence while making wine. Grapes contain tartaric acid, and during the fermentation process, the sediment from the crushed grapes can harden and turn into “cream of tartar”, which is used in some cooking. So, in some Latvian recipes, “vinakmens” is an ingredient… Yummy!!!
Anyways as I became familiar with the churchbooks on Raduraksti, I was able to locate Vilis Vinakmens’ baptism record (He was Karlis’ father). The record is in old German script, and you will notice he is “Willis August Wihnstihn”. There are two possibilities… either his name legitimately was Weinstein (the h’s replaced the e’s in old German) or this book, since it was written in German, the author germanized Vinakmens, as they germanized “Vilis”. (note: it is important to be able to switch between German and Latvian when searching for names, often things are germanized). It’s hard to read, but Willis is the son of Jahnis Wihnstihn and his wife Trihne.

In his marriage to Emilija, he also is recorded as Wihnstihn. You will notice this record is in Russian cyrillic first, then names are translated into German versions of Latvian names… confusing, I know!
Luckily for me, their first child was born in 1905 and his baptism record was available on Raduraksti. Jahnis Rudolph Wihnstein was named for Emilija’s brother. But notice the pencilled-in text. You can clearly see “Vinakmens” a few times. Sometimes the pastor of a church would go back in his church books and add information about baptised individuals later in their lives, who they married, when confirmed, etc… this happens in French-Canadian Catholic church records as well.

The last clue that helped me make up my mind about the Vinakmens-Weinstein kerfuffle was a few articles in Latvian periodicals, proclaiming Janis and his wife Emma and their surname choice. This excerpt from the Latvian periodical “Valdības Vēstnesis” (“The Messenger of the Government”) published on Saturday, September 12, 1931. Text translates as “Janis and his wife Emma Vinakmens, also Vinsteins, will hereafter be called “Vinakmens””. Important to note the language of the time period again – in 1931 Latvia was free, a proud independant nation. So everything is written in Latvian.

The last questions remains: why did they change their surname from Weinstein? Was it to distance themselves from the father that abandoned them? Was it out of Latvian nationalism? In the late 1930’s, it was popular for army officers with German-style last names to change to more patriotic surnames. Janis might have been early to catch this trend, as this is from 1931.

It seems that at one time, they may have been known and Vinsteins-Vinakmens. There are still to this day Vinsteins-Vinakmens in Latvia. Related? Other Weinsteins turned Vinakmens?

More on changing your surname in the 30’s in Latvia:

Latvian National Library Digital Periodicals:


One thought on “Latvian Surnames: Wihnstihn/Vinsteins/Vinakmens

  1. Pingback: Ancestor Story: Karlis Vinakmens | A Latvian Canadian Story

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