Kaplan Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Kaplan Meaning
in German signifies “chaplain” or “curate.” The same meaning is
to be found in the Polish and Hungarian languages. It is a name
common among Ashkenazi Jews, usually indicating descent from the
priestly lineage (the kohanin). Here the origin is more likely to
be Russian or Polish.

Kaplan Resources on

Kaplan Ancestry

Kaplan name was to be found in Jewish circles in the Russian
empire and Poland
during the 19th century. Distinguished
bearers of the name included the Polish rabbi and philanthropist Nachum
Usiel Kaplan and the Latvian-born poet Seeb Wolf

Kaplans continued in these parts into the 20th century until they were
crushed by the Nazis. Joseph Kaplan was one of the leaders of the
Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto. Chaim Kaplan’s Warsaw
diary Scroll of Agony has
lived on after he himself perished. David Kaplan, born in Lithuania,
survived the Nazi concentration camps and was able to make a new home
for himself in El Paso, Texas.

America. Kaplans coming
to America were, for the large part, from the Russian empire.
The Kaplan immigrants of Jewish origin arriving in New York would
receive a “K”
spelling (i.e. Kaplan) whereas those arriving in Baltimore would
receive a “C” spelling (i.e. Caplan). New York still has the most
Kaplans and Baltimore the most Caplans. But Kaplans outnumber
Caplans by seven to one.

Kaplans tended to settle in big cities like New York.
Two Kaplan families who sought and found places outside were
of Hirsch Kaplan, who came
to New
York in 1887 and moved to Chesterfield, Connecticut three years later,
and of Joseph
Kaplan, who arrived in New York in 1904 and bought a farm near Camden,
Jersey eight years later. His
family subsequently scattered.

The small town of Kaplan
in SW Louisiana was named after Abrom Kaplan
who had come to Louisiana from Poland in 1885 and started rice mills
there and across the region. His nephew Jack Kaplan settled in
Kaplan in 1915.

Some Kaplan sons of immigrants in New York became very

  • Jacob Kaplan who left home at sixteen and
    spent two decades making money in the molasses trade. But
    much of his wealth derived from the Welch
    Grape Juice Company which he reorganized in the 1940’s.
    His nephew Joel Kaplan
    attracted national headlines when he escaped from a
    Mexican jail in 1971.
  • Stanley Kaplan
    who graduated from City
    College and, after tutoring for a while, devised preparation programs
    to help
    students pass academic admission tests.
  • and Gabe Kaplan who made his name in the 1970’s TV sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter and subsequently
    became a professional poker player.

Among the Caplan sons was Irwin Caplan, nicknamed Cap, the
illustrator and cartoonist best known for his cartoons in The
Saturday Evening Post.


Kaplan Miscellany

Kaplans in America by Country of Origin

Country Numbers Percent
Russia    706    64
Poland    200    19
German lands    194    17
Total   1,100   100

Hirsch Kaplan and the New England Hebrew Farmers.  Hirsch Kaplan had arrived in New York
with his large family in 1887.  A whiskey
dealer back in his native Ukraine, he had studied at the famous
Yeshiva and was considered an unordained rabbi.
Once in New York, he began to organize a small group of Russian
Jews under his religious leadership at his home in Williamsburgh,

with life in Brooklyn and having
heard of inexpensive Yankee farmland in Connecticut, Kaplan and his
group made
their way to Chesterfield, Connecticut where they purchased farms.  They also established there a cottage garment
industry where garment piecework was stitched together and returned to
New York
clothing manufacturers.

Jewish fund
contributed money for a synagogue and a creamery and the group renamed
themselves The New England Hebrew Farmers
Creamery Association
in 1892.
Hirsch’s son John later ran a general store and dance hall for
the community. 

Stanley Kaplan and the SAT’s.  Stanley Kaplan was born in New York City in 1919 and grew up in the Flatbush
neighborhood of Brooklyn.  He graduated
City College and started his tutoring business in the basement of his

from medical school, he believed
that students should have access to higher education based on academic
rather than on privilege. In the 1940’s he embraced the SAT and other
admissions tests as opportunities for students to prove themselves in
admissions process and dedicated his career to helping students excel
on these
important exams.

By the 1960’s, as
admissions tests for graduate schools came into widespread use, he
expanded his
classes to serve students preparing for law school, business school and
school.  When he discovered that one of
his students was flying from the University of California at Berkeley
to attend
his classes in New York, he expanded nationally.  By
1975, Mr. Kaplan had opened test
preparation centers in 23 cities from coast to coast.

his many accomplishments was the
recognition that, contrary to test makers’ claims, preparation from
such as Kaplan could in fact improve students’ scores on the SAT and
admissions tests. The Federal Trade Commission came to such a
conclusion in
1975 after a thorough investigation of Kaplan’s business practices.

Joel Kaplan’s Escape.  Joel Kaplan, the nephew of business magnate Jacob Kaplan, had been involved in a
number of shady business dealings in Mexico, working with a business
named Luis Vidal.  Vidal disappeared from
a Mexico City hotel in 1961 and was presumed murdered.
Joel Kaplan was arrested for his murder and,
after a lengthy delay, was tried and convicted.

He spent nine years in the Santa Marta
Acatitla prison before his sister
tried to get him out through bribery, but to no avail.
Then came the daring and brilliantly
engineered rescue plan.  On August 18,
1971 Kaplan was
plucked from behind the walls of the
heavily guarded prison, transferred to a light plane, then flown across
U.S. border to the safety of an unknown hideout.

wild rescue was the basis for a
best-selling book The 10-Second Breakout
and the movie Breakout starring John
Huston, Robert Duvall and Charles Bronson.

David Kaplan Who Survived the Nazi Death Camps.  Researchers estimate that over that 80
per cent of the Lithuanian Jews were killed prior to January 1942. The remaining Jews were sent off to camps in
Stutthof, Dachau, and Auschwitz.  Only
about 2-3,000 Lithuanian Jews survived to be liberated from these camps
at the
end of the war.  David Kaplan was one of
the lucky ones.

At the time of the Nazi
occupation, David was eleven years old and living upstairs from his
tailor shop in Kaunas.  The family was
moved from this home to a single room lacking water or plumbing in the
Jewish ghetto.  Eventually, the ghetto
was eradicated and the survivors were sent to the death camps.

One morning, Kaplan, then 13, was working in
the shoe shop when he saw several red buses with white paint covered
enter the compound.  He watched silently
as the children in the barracks
rounded up by the guards and herded onto the buses, kicking, yelling
crying.  Kaplan stayed hidden in the shoe
shop and was spared.  The children that
were taken were never seen again.

David Kaplan
survived four years in the Nazi concentration camps.
After Dachau was liberated in April 1945, he
was able to reach a resettlement office and received permission to be
in St. Charles, Missouri.  However, en
his destination was changed to El Paso.  The
boy who had his family torn from him has now been married for 60 years
in El
Paso and has a large extended family there.


Kaplan Names

  • Stanley Kaplan was an educationalist who developed America’s largest test preparation company.
  • Mendel Kaplan was a South African industrialist and philanthropist.
  • Isaac Kaplan, a resident of Johannesburg, was a pioneer in laser surgery.

Select Kaplan Numbers Today

  • 1,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 18,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Kaplan and Like Jewish Surnames

The Jews were banned from England in 1290 and did not return there until the 1650’s, sometimes in the form of Portuguese traders.  They were to make their mark as merchants and financers in London and many families prospered.  There was another larger Jewish influx in the late 1800’s.

In America the early settlement of Sephardic Jews was in Charleston, South Carolina.  In the 19th century Ashkenazi Jews started to arrive from Germany.  Later came a larger immigration from a wider Jewish diaspora.  Between 1880 and 1910 it is estimated that around two million Yiddish-speaking Jews, escaping discrimination and pogroms, arrived from the Russian empire and other parts of Eastern Europe.

Some Jewish surnames reflect ancient Biblical names, such as Cohen and Levy.  Some have come from early place-names where Jews resided, such as Dreyfus (from Trier), Halpern (from Heilbronn) and Shapiro (from Speyer).  Many more surnames came about when Ashkenazi Jews were compelled by Governments to adopt them in the early 1800’s.  The names chosen at that time were often ornamental ones – Bernstein or Goldberg or Rosenthal for example.  Then the name could change on arrival in America at Ellis Island.  And finally anti-Semitism perceived could cause further changes to conceal Jewishness.

Here are the stories of some of the Jewish surnames that you can check out here.




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