Select Kaplan Surname Genealogy

Kaplan 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.

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The 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 ben Usiel Kaplan and the Latvian-born poet Seeb Wolf Kaplan.

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 orgin 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 those 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, New 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 successful: 
  • 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 1940ís.  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 1970ís 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.

Select Kaplan Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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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 Kaplans 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)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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