In European languages
Etymologically, the word originates from the Latin term, capellanus or cappellanus, an office given to persons appointed to watch over the sacred cloak (cappa or capella) of St Martin of Tours. Its derivations were then found in many other European languages, including Yiddish, German, English, French, Polish, Norwegian, and Hungarian.
The French form derived from the old Norman French word "caplain", which gave the old French and medieval English word "chapelain", both meaning "charity priest", who was a priest who was endowed to sing Mass daily on behalf of the souls of the dead. Hence the name is an occupational name for a clergyman or perhaps a servant of one. From there the word and name spread. Modern Variations on Kaplan include Caplan, Chaplain, Chapling, Caplen, Copland, Kapelaan, and Kaplin.
The name is also very popular in Turkey. The meaning of Kaplan is tiger. When the Turks adopted surnames after Mustafa Kemal's surname reform, animals as surnames such as lion (Aslan) and tiger (Kaplan) were very common.
In German the term Kaplan means chaplain or curate. The word is extant in other languages as well, for example in Polish where the term kapłan translates as priest, in Hungarian 'káplán' means a priest of the royal court or that of an aristocrat's; in Norwegian where it also has the meaning of priest while retaining the original, elongated form.
Kaplan or Caplan is also a surname common among Ashkenazi Jews, usually indicating descent from the priestly lineage (the kohanim), similar to the etymological origin of the common Hebrew surname Cohen. One of the earliest modern records of Kaplan as a family name is that of Abraham Kaplan in 1698. Distinguished bearers of the name include the Polish rabbi and philanthropist Nachum ben Usiel Kaplan (1811–1879), the Latvian-born Hebrew poet Seeb Wolf Kaplan (1826–1887) and the Russian-born Zionist workers' leader Eliezer Kaplan (1891–1952), the first minister of finance of the state of Israel.