times, in various places, Jews were not allowed to have last names. When
times changed and they were allowed to, they often took the names of their
occupations, or physical or character traits, or the town or province they
were born in or lived in. Other names have a more historical foundation, such
as names reflecting cohen, israelite
and levite ancestry. If you trace the origin of
your family name, please consider sharing it here.
In Belorussia, it was common to adapt a woman
family member's name as the family name. Hence "Chava"
became Chavkin, "Dvora"
became Dvorkin, "Rivka"
became Rivkin, etc. Chavkin
apparently originated in 1790 when a Belorussian Jew named Abraham married a
woman named Chava. According to A Dictionary of
Surnames from the Kingdom of Poland, the name CHAWANSKI was found in the Suwalki area and stems from the name Chawa
(khave in Yiddish; also Chowanski,
Chawowicz, Kawin, Kawicz). The original Hebrew name is hawoh
or Chavah , which is generally translated to Eve or Eva. The name
CHAWKIN is found in Lodz. CHAVKIN, KHAFKINE, HAVKIN, HAFFKINE, CHAWKIN are
all variables of the same name. (Source: Darla
This Jewish family name derives from the Latin
word cappella a small Christian prayerhouse, which
in turn produced the term chaplain, the person who conducts the prayers. Jews
took the name Kaplan, particularly in Eastern Europe, as a vernacular
equivalent of the name Cohen.
The first high priest (cohen)
of the Jews was Aharon, elder brother of Moses, who
led the children of Israel out from slavery in Egypt to the promised land. It
was his descendants who performed the consecrated duties of the cohanim in the tabernacle and the temple in Jerusalem
until the destruction of the second temple by the Romans in 70 c.e.
The surname Cohen, or ha-Cohen (the priest), is
as ancient as the function itself and throughout the diaspora it is one of
the most widespread sources of Jewish family names (although not all Jews
bearing a name linked to cohen are actually of
One of the earliest records of Kaplan as a
family name is that of Abraham Kaplan in 1698. Distinguished bearers of the
name include the polish preacher 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. (Source: Nahum Goldmann Museum
of the Jewish Diaspora)
When Russia ordered all Jews to assume surname
in the 1840's, Freda Horvitz's Zayde was a
fisherman whose nickname was the commodity he sold, a perch called okun in Russian. Okun became Oklin due to the carelessness of a U.S. immigration
clerk. (Source: Recollections of Harry Katz.)
See the exploration of the history and variations of this name at Andrew I. Sverdlove's Sverdlov site.
Discussion of Jewish Names
Judaism 101: Jewish Names
Origins and Meanings of Ashkenazic Last Names