Recently, I learned that the family name of Charles Chaplin may have Russian roots. A search on Wiktionary proved the name to indeed be of Russian origin, although the English pronunciation of the name would probably be transliterated into Cyrillic as "Чеплин" or "Чэплин". A known contemporary bearer of the name is Всеволод Чаплин.

Does this word have any particular meaning in its root form? What I'm looking for is something along the lines of "Ковалёв" and "Кузнецов", both deriving from words for blacksmith, or generally any other meaning attached to it beyond its just being a name.

  • 1
    Most likely it is derived from чапля, which is a dialect form of a bird name цапля.
    – Artemix
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 10:19
  • 2
    Actually there is a hypothesis (unconfirmed though) that he could have Jewish origin. If so, the Slavic (such as Polish) origin of his name is quite possible. Note also that the priest Vsevolod Chaplin to whom you point out also has Jewish origin.
    – Anixx
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 22:25
  • 1
    It's interesting that English Wikipedia has also a short article on Chaplin's etymology.
    – Artemix
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 15:11

3 Answers 3


First of all, it's very unlikely that Charlie Chaplin's surname is of Russian (or generally Slavic) origin. As far as I know, it’s a form of the word chaplain (a kind of Christian cleric) ← lat. cappellanus.

As for the Russian family name Чаплин, it's clearly derived from word чапля ‘heron’, ‘wader’, which in modern literary Russian became цапля under the influence of North-Eastern (Novgorodian, if you will) dialects; see цоканье.

  • Thanks a lot. So this was a false track about Charles Chaplin. Nevertheless enlightening to know the meaning of the name. Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 20:46

It's very unlikely that Charles Chaplin have a family name derived from Russian roots because it already has an English meaning in and of itself.

As for the Russian, it looks like the name Чаплин is attested from the 8th century.

On this page there are three versions (almost identical with only minor differences) of the etymology of the surname.

It's basically derived from the bird name цапля:

  1. According to one version, the family name Цаплин later changed under the influence of dialectical "чоканье", which changes all "ц" to "ч".
  2. Yet other versions claim that the surname was derived directly from the personal name Чапля, which was also borrowed from Polish "czapla" (sounds like "чапля"), also a Polish bird name that corresponds to Russian "цапля".
  • 3
    Why do we need these hypotheses, while expected word for our Russian is чапля (cf. verb чапать). In other words it’s sound /ц/ that requires explanation, not the otherwise. Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 10:52
  • Anything could have happened when Charlie Chaplin passed through Ellis Island. It was common practice in the late 19th century for the immigration officers to change immigrants' names into more English-sounding names (to assist in the assimilation process). The first American immigrants from my family were Germans named Moosbrugger. My name is Mossbrook (pretty close to the original in sound but would be a comfortable fit in England. Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 23:26

Чаплин is a quite direct Slavicization of the surname Kapläne of German or Kaplan of Yiddish origin, both referring to a kind of priest in these languages. Having a slavicized surname would be natural for a Jew whose ancestors came from Eastern Europe, e.g. from Poland. Note that the Polish word "kapłan" is just a general word for priest.

The surname Kaplan is quite widespread among Jews. For instance, the Jewish woman who attempted to assassinate Lenin in 1918 was named Fanny Kaplan. The priest, Vsevolod Chaplin, whom you refer to in your question, is also of Jewish descent.

Russian Wikipedia calls the surname Kaplan Jewish, but also indicates it could independently have originated from Turkic languages, in which it means "tiger". English Wikipedia indicates that the surname could be of French, German or Jewish origin. If Jewish, it indicates the bearer is related to kohen (a sacerdotal lineage).

I too suspect that Chaplin may also be an English surname derived from "chaplain". The Yiddish, French, German and supposedly English surnames all ultimately derive from Latin "capellanus".

  • 1
    Any reason for downvote?
    – Anixx
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 9:37
  • Excellent answer!
    – CocoPop
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 14:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.