Recently I learned that the family name of Charles Chaplin may have Russian roots. A search on Wiktionary proved the name to be indeed of Russian origin, although the American 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 the word have a meaning in its root form? What I am looking for is something along the lines of "Ковалёв" and "Кузнецов", both deriving from words for a blacksmith, or generally any other meaning attached to it beyond a bare name.

  • Most likely it is derived from чапля, which is a dialect form of a bird name цапля.
    – Artemix
    Dec 10, 2014 at 10:19
  • 1
    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
    Dec 10, 2014 at 22:25
  • It's interesting that English Wikipedia has also a short article on Chaplin's etymology.
    – Artemix
    Dec 11, 2014 at 15:11

3 Answers 3


First of all, that’s very unlikely that surname of Charlie Chaplin is of Russian (and Slavic in general) origin. Afaik, it’s a form of word chaplain (a kind of Christian cleric) ← lat. cappellanus.

As for Russian family name Чаплин, it is clearly derived from word чапля ‘heron’, ‘wader’, which in modern literary Russian became цапля under influence of North-Easterns (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. Dec 10, 2014 at 20:46

It is very unlikely that Charles Chaplin has a family name derived from Russian roots, because it has meaning in English by itself.

As for Russian Чаплин looks like the name is known from XIII century.

On this page there are three versions (almost the same with minor differences) of the family name etymology.

Basically it is derived from bird name цапля:

  1. One version tolds that the family name Цаплин was later changed by dialectical "чоканье" which changes all "ц" to "ч".
  2. Other version tolds that the family name was derived directly from a personal name Чапля, which also was borrowed from Polish "czapla" (sounds like "чапля") which is also a Polish bird name that is called in Russian as "цапля".
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    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. 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. Dec 11, 2014 at 23:26

Чаплин is quite straight Slavicization of surname Kapläne of German or Kaplan of Yiddish origin which means a kind of priest in these languages. Having slavicized surname would be natural for a Jewish person whose ancestors came from Eastern Europe, for instance, from Poland. Note that Polish word "kapłan" is just a general word for priest.

The surname Kaplan is quite wedespread 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 in the question also has Jewish origin.

Russian Wikipedia calls the surname Kaplan Jewish, but also indicates it could independently originate from Turkic languages where it means "tiger". English Wikipedia indicates that the surname could be of French, German or Jewish origin. If Jewish, it indicates the bearer belongs to cohens (priest lineage).

I also suspect that Chaplin could 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
    Dec 15, 2014 at 9:37

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