A Rose By Any Other Name
Josh Kaplan wrote:
Are all men with the last name KAPLAN kohens?
Dear Josh Kaplan:
Often, people named Kaplan are kohanim. This name is said to mean "Kohen Ploni" - "So-and-so the Kohen." Katz, another name common for kohanim, means "Kohen Tzedek" - "Righteous Kohen."
But having a name like Kaplan or Katz isn't proof of being a kohen. Two of my best friends are named Kaplan, and neither one is a kohen. In fact, I know someone named Cohen who is not a kohen!
A kohen is a male descendant of Aharon, Moses's brother. If you have a family tradition that you are a kohen, and that family members were called to the Torah as kohanim, then you need check no further.
If there is no family tradition, other evidence is required. For instance, an ancestor's gravestone inscription. Someone who can't determine his father's personal status is automatically considered a Yisrael.
Try looking up long lost relatives, and ask them. If you are like many people, you may very well have relatives here in Israel, Russia or elsewhere whom you don't even know.