Is Cohen a Good First Name for a Jewish Boy?

A while back I wrote a post about the up-and-coming baby name Cohen. A reader writes:

boy in striped shirt

Courtesy of Shlomit Stern

I’ve been reading your baby name blog and it has been so helpful!  We just had a baby boy last year who we considered naming Cohen and ultimately decided not to because it might be offensive to some.  We are currently pregnant and the name Cohen keeps coming up.

Our family identifies as culturally Jewish, but we are not very religiously active at the moment.  We live in California.  When we attend services we attend a very progressive Reform synagogue.  My mother-in-law is a Kohen (from a priestly family) and her maiden name is Cohen.  We would like to remember this part of my husband’s family, particularly his grandfather, by using the name Cohen.  Is it offensive to use Cohen as a middle name?  Furthermore, is it offensive for a Jew to have their first name be Cohen?  I have read many articles that some Jews find it offensive for non-Jews to use the name Cohen.

But what about Jewish people using the name?  We would love to consider using the name Cohen as a first or middle name but don’t want to be offensive. In our Reform community the Kohen distinctions aren’t even recognized, but my in-laws are very invested in a Conservative community.

Any insight you have on this would be much appreciated.

Congratulations on your pregnancy. I would guess that people would be less offended if you actually have the cohen tradition in your family. My family members suggested considering other names of biblical cohanim, like Ezra or Aaron. If you want to get daring you could even try Pinchas (Phineas), Elazar or Yehoyariv.

Readers, please weigh in with their thoughts as well.

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  1. I don’t think it’s offensive per se, but at least here in Israel (as well as in Orthodox circles in the States), it would raise more than a few eyebrows.
    In any event, I like the idea of using the name of Biblical cohanim (especially Aaron).

  2. I hope you’re not offended if I say that I think using Cohen as a first name is weird, certainly in Israeli and traditional Jewish circles. It would be like calling your baby “Goldberg” for example. But you could use Cohen as a middle name without any problem.

    Hannah’s idea (and Mrs. S. above) of using the names of Cohanim (priests) from the Bible is also a great idea. My son in law is a Cohen, one of a family with 7 boys, and each one has the name of a Cohen: Evyatar, Elazar, Yechiel, Ido, Yehoshua, Aharon and Pinchas.

    I hope those gave you some ideas.

  3. Batya Berlinger says:

    Using “cohen” as a first or middle name wouldn’t be offensive, I think, but would be a little wierd, and might be a source of undesirable comments. I also like the idea of Biblical Cohanim-Aharon, Elazar, etc but I have a question-what is/was the baby’s maternal great grandfather’s name, the one who is the Cohen? Naming the baby after him, with his Hebrew name would be nice, perhaps together with a Biblical Cohen’s name as a middle one ?

  4. Batya Berlinger says:

    sorry, meant Paternal great grandfather

  5. Larissa says:

    Thank you for the comments and suggestions! I am the one who emailed the question in. We were thinking of using Cohen as the middle name rather than the first name, I was more curious though about the perceptions of the use of it as a first name- since I find naming in general interesting… I really like the idea of using one of the names of the Cohanim and we love the name Ezra. Any other suggestions of opinions are greatly welcomed. I really appreciate the responses being civil despite this being a seemingly heated topic.

    • Devorah Shaked says:

      Hi, The use of the name “Cohen” when appearing after a child’s name, “Noam ben Chaim Ha Cohen (Noam son of Chaim the Cohen)” indicates to the community that the person has the responsibilities that belonged to the men who are descended from Aaron, the first priest of Israel. When Jewish families were required to take on a family name, many who were descendents from Aaron took this name and other names that indicating the lineage – such as Katz, Kahane, Caplan, Mezera, as a family name. There are families who liked the name, but purposely took a spelling of the name that indicated no lineage. Perhaps, this idea might interest you. For example, Cowan, Coen, Cowen, or Koen. The name would be a reminder of your ancestor’s connection, but avoid misunderstanding.

  6. There are names that are used both as a first name and a surname but not Cohen. Kids are often called by their last names by friends or teachers etc. I like Hannah’s suggestion. i also think we need to think of the kid who has to ‘live’ with the name

  7. I had a student in my class a few years ago whose given name was Cohen. He wasn’t Jewish, but it had been the maiden name of a grandmother who was, and he was named in her honor. It sounded odd to me to hear it used as a first name, but he’d had it all his life (sixteen years at that point), and didn’t think anything of it. But his classmates at a Catholic school didn’t make any connection with the cohanim, so that wasn’t an issue.

  8. Hello, I am neither Jewish, married to a Jew or expecting a child. I am writing a fiction novel which has a Jewish family in it. I am hoping you may help me out with modern name suggestions for both genders, as well as meanings. I have already chosen a few names (Chaim, Samuel, Varda, Benjamin, Isaac, Hannah, Rebekah, Nathanael, Lot, and Alon). Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

    • PS Sorry for posting this on another user’s thread. I only now noticed the error and can’t delete to repost from my phone.

    • No to Lot!! No one names their child Lot. The others could be okay, but it depends on what Jewish circles the family travels in. That also affects how you would spell/pronounce them.

      • Thanks for the reply. As for Lot, I realize it’s an older name — he’s the grandfather of the protagonist. As far as circles go, they don’t really have any. The parents of the protagonist keep there son fairly isolated. And lastly, pronunciations are pretty basic for native English speakers.

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