New Trendy Baby Name: Cohen

baby name boyAbout ten years ago, on a Jewish parenting board I frequented, a non-Jewish woman stopped by to ask a question. Surprised to find out that the baby name she had picked had a Jewish connotation, she hoped to learn more about Cohen.

I explained to her that Cohen has an illustrious past. A cohen is a member of the priestly class, descended from Aaron. Even today there is a certain amount of prestige associated with it in religious circles. Cohen remains among the most common Jewish last names among Jews whether of European and North African descent. I told the mother-to-be it’s likely her son might need to explain that he’s not Jewish, and that some Jews might find the name offensive.

The woman responded that she already had chosen the name, after a producer in a TV credits for a television show. She and her husband loved the name as soon as they saw it, and she was asking about its origins only out of curiosity. They would not consider changing it.

It turns out that this couple anticipated a trend. Two major baby name websites—Nameberry and Appellation Mountain—have discussed Cohen, which ranked 360 in the United States in 2010. It made the top 100 in Canada. Both articles mention that Jews may find it offensive.

The idea bothered me when I first encountered it. But baby names have gotten so bizarre that Cohen has become a rather mild choice. In contrast with “Like” or “Aleph,” least Cohen has served as a name of some kind. When I posted about the conversation to a forum that makes fun of baby names, someone responded that names like Grynbyrg O’Connor would be next. Now that’s offensive.

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  1. Ha! Funny. I actually kind of like it as a first name – not that I would name any of my children Cohen. 🙂 I heard of a television show with a character called “Maeby” (Not sure how to spell that) and that grew on me, too. I guess I like goofy names! 🙂

  2. This week a good friend of mine, who is a non-practicing Christian, told me that she and her husband were considering naming their daughter (who is due in a couple of months) “Mecca”. I gasped and begged her not to name the kid Mecca, which she “had heard was sort of something for Muslims”, as I feared her kid would spend her life in danger of angry Muslim violence against her.
    I think I may have changed her mind, but I’m not sure. Always good to know the origin of the name you’re giving your kid!!

  3. I’m not sure that we should be offended by the use of the name “Cohen” any more than we would be about the use of the name “Levi”, and around here (Eastern Washington & Northern Idaho) the name Levi is actually pretty common among non-Jews.

    People borrow names and even words the like the sound of or meaning of from many different languages. Some people get upset about this as a case of cultural appropriation. I see it as just a natural process of cultural influence and blending.

    As for the use of Aleph as a first name, I think it makes as much sense as making a kid’s name Zero. Yes, I know a couple that named their kid Zero. We call him “Z”. Over the course of his life, he may hate the name, or he may find great personal meaning in it. That’s his path to walk. That’s all I can say.

  4. A forum that makes fun of baby names? Now that’s something I want a link to.

  5. I don’t think this was where I had the conversation, though.

  6. I can go one better than ‘Cohen’. I’ve come across several women calling their boys ‘Adonai’

  7. Hi!!

    #1. We know someone in town (not Jewish) who has a baby named Cohen. Every time I say it aloud, I saw “really?” afterwards in my head.

    #2. Loved your twitter comment today! 🙂 Made me smile.

    #3. Not loving the map that appear right after the title of each of your blog posts. I don’t have ads on my blog . . . but I’ve seen plenty of blogs with ads. Any way to move them to the bottom of a post or to a side bar? Just looking out for a fellow blogging buddy!

    • Thanks so much, Nina.
      As for the ads, I knew they were annoying but was in denial because they are only supposed to appear to search traffic. Anyway I have written to the tech support and moved them to the end. Thanks!

  8. I know a couple Jews who didn’t even know what a Cohain was. Plus, my boss knows a couple Cohen’s that live in New York. He asked them for me about this whole controversy. They said they wouldn’t be offended. I think it is rather ridiculous to say that my son would offend someone because of his name. Rather tired of reading these negative post about his name. People who aren’t descendants of the Cohain’s shouldn’t be spouting off about how my son’s name would offend some Jews.

    • Mel, my husband is a descendant of cohanim as are some readers, although I’m not sure why that makes a difference. Some people are offended by the choice of Cohen as a name, and that is their right.
      On the other hand, expectant parents also have the right to choose whether to take that factor into consideration. I appreciate that you did consider the implications before you chose the name. Best wishes to you and your family.

  9. My son is named coen I believe I anticipated a trend he is 10 years old! Just wanted to get that off my chest 😉