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Cohen - appropriate first name?

83 replies

Happygolucky233 · 20/01/2023 20:14

Love the sound and look of Cohen as a name. A quick google search suggests it’s a popular jewish surname.

Would it be disrespectful or have any negative connotations if we use Cohen as a first name, especially when we are not Jewish?

I’m not concerned about it being a surname - just like Taylor, Harvey, Mason etc - but wouldn’t want to offend.

OP posts:
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GeorgiaGirl52 · 21/01/2023 02:43

have seen it spelled Coan, which would be less offensive.

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GlamGiraffe · 21/01/2023 02:58

My (non observant) Jewish husband would consider it inappropriate and bordering disrespectful. Many people where i live would find it offensive as it is not only a Jewish surname, but also a name given to a specific line of Jewish people. You are born a Cohen which implies specific religious ritual importance.
Use another spelling if you really like the name.

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MassiveSalad22 · 21/01/2023 06:36

But surely if it's offensive then anything that sounds the same would be equally offensive until you've explained the spelling. So that would be annoying.

My great uncle was a Mr Cohen, I had no idea it was so special! Maybe that's why his wife didn't take his name (she's a v cool independent lady though so could just be that).

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BubziOwl · 21/01/2023 07:45

I really wouldn't as it's likely to cause offence, and I wouldn't want to burden a child with that.

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Whatwhatwhatnow · 21/01/2023 08:27

I think it's inappropriate.
How about Conan?

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ladymacbeth · 21/01/2023 17:16

browlow · 21/01/2023 01:07

i think it is fine to use. People in South america are called Jesus, We know Mohammed is popular, God knows the folk called Krishna or Ram.

Yes.... in those religions and cultures!

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elQuintoConyo · 21/01/2023 17:20

Go for Leonard.

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Smartiepants79 · 21/01/2023 17:26

Interesting, I have an acquaintance that chose this name for her son. They are white British with no Jewish heritage. They do like slightly alternative names.
I suspect they didn’t really check what it’s associations were before using it……

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inquisitorgeneral · 23/01/2023 12:00

Cohen (or Kohen, Koen - it can be spelled various ways) as a surname has a lot of significance in Jewish culture. If you're not Jewish, I think it would be weird to use a Jewish surname for a baby just because it sounds cute (or whatever) and, yes, some in the Jewish community are going to judge you for it.

It's a totally different scenario from a Muslim parent choosing the name Mohammed, or a Spanish Catholic parent choosing the name Jesus. Those names are normal and traditional in those religious communities. Cohen as a first name for a non-Jewish baby is not.

There is a Dutch name Coen but it is pronounced completely different as some of the previous posters have noted.

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Rickandmortified100 · 23/01/2023 12:18

It’s massively disrespectful to some people as it is a Jewish surname and linked to the priesthood. SOME people find it very offensive but others don’t care. So it depends on where you stand on the whole ‘cultural appropriation’ thing. Personally I find cultural appropriation a bit ridiculous and don’t think we need to base all our life decisions around the fact that SOME people might be offended by something we do. The people I’ve seen getting most annoyed about this name aren’t Jewish; whereas the only time I’ve mentioned this to Jewish friends, they’ve found this name a bit of an odd choice but weren’t majorly furious. Cohen is a lovely sounding name.

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Rickandmortified100 · 23/01/2023 12:23

YourWinter · 20/01/2023 20:30

No, it’s absolutely a common Jewish name and your child will forever be assumed to be Jewish. That may bother them when they’re older, even if you don’t care.

I have heard the total opposite - that due to its meaning and commonness as a a Jewish surname, it’s not used by Jewish people as a first name, and so anyone named Cohen is obviously not Jewish because it just wouldn’t be used as a first name.

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StrychnineInTheSandwiches · 23/01/2023 12:27

I wouldn't want to give my child a name that might cause offence to some people for whom the name had actual personal cultural significance. Or a name that needed explaining 'oh no I'm not Jewish it's just that my parents...'

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YourWinter · 23/01/2023 14:13

Rickandmortified100 · 23/01/2023 12:23

I have heard the total opposite - that due to its meaning and commonness as a a Jewish surname, it’s not used by Jewish people as a first name, and so anyone named Cohen is obviously not Jewish because it just wouldn’t be used as a first name.

Yes, I should have said it’s a common Jewish surname, but I think that would not negate the association, nor the potential discomfort. Each to their own, though. I preferred to choose names that are completely ordinary.

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Cinnamonandcoal · 24/01/2023 19:43

Well, I'm Jewish and I think it's not appropriate. Others may disagree.
Obviously I wouldn't think badly of someone I met with this name - but I'd think pretty badly of their parents! It's a good thing you are checking.

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daysleepers · 24/01/2023 23:40

We loved this name too but decided against using this name as a first name due to this very reason

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MontyK · 25/01/2023 07:49

But why is it so offensive/inappropriate?

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ZoyaTheDestroyer · 25/01/2023 09:50

MontyK · 25/01/2023 07:49

But why is it so offensive/inappropriate?

Jews are an ethnoreligious group and ancestral lineage is very important in Jewish culture. The Jewish surname Cohen very often indicates that a person's ancestors were priests in the temple of Jerusalem and these kohens have particular status in Orthodox and Conservative Judaism. Being a member of a kohen family means knowing that your ancestors survived over two thousand years of oppression or discrimination in one form or another.

Many people do not realise that anti-semitism, and specifically attacks against Jews, remain a huge problem in the UK. If you walk past any synagogue this Friday evening you will see security outside, comprising one or both of volunteers on a rota from the shul community or private security, paid for by contributions from the community in order that they can worship safely. The threat of anti-semitic violence is so significant that the Home Office funds a £14million grant for security at Jewish institutions, particularly Jewish schools which are particularly under attack.

It is inappropriate to name a non-Jewish child Cohen because to do so is to take a fundamental symbol of ancient Jewish ancestry and to give it to a child who will happily go about their life without experiencing any of the anti-semitism that a Jewish child with the surname Cohen is very likely to encounter at some point or another.

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tulips27 · 25/01/2023 10:18

I don't think the comparisons with "Jesus" etc. are apt. "Cohen" is a different case because- as someone mentioned earlier- the name denotes a special status. There is not only the "cultural appropriation" issue but also the issue of taking on a name with special status to consider.

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EyesOnThePies · 25/01/2023 10:22

Interesting!

The Coen I knew came from a family with heritage in Guyana so the Dutch link sounds likely.

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CowanMunro · 31/08/2023 00:08

fellow Cowan here, I’m Scotland it is Gaelic and has a completely different meaning. It was my Great Grandmas Middle name and came to myself. It’s never been perceived any differently over here

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Saschka · 31/08/2023 00:18

tulips27 · 25/01/2023 10:18

I don't think the comparisons with "Jesus" etc. are apt. "Cohen" is a different case because- as someone mentioned earlier- the name denotes a special status. There is not only the "cultural appropriation" issue but also the issue of taking on a name with special status to consider.

Yep, it would be closer to a Muslim family calling their son Pastor or Reverend. May not be hugely offensive but it is pretty weird and will probably result in raised eyebrows/smirks.

Having said that, DS is obsessed with a youtube channel run by siblings who appear to be called Braxton, Paxton, Peyton, Layton and Satan, so there are worse choices out there.

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808KateO · 31/08/2023 00:24

There was a brilliant thread about 6 months ago, which I can't find, but it was an AMA by an orthodox Jewish woman and there was some really interesting posts about the significance of the name Cohen to Jewish families.

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Ivalueloyaltyaboveallelse · 31/08/2023 00:25

How about Conan, like the artist Conan Grey. Whose parents named him after their favourite show Conan the Barbarian. I quite like the name.

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ShellySarah · 02/09/2023 11:57

How about Conrad?

You can't saddle a child with a name that is highly likely to cause disrespect because you like how it sounds.

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Akessler · 10/01/2024 01:58

This is one of the most ridiculous debates I’ve ever heard of. I’m Jewish, and I don’t understand this weird Jewish obsession with (and misconception of) the name “Cohen”.  Yes, some “Kohanim” have a special ancient history. Also, people here are over generalizing, and it’s the 21st century 

The derivative of “Cohen” is “Kohanim”, which refers to the ENTIRE Jewish nation in the Book of Exodus. “Kohen” is also the Hebrew word for "priest” in the Aaron  patriarchal lineage. BUT “Kohen” actually refers to Jewish AND pagan priests in the Hebrew Bible. And no, it’s not the same as naming your child “Priest” in America because it’s literally a foreign word. And an ancient word. And it’s spelled differently.  Kohen can also refer to other things, like “friend” or even “goose” in archaic languages like Gaelic.

Modern day kohanim are not as revered as in ancient (archaic) times (with the exception that kohanim have remained the primary religious leaders in the Samaritan community - still not the same as the name “Cohen”). Notably, its last name derivative “Cohen” is not limited to these descendants. Many people with the last name Cohen (or a variation, like Kahn) are not only NOT of kohanim descent, they’re not even Jewish. 

But Cohen a very common last name, like Smith. So I would equate it more to naming your kid “Smith”.  That wouldn’t be a big deal outside the US, but in the US people might be confused. In Israel, a first name of Cohen will likely cause similar “last name as a first name” confusion like Smith would here. Unless more ppl take up the name as a first name. :) But again, that’s not a huge deal. 

So get over it people. Last names are all over that place as first names now. Cohen isn’t more sacred than any other, and I think it’s a respectful homage to biblical history as well as Jewish people and the land of Israel.  Afraid to use the name because of antisemitism? Well, you’re just part of the problem then. 

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