Want to start a fight? Choose this surname for your son.
Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting Cohen as Name of the Day.
With kids answering to names like Riley and Madison, it might be hard to see why Cohen courts controversy.
As Nameberry’s Pamela Redmond Satran wrote in her Daily Beast article last May, Cohen isn’t just any surname. It’s from the Hebrew kohen – priest. That’s more than an etymology. The Kohanim are considered direct descendants of Aaron, big brother to Moses and first High Priest of the Israelites. For generations, the Kohanim performed specific duties and formed a priestly class within Judaism. Even today, you’ll find communities where the Kohanim observe specific rules and receive certain privileges in return. Lest you think that’s just an old tradition, it turns out that genetic testing bears out the idea that the Kohanim share a common ancestry.
Not every Kohanim is a Cohen and not every Cohen is a priest. Names like Kaplan, Conklin, Kahn, Coen, Kogan, Cahen and Caen have all been used as equivalents. George M. Cohan was Irish Catholic. Koen is a diminutive for the Dutch and German equivalents of Conrad. It’s perfectly possible to argue that your boy Cohen has nuthin’ to do with the Torah.
Plenty of parents do. In 2004, Cohen entered the US Top 1000 at #650. By 2008, he stood at #356 – a quick climb. (Though even at #356, fewer than 1,000 newborns received the name.) Koen ranked #877 is 2008.
If you’re flipping through the phone book to find a baby name, Cohen seems like a logical companion to Carter, Carson and Cooper, as well as names like Colton and Cody. And, of course, all of those names and more are sometimes subject to respelling with a K. (I’m guessing that very few of the 238 Koens born last year are wearing the name as a nod to their German or Dutch heritage.)
Factor in our continued preference for two-syllable, ends-in-n names for boys, and Cohen was almost sure to surface. The Cohen family – including Adam Brody’s appealing character Seth Cohen – on TV’s The O.C. fueled his rise.
To complicate matters, plenty of popular choices are heavy with religious symbolism. Keeping company with Cohen in the US Top 1000 are:
- Nevaeh (#34) and Heaven (#275), both for girls;
- Trinity (#70 for girls), Genesis (#95 for girls) and Messiah (#704) for boys;
- Zion (#699 for girls and #233 for boys).
That’s without considering virtue names, saints’ names and names culled from obscure Biblical figures. You could argue that calling your kid Messiah is a heavier burden than the possibly-priestly Cohen.
But why bother? If Cohen appeals, surely you could choose Colton or Nico or Colby or Kohl. (I’m a big fan of Crosby myself.)
Odds are that parents picking Cohen mean no disrespect by choosing the name. Some probably like the idea that their son’s name carries a religious connotation.
Assuming you’re reading this before signing Cohen on your child’s birth certificate in permanent marker, think twice. It seems unfair to your child to saddle him with a name that – rightly or not – will be viewed by some as an insult.