A Cohen by Any Other Faith...

By Eleanor Goldberg

Published May 13, 2009, issue of May 22, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

It seems that a person no longer needs to be a direct descendant of Aaron in order to be called Cohen.

Priestly Blessing: An Orthodox man performs the Birkat Kohanim at the Western Wall.
ISTOCK PHOTO
Priestly Blessing: An Orthodox man performs the Birkat Kohanim at the Western Wall.

According to the Social Security Administration’s official list of popular baby names (note: first, not surname), Cohen rose to slot 393 in 2008, when 761 boys were given the name, up from 650 in 2004.

Not surprisingly, the trend has stirred some debate. On Nameberry.com, where expecting parents discuss all things moniker, non-Jewish mothers-to-be are tossing around the name associated with Kohanim, Temple priests that are chosen by God to perform specific sacred duties. The site describes “Cohen” as “fresh, modern and strong,” but not everyone agrees. “Cohen isn’t just some random surname being used as a first name…. It’s like a Jewish person naming their baby Deacon, Bishop, or Pope. It’s wrong,” one commenter wrote.

Still, steadfast Cohen devotees remain unmoved. “I am not even religious, so I couldn’t care less what the religious fanatics think,” one user responded.

Writing for the Web site The Daily Beast, Pamela Redmond Satran, co-founder of Nameberry, linked the Cohen surge to the fact that the name has become more prevalent on the pop-culture circuit. There’s Seth Cohen, a character on the teen drama “The O.C.”; famed British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen; songwriter Leonard Cohen, and the filmmaking duo the Coen brothers, to name a few.

What the Nameberry debaters failed to note is that with such a holy name comes some grave duties: the stringent restrictions to which a true Cohen is commanded to adhere to in order to retain his status, like not marrying a divorcée or a convert. The trendy-named little guys, however, are in luck. Since they’re not bound to the Jewish priesthood, they won’t be left without a first name should they violate the laws.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.