Ask the rabbi

Cohen as a first name?


Rabbi Yoel Lieberman

Iyyar 3, 5781
Is it offensive to choose the title/name Cohen as a first name for a child, given it’s deeper important meanings for the faith and culture of Judaism? Or, in fact, depending upon the intention behind the parents choosing the name for their son (in tribute to its appearance in both of parents heritages - Jewish and Irish) could it be acceptable and even a strong and noble choice of name? If out of love and respect, is the choice of the name defendable?
ב"ה Shalom, The Jewish tradition in our time is to call the newborn child after a deceased grandparent or Rabbi out of respect for the previous generations to carry on the name of venerated individuals. "Cohen" is not really a name, it refers to the job of those who serve in the Temple, who descended from the lineage of Aaron the High Priest. There are special laws in the Torah in order for the Cohen to preserve his lineage, and there are also laws in Rabbinic literature to honor the priest and not to confuse him with others who are not. Although, we do find the name "Cohen" as a first name in the Talmud, (Baba Kama 115a) it is a onetime occurrence , )The more common form of Cohen in the Talmud is the Aramaic usage of Cahana) and in any case it refers to those who are of priestly descent from Aaron. In our time, it is not the custom to give the name "Cohen" as a first name, and therefore it seems to proper that the name should be reserved for those of priestly descent only. All the best
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