I'm really hoping you can help us. This is my second email to you, my first was simply a cry for help in finding a boys name but now I really need help.
Please keep in mind that we live in Canada so some of our baby name choices and their popularity are different than the US.
My husband and I like names that can be said easily, that aren't too trendy but that are not too different. We tend to like names that are on popular lists. Our daughter, Addison, was born 4 years ago and in Canada at the time it was less popular. Now it has gained popularity and I'm ok with that. So names that are perhaps number 48 on the top 100 is fine by US.
Here are some that have been on the list:
So here's the problem. We like the name Cohen a lot it seems to be the best fit for us so far. It has taken us a long time to get to a name we both like. When I googled the name and it's meaning it sounded fine, "priest" in Hebrew. Then I read a little further and read that it can be controversial in some ways because it can be seen as disrespectful among the Jewish community. In Canada it is currently number 35 on the Baby Centre website. So it is clearly used often enough and it is apparently on the rise. If I look the name up on US websites some lists don't even have Cohen in their top100.
I've read forums of people who don't think it's big deal while others are appalled at the disrespect and ignorance that people have shown in naming their babies Cohen. I am certainly not in the business of offending members of any Jewish community nor do I want to set my son up to offend others simply by his name.
The Cohen issue is not one I was familiar with, and I cringe at the thought of wading through all the angry-toned search results I'd have to read to get a grasp on the issue---but I have a general policy about all such things: if there is some risk of offense or other ickiness involved in using a name, and if you are not yet bound to that name by blood and tears, it is usually better to keep looking.
So in this case, if your maiden name were Cohen, and if since childhood you'd wanted to use the name for a son, and if coincidentally you and your husband were huge David X. Cohen fans, and if you'd gone the whole pregnancy assuming you'd name your son Cohen and then in the delivery room a nurse pointed out the issue, then I would be like, "Meh! There seems to be some sort of issue with this name, but it looks to me as if no one is actually using it with the intent to offend, and it's coming into style because of all the Rowans and Owens and surname names, and pretty soon it's going to be popular enough that there won't be any offensive connotation anymore at all, and especially with religious/cultural issues (i.e., where it's an issue in one religion/culture but not an issue in others) it's really hard to know at what level of someone else's being-offended we need to take the responsibility of avoiding it, and it sounds like Means Something as a surname but not as a first name, so just go ahead and use it, and if anyone remarks on it you can explain your reasons."
Instead I will say that if it's just the first name you've found that you can agree on, maybe that's not enough reason to take a risk with something like this. It's hard to evaluate the disrespect/offense in something unless it affects oneself: it always seems like other people's touchy areas are "touchy areas," whereas one's own touchy areas are Big Outrageous Serious Things, Symbolic of Deeper Problems. For myself, I don't think I'd find it worth it: if I'd used the name Cohen oblivious to the controversy, I wouldn't go out and change it, but if I knew about it ahead of time I'd steer clear just to avoid the headache/fretting.
On the other hand, if time goes by and the end of the pregnancy is nigh and you still can't agree on anything else, return to the first point and maybe just go ahead and use it. You'd be using it as a rapidly-rising surname name, not as an attempt to offend.
Does anyone know if there are the same issues with other spellings? For example, could you use Coen like The Coen Brothers, or is that just as potentially offensive? It's too bad Cowen looks so bovine.
If you like Cohen, maybe you'd like:
And let's have a poll over to the right to see if we can gauge how serious/well-known this issue is. [Poll closed; see results below.]
Poll results for "The Cohen Issue" (476 votes total):
I knew; it's a deal-breaker - 134 votes (28%)
I knew; it's not a deal-breaker - 36 votes (8%)
I didn't know; it's a deal-breaker - 113 votes (24%)
I didn't know; it's not a deal-breaker - 171 votes (36%)
I can't decide - 22 votes (5%)
Name update! Jaime writes:
Remember me...the Cohen issue? That sparked quite the conversation. After reading all 84 comments, we couldn't even fathom sticking with the name. So we went back to the drawing board. In fact I went back to a name I liked right away, and one that you suggested, and gave my husband some time to explore the meaning. In the end we agreed! Callum was born last week. I can't imagine him having any other name. Thank you for helping us and thank you to everyone who commented.