Meaning and Origin of the Last Name Cohen

A Rabbi prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for Passover
Getty / Paul Souders

The Cohen surname, common among Eastern European Jews, often indicates a family claiming descent from Aaron, brother of Moses and the first high priest, from the Hebrew kohen or kohein, meaning "priest." The German surname KAPLAN is related, deriving from "chaplain" in German.

Surname Origin: Hebrew

Alternate Surname Spellings: KOHEN, COHN, KAHN, KOHN, CAHN, COHAN

Fun Facts About the COHEN Surname

Some Jews, when faced with being drafted into the Russian Army, changed their surname to Cohen because members of the clergy were exempt from service.

Famous People with the COHEN Surname

  • Ben Cohen - co-founder of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream
  • Samuel Cohen - known for inventing the W70 warhead, or neutron bomb
  • Leonard Cohen - Canadian poet, novelist and contemporary folk singer/songwriter
  • Sasha Cohen - Olympic figure skater
  • Steve Cohen - critically acclaimed magician

Genealogy Resources for the Surname COHEN

Get started researching your Jewish roots with this guide to basic genealogy research, unique Jewish resources and records, and suggestions for the best Jewish genealogy resources and databases to search first for your Jewish ancestors.

The Cohanim/DNA
Learn how DNA can help identify whether you are a member of the Cohanim (plural of Cohen), direct descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses.

COHEN Family Genealogy Forum
Free message board is focused on descendants of Cohen ancestors around the world. - COHEN Genealogy & Family History
Free databases and genealogy links for the last name Cohen.

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Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967.

Dorward, David. Scottish Surnames. Collins Celtic (Pocket edition), 1998.

Fucilla, Joseph. Our Italian Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 2003.

Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1989.

Hanks, Patrick. Dictionary of American Family Names. Oxford University Press, 2003.

Reaney, P.H. A Dictionary of English Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1997.

Smith, Elsdon C. American Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.

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Your Citation
Powell, Kimberly. "Meaning and Origin of the Last Name Cohen." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Powell, Kimberly. (2020, August 27). Meaning and Origin of the Last Name Cohen. Retrieved from Powell, Kimberly. "Meaning and Origin of the Last Name Cohen." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 2, 2023).