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Cowen vs. Cohen

By martin ·
Joshua L. Cowen was actually born as Joshua Cohen (Cohen with an h rather than a w). He became famous as Joshua Lionel Cowen. His distant relative that he sold the Lionel business to in 1959 was Roy Cohn. Why all the different spellings of Cowen, Cohen, Cohn.

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by john_wills In reply to Cowen vs. Cohen

1. The name is Hebrew, meaning "priest", i.e. sacrificial butcher, used by people who claim to be physiologically descended from Aaron. The "proper" spelling is in Hebrew letters, so how it gets into Roman letters depends on local pronunciation and taste.
2. The H is pronounded in Hebrew, but often dropped in other languages, so shoving a W in is pretty natural.
3. "Cohen" looks "Jewish", and people sometimes don't want to be thought Jewish.

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The officials at Ellis Island

by DC_GUY In reply to Cowen vs. Cohen

People who immigrated during the 19th century were at the mercy of the officials who processed their passage at the U.S. port of entry. In the bureaucrats' defense it must be said that a great many people in that era were illiterate and did not know how to write their names. The officials were only vaguely familiar with the bewildering variety of foreign languages (several of which are not written in the Roman alphabet, or use cursive writing systems that are almost unrecognizable in English-speaking countries) they encountered and ended up trying to spell a strange-sounding name phonetically. Add to that the facts that many of the immigrants, even the ones who could write, were not fluent in English, and that many surnames already had variant spellings (cf. Lovelace vs. Loveless in today's English), and you can see the problem. People arrived in America with names assigned to them by individual immigration officials. Refugees from oppressive cultures (and anyone named Cohen was surely Jewish) were so glad to finally be in "the land of the free," that they didn't really care if they were renamed John Smith. Complaints were few and treated with typical bureaucratic disdain.

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