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What’s in a Name? Ask Seth Cohen

The NYC resident is on a mission to locate and meet every other Seth Cohen

Staff Notes
November 04, 2014
(The Seth Cohen Project)
(The Seth Cohen Project)

The WhitePages list 270 people named Seth Cohen in the United States, according to one of those Seth Cohens. After a lifetime of being confused for his fellow Seths, Seth Cohen began the Seth Cohen Project, an attempt to meet as many of his like-named brethren as possible. He’s one week into the project, and chronicling his meetings on Facebook and Tumblr. Already, wearing a “Hello, my name is…” sticker around New York City has produced leads on several other Seth Cohens.

Cohen isn’t the first to seek others who share his name. Filmmaker Alan Berliner, tired of people thinking he was Alan Berliner the photographer or Alan Berliner the social worker, made a film about the other Alan Berliners, and about the origins and meanings of American names, in 2001. New York Times reporter Alan Feuer met his name double and, after that man’s death in 2012, chronicled his attempt to uncover the truth of his life. In today’s digital age, when finding a name twin is as easy as accidentally transposing the letters of an e-mail address, there’s even a word for the phenomenon: doppelnamer, or the person who probably deleted that e-mail a friend swears she sent you last week.

As Cohen told one interviewer, his search for the other Seth Cohens is less an attempt to revel in his many potential doppelnamers and more a template for adventure: “It is about living life to its fullest, exploring the world, connecting with new people, visiting new places, learning about myself and inspiring others to do the same.”

But it’s also a uniquely Jewish quest. Cohen himself points to the significance of the surname Cohen in Jewish tradition, and the possibility that he might actually be related to some of his doppelnamers. Jewish names have weight: we choose them to recall our ancestors, and we count baby namings among our most important life cycle rituals. Several biblical figures receive new names at key moments; in Lech Lecha, last week’s Torah portion, Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah. Names contain memories, hopes, potential, and intention. So what does it mean—and how much can an individual’s name mean—when a name belongs to more than one person?

Perhaps the Seth Cohens will find out.