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CATS Origin of surname


Surnames derive from one of many different origins. Sometimes there may be more than one explanation for the same name. This family name derives from lineage (priestly, Levitical, convert).

Cats is an abbreviation of the Hebrew Cohen Tsedek, which means "righteous/authentic priest". The old title Kohen Tzedek, meaning in Hebrew "authentic priest" (a more accurate translation than the more common term "righteous priest"), indicated authentic lineage. It was abbreviated to Katz, literally "cat" an animal name, in Yiddish and German, and became the source of numerous family names. The oldest and probably the most common Jewish family name in existence, Cohen indicates descent from the biblical priestly family, Cohanim. According to tradition, the Cohanim are descendants of Aaron, the first high priest, and the elder brother of Moses. The Cohanim performed consecrated duties in the Tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem until the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE and still have certain duties and prerogatives in religious life.

A great many variants of the name are documented all over the world. In many cases Cohen was transformed into vernacular-sounding names. This enabled Jews in the Diaspora both to maintain their Jewish tradition, as well as to become part of their host society. Among the forms frequent in the Mediterranean region are Kahin, Al-Kuhen, El-Kohen, Kouihen, Choen, Xohen and Cof(f)en. Variants documented in Europe include: Cowen and Cowan (England); Cohn, Conn, Kahn, Kohn(e) and Kohner (Germany and Austria); Cahn, Cahen, Cahon, Caen and Cain (France); Coen (Italy); Cahan, Cahona, Kahana, Kahano, Kahane, Kon, Koihen, Kagan, Kogan, Kaplan, Kohnowsky, Koganovitch, Kahanow, Kahansky, Konstamm (Eastern Europe).

Cohan, Cohane, Cohne, Cone, Coon, Kan and Koon are recorded in the United States.

Cohanim/Cohens who had broken one of the sacred laws or special rules applying to them were sometimes known as Halal and no longer called Cohen. Some took different family names, among them the North African Bettan and Ben Kessous.

Distinguished bearers of the Jewish family name Cats include the 20th century Belgian-born Israeli business executive Chaim Itzhak Cats.
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Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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