Cooperman to Cooperperson: LI woman’s historic name change

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Smithtown’s Ellen Cooperperson won a precedent-setting case in 1978 when she changed her last name. Smithtown’s Ellen Cooperperson won a precedent-setting case in 1978 when she changed her last name.

Smithtown’s Ellen Cooperperson won a precedent-setting case in 1978 when she changed her last name.

In 1976, she filed a petition with the state Supreme Court to change her name from Cooperman to Cooperperson. The inspiration had come at a bat mitzvah - during the service words like man and men were read as people.

"All of a sudden the language came alive for me,” says Cooperperson.

That's when she decided she wanted to make a statement about inclusion, human equality and the power of language. She filed her petition and a judge turned her down almost immediately in a 15-page decision. Cooperperson described the judge’s reasoning to News 12 Long Island

“My name change … is going to cause havoc and chaos,” Cooperperson chuckled.

But she didn't give up. Cooperperson got a lawyer and filed an appeal. Her court battle was featured in newspapers and talk shows across the country. Two years later, they won in the New York State Supreme Court of Appeals.

“It was confirmation that what we were trying to do was understood and accepted,” says Cooperperson.

"She's the living example of resist and persist,” says Karyn O'Beirne, president of the Mid-Suffolk chapter of the National Organization for Women, which fights for gender equality.

O'Beirne says Cooperperson helped open doors for women in the workplace. 

"We have female police officers, we have congresswomen … so our whole way of looking at these roles opened up,” says O'Beirne.

After winning the case, Cooperperson founded the women’s educational and counseling center at Farmingdale State College.

"I was helping at the time women to re-enter the job market and build their self-esteem," says Cooperperson.

And she didn’t stop there. In 1986, she created Cooperperson Performance Consulting to offer executive coaching, as well as learning and development to women and men in corporations.

“We are going to change the world together. We can't do it divided,” says Cooperperson.

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