Finland Personal Names

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Considerable confusion exists among many people with Finnish ancestry regarding how names are used in Finland and how they should be recorded. This document attempts to give background into the historical practices, legislation, and recommended best practices for recording Finnish personal and place names.

Understanding surnames and given names can help you find and identify your ancestors in genealogical records. In Finnish genealogical research, researching people with a common surname is not always productive because people often changed their surnames when they moved or for other reasons. With the growth of Finnish nationalism in the beginning of the 1900s many Swedish and other foreign sounding names were changed to Finnish names. For example, Forsman became Koskimies and Widbom became Pajula. These could be direct translations, partial translations, or completely different names.

It is not uncommon to see a person recorded in one document with a Swedish name, and a Finnish name in another. This was most likely caused by the preference of the person making the record. As there are very few autograph materials which exist for the general populace it is possible that the name by which they appear in the records was not necessarily the name they used themselves.

Things To Know[edit | edit source]

  • Finnish was not the official language used in record keeping until 1883. Prior to that date records were kept in Swedish.
  • During the late 19th century people began adopting fixed surnames
  • The first law requiring permanent surnames was passed in 1921
  • Most of the population used patronymic surnames which are derived from the father's given name and a suffix to identify the child's gender, -son, -dotter or -poika (son) or -tytär (daughter)
  • Surnames were frequently abbreviated in records

Best Practices For Recording Names[edit | edit source]

  • Surnames which are abbreviated in the records should be recorded fully spelled out
  • Farm names indicate residence, and should be recorded as part of the event locality - not as a surname
  • If a person is found in some records with a patronymic surname and family name in other records, select one to use as the primary form and record the other as an alternate name.

Legislative Changes[edit | edit source]

Language Reforms[edit | edit source]

The Finnish writing system was established on Mikael Agricola's efforts to ensure that when Finnish was read to illiterate persons they would be able to recognize and understand it. Dissatisfied with having only Mass available in Finnish he worked diligently to create a translation of the New Testament into Finnish using the original Greek text, Martin Luther's German translation, Erasmus of Rotterdam's Latin New Testament, and the Swedish Bible of Olaus Petri. Agricola's spelling book, Abckira, published in 1543, was his first effort in developing a standard form of the language. This was followed by Rucouskiria Bibliasta (Prayer Book from the Bible) in 1544; a translation of the New Testament (Se Wsi Testament) published in 1548; and three additional litugical works in 1549.[1] All of his works were based on the western dialects spoken in Finland (mainly in Turku) and are know as Old Literary Finnish.

Raising the status of the Finnish language as a truly national language to replace or compete with Swedish began in the 1800s with the publication of the Kalevala by Elias Lönnrot in 1835. Scholars mark this event as the beginning of the transition to Modern Finnish with the introduction of words from eastern dialects, giving the language a broader cultural representation. The writing system was standardized with the publication of a Finnish translation of the Bible in the 1850s. Also contributing to this transformation of Finnish into a national language were the efforts of Swedish-born Johan Vilhelm Snellman, a powerful promoter of Finnish nationalism who had served as a lecturer at the University of Helsinki and colleague of Elias Lönnrot, and later as a member of the Senate of Finland and Finance Minister. While serving as Minister he was able to propose and promote the Kielireskripti (Language Decree) which was approved on 1 August 1863 by Tsar Alexander II which initiated a twenty year period in which Finnish would replace Swedish in all official records. The first novel published in Finnish was Seven Brothers by Aleksis Kivi in 1870.

Kotimaisten Kielten Keskus (The Institute for the Languages of Finland, Institut för de inhemska spraken) is as part of the Ministry of Education and Culture and provides guidelines to ensure that place names, government agencies, loanwords, product names, and personal names comply with existing traditions and legislation. The Institute maintains an index (Nimiarkisto) of the names of over 2.7 million places in Finland as well as a collection of 466,500 proper names taken from the church records indexed by the Genealogical Society of Finland.[2]

Laws on Personal Names[edit | edit source]

The first law requiring permanent surnames for all Finnish citizens was passed in 1921. This law also required women to adopt their husband's surname at marriage. A second law pased in 1930 required all people to use an inherited surname. Additional legislation was passed in 1991 Nimilaki (Name Act) and 1998. The 2017 Etu- ja sukunimilaki (Act on Forenames and Surnames / Swedish: Lag om för- och efternamn) which went into effect in 2019, requires all Finnish citizens have at least and one no more than four given names.

Given Names[edit | edit source]

Many Finnish given names are derived from Biblical names, such as Taavetti (David), or the names of saints, such as Yrjö (George). Names can also be of ancient Finnish origin, (such as Ilmari or Tuulikki), or Swedish origin, (such as Sten or Knut).

When baptized, children were usually given one or two given names. It was customary to name the oldest male child after the paternal grandfather, the second male child after the maternal grandfather, the third son after the father. Naming of daughters followed a similar pattern. Subsequent children may have been named after other relatives or close family friends who may have served as godparents. If a child died young, it was also common to name the next child of the same gender with the same name.

Naming Patterns[edit | edit source]

A specific naming pattern was very common in Finland and in other parts of Europe until about 1900. Although not always followed strictly, the following pattern may be helpful in researching family groups and determining the parents of the mother and father:

  • The first son was named after the father's father
  • The second son was named after the mother's father
  • The third son was named after the father
  • The fourth son was named after the fathers eldest brother
  • The first daughter was named after the mother's mother
  • The second daughter was named after the father's mother
  • The third daughter was named after the mother
  • The fourth daughter was named after the mothers eldest sister

If the wife's parents were deceased, or the couple were living on the wife's parents farm, her parents may have priority in the naming. Also, if a man's wife passed away, and he remarried, the first daughter may be named after the deceased wife.

Children in the Family With the Same Name[edit | edit source]

Sometimes two or more children within a family were given the same name. In some cases it was done because an older child died and the next child of the same gender was given the name. However, two or more children by the same given name could also have lived to adulthood. Do not presume that the first child with that same given name died unless the actual death record is found.

Surnames[edit | edit source]

Boundary showing different surname practices in Finland.

Before record keeping began, most people had only one name, such as Johan. As the population increased, it became necessary to distinguish between individuals with the same name. The problem was usually solved by adding descriptive information. Johan the smith became Johan Smed; Johan the son of Matts became Johan Mattsson, or Johan from Huuskotar farm became Johan Huuskoin. At first, such "surnames" applied only to one person and not to the whole family. After a few generations, these names sometimes became hereditary and were used from father to son. Before the twentieth century, women in Finland generally did not assume the husband’s surname at marriage. In colloquial speech Finns did not address each other using patronymics. The natural Finnish way of referring to someone's parentage is to use the genitive form, Matin Olli ("Matthew's Olaf") instead of the solemn Olli Matinpoika ("Olaf Matthew's son")[3]

Finnish birth records did not generally identify the surname for newborn infants, only the given name. In creating a surname standard for the International Genealogical Index, the surnames were assigned strictly by whether a parish is classified as a patronymic parish (western) or a fixed surname parish (eastern). Without knowing which way a parish was classified, it is best to try all known possible variations, such as patronymic, farm names, and fixed surnames, when searching Historical Records collections and the International Genealogical Index.

Eastern and western Finland have different naming traditions. Both naming customs date back to the earliest written sources. There was frequent overlap of these practices in both areas. Following is a brief description of various types of Finnish surnames according to geographic (east-west) distributions:

  • Western Finland (Ahvenanmaa, Häme, Kymi, Turku-Pori, Uusimaa, and Vaasa Counties with the exception of certain parishes). Surnames changed from generation to generation according to the patronymic naming custom used in Sweden.
  • Eastern Finland (Kuopio, Lappi, Mikkeli, Oulu, and Viipuri Counties with the exception of certain parishes). Surnames did not change from generation to generation.

Western Finland[edit | edit source]

Two types of surnames were common in western Finland: patronymic and farm names. A farm name could be used in additional to a patronymic name.

Patronymic Surnames[edit | edit source]

Illustration of the derivation of Swedish-style patronymic surnames

Patronymic surnames were common throughout Finland, but most people in western Finland used only a patronymic surname. Patronymic surnames are based on the father’s given name. Swedish patronymics end with -sson (son) or -dotter (daughter). Following this pattern, Lars, the son of Anders, would be named Lars Andersson; and Maria, the daughter of Anders, would be named Maria Andersdotter. In cases of illegitimacy, a child’s surname might be based on the mother’s given name. For example, Henrik Mariasson would be the son of Maria.

Although church records used the Swedish form of the names, Finnish genealogists often convert them to their Finnish equivalents. Patronymic surnames in Finnish end with -poika (son) or -tytär (daughter). For example, Lars Andersson would be recorded as Lauri Antinpoika and Maria Andersdotter as Maria Antintytär in Finnish.

In the late nineteenth century, patronymic surnames became fixed with each successive generation using the same patronymic surname. As names became fixed, brothers could take different surnames. One may have elected to use his patronymic surname, while another may have taken his father’s patronymic surname. Because of this, brothers named Sven and Pär, the sons of Lars Andersson, could be found in records with different surnames. One son may be called Sven Andersson (from his father’s patronymic) and the other, Pär Larsson (from his own patronymic).

Eastern Finland[edit | edit source]

Family Names[edit | edit source]

Illustration of the derivation of fixed surnames

The surnames used in eastern Finland are family surnames, which means that they were used in a family from generation to generation. They represent some of the earliest family surnames of Europe and most of them indicate relationship or common origin, although this cannot always be proved with existing sources.

Family surnames have certain types of endings: -nen or -ainen/-äinen. For example, Huuskonen and Liimatainen are family surnames. In earlier records, these names were found with other endings, such as Huuskoin and Liimatain. Early records also used the feminine ending, -tar. For example, Huuskotar and Huuskoin have feminine and masculine endings, respectively, but refer to the same farm.

Eastern Finnish surnames can be grouped into three types:

  1. Short names, often an animal (e.g., Orava, squirrel; Tikka, woodpecker; Kurki, crane; Orava, squirrel; and Repo, fox)
  2. Short names with the ending -nen (e.g., Oravainen, Tikkanen)
  3. Geographical name (including farm names) with the suffix -lainen or -läinen (Savolainen, Hämälainen)[4]

Soldier Names[edit | edit source]

When a soldier enlisted in the army, he was given a new surname. This name stayed with him as long as he served in the military. Often a certain name was associated with the soldier’s cottage, and each new soldier assigned to that cottage received the same name. Soldier names pertained only to the soldier himself and not to his family or descendants. After the mid-nineteenth century, however, these names frequently became permanent family surnames.

The Swedish military used soldier names to distinguish persons with common patronymic names, such as Johansson and Mattsson. The soldier names were usually short, descriptive, and derived from Swedish: examples are Stål (steel), Glad (happy), Kämpe (fighter), Dufva (dove). However, in the mid-1800s Finnish language soldier names also became popular; examples are Kuula (canon ball, bullet), Luoti (bullet), Saari (island).

Other Types of Surnames[edit | edit source]

Besides using patronymic names, both the nobility and clergy used additional inherited surnames. Nobility surnames are unique family surnames, generally given at the time of ennoblement. The clergy often assumed surnames with the Latinized ending -ius, such as Alcenius and Rothovius.

In the 1800s artisans and urban tradesmen began to use their occupations as surnames in either their Finnish or Swedish versions. Examples of these names are Nikkari or Snickare (carpenter) and Mylläri or Möllare (miller). They also took Swedish compound names, such as Söderqvist, Sjöberg, and Lindholm.

Abbreviations[edit | edit source]

In areas where patronymic surname were used it was the normal practice to abbreviate surnames. In a parish where most of the population has a surname ending with -dotter or -sson, recording the name in full would be needlessly redundant.

In parishes where the priest or sexton was recording persons with Finnish names, the abbreviation p. represents poika (son), and t. and tr. stand for tytär (daughter). In records where persons are recorded with Swedish names, the abbreviations d., dr., dtr., are all substitutes for dotter. Likewise, male patronymics are frequently shortened to s, ss, or ssn. For example:

  • Maria Jöransdr. (Maria Jöransdotter)
  • Eva Bertilintr. (Eva Bertilintytär)
  • Juho Mattip. (Juho Mattipoika)
  • Mathias Paulss. (Mathias Paulsson)

Abbreviations in the records are not limited to surnames. Some given names are frequently abbreviated as well. Perhaps the most commonly encountered abbreviation is in names containing the word Christ, where it is written as X, it being a modern siglum of the Greek Χρ, representing the first two letters in the Greek spelling of Christ.

Name Frequency[edit | edit source]

A study of the population in southern Finland during the 1850s found the most common female given names were Eva, Maria, and Anna, comprising 57% of the females in one parish, and the same three names representing 37% in another. The names Esther and Amanda belonged to another 11%; with these five names being found in 48% of the female population. The most common male names were Johan/Johannes, Anders, Adam, Matts, and Thomas representing 55% in one parish; and the Johan, David, Matts, Carl, and Henrik comprising 55% in another.[5]

Farm Names[edit | edit source]

Farm names usually end with -la, -lä as in Anttila, Lukkarila and Takala. Many of the farm names originate in given names. For example, Pekkala is the place where Pekka lives. It is usually impossible to completely identify the individual who gave his name to the farm. The name may have developed hundreds of years ago and all descendants of the original family may have moved away and an unrelated family is now in possession of the farm, while the original name of the farm has been in use all the time.

There are are also examples of farms which got the name from some family coming as settlers from another part of the country. For example, in the 1500s someone with the name Taskinen moved from Savonia to Northern Ostrobothnia, and settled on a farm which then became known as Taskila. The original family name was forgotten after a couple of generations because it was uncommon to use fixed family names in that area. Some generations later the farm is sold and the new owners start to use a family name in the beginning of 1900s. They now choose the name Taskinen. The family name has been passed over to a family without any kinship to the original Taskinen family 300 years earlier.

There are many variations of farm names, especially in Ostrobothnia. Names composed of two different words such as Koivuhakola (Koivu, Hakola), Tikanoja (Tikan, Oja), and Ojaharju (Oja, Harju) are common.

A separate group of names are the those where the first part of the name changes and the second part is the same. An example is where the Nikula farm was divided into several farms, then into subsequently smaller farms. These smaller farms may have been given a name such as Latvanikula, Alanikula, Ylänikula, Takanikula, Peränikula, Keskinikula, etc., which indicates they were originally part of the original farm. There may be difficulties in proving a relationship between the inhabitants at the different Nikula farms, because the division may have been done during a period from which no written documents are found.

Eastern Finland[edit | edit source]

Farm names were also used in eastern Finland. Here they developed into permanent family surnames and did not change as a family moved. These names often end in -la/-lä or -lainen/-läinen. Examples of these names include Heikkilä (Heikki’s farm) and Haapalainen (place of aspens).

Western Finland[edit | edit source]

Farm names were often used like surnames, but they referred to a person’s place of residence. Thus a person called Juho Koskiniemi lived at a place called Koskiniemi. If he moved, he would use the name of the new farm to indicate his residence. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, farm names often became fixed family surnames.

Finnish-American Name Changes[edit | edit source]

Some Finnish immingrants to the United States kept all or part of their Finnish names, while other changed all or part of their name to make it easier for their non-Finnish neighbors and associates to identify them. Remember, the same person may appear in the records recorded with either a Swedish or Finnish form of their name based on where they were living and when they were there. For example, Juho Miilumäki may also be recorded as Johan Miilumäki in Finland and have gone by either John Miilu or John Maki in the United States.

Siblings may have chosen to use different surnames. The sons of Juho Henrick Laurinpoika Miettunen, Juho Henrick Juhopoika and Matti Juhopoika may have been known as John Henry Larsen and Mathias Miettunen, giving no apparent indication they are siblings. In Finland the father may appear in some records as Johan Henrik Larsson and his sons as Johan Henrik Johansson and Mathias Johansson.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Vilkuna, Kustaa. Suomalainen nimikirja (Finnish Name Book). Helsinki: Otava, 1984.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. The three liturgical works are: Käsikirja Castesta ia muista Christikunnan Menoista, instructions for christening, marriage and burial; Messu eli Herran echtolinen the liturgy for service of Mass; and Se meiden Herran Jesusen Christusen Pina, ylesnousemus ia tauiaisen Astumus, niste Neliest Euangelisterist coghottuon, an account of the final week of Jesus Christ's mortal ministry.
  2. Institute for the Languages of Finland, Names Archive.
  4. Harry Walli. "Finnish Genealogical Research - Methods and Sources", in World Conference on Records and Genealogical Seminar, 5-8 August 1969. Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 1969
  5. The parishes were Mäntyharju in Mikkeli, and Hämeenkyrö in Turku-Pori. These names were also found in compound given names, such as Johan Adam and Eva Maria.