A primer on Finnish names

Finnish is one of the Finno–Ugric languages, among the few non-Indo–European languages widely spoken in Europe. It’s very similar to Estonian, though with some significant differences. Estonian features many German and Russian cognates, due to its long periods of occupation by those powers, whereas Finnish features many Swedish cognates. It might be hard to believe in the modern era, but Sweden was once a major world power.

Finnish, like its sister language Estonian, can be very difficult to learn. It has fifteen noun cases, one more than Estonian and three less than Hungarian. For me, the trick is learning to think of these suffixes as standing in for prepositions.

Some of my Russian characters take State-approved holidays to Finland, and some of them later defect via this route.

Alphabet:

Finnish uses the Roman alphabet, and like many European languages, pronounces the J like a Y. It also features A and O with an umlaut, and rarely Š, Ž, and the Swedish Å. The lattermost letter is used almost exclusively for proper names in Finland–Swedish (i.e., the variety of Swedish spoken in Finland). No native Finnish words contain this letter.

The letters C, X, W, Z, and Q are very rare. Unless they appear in foreign names, they tend to be replaced by Finnish sound equivalents—K or S in place of C; KS in place of X; V in place of W; and K in place of Q. QU is replaced by KV. Z is frequently pronounced TS, like the German Z.

Surnames:

Many Finnish surnames end in -nen, a diminutive suffix meaning “small.” Though this can function like a patronymic, it can also refer to anyone descended from that individual, not just a child. It can also refer to something like a farm or piece of land.

Other common suffixes are -a/ä (“place of”), -la, -io/iö, and -sto/stö.

Sadly, in the past, some Finns felt compelled to adopt German or Swedish surnames after moving up in society, and soldiers had their names changed whether they wanted it or not. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this trend was reversed, as Finnicization swept the land.

Surnames became legally mandatory in 1921. People who had no tradition of a family name had to invent them from scratch, and frequently took inspiration from nature. Examples include Virtanen (stream), Nieminen (cape), Laine (wave), Järvinen (lake), Mäkelä (hill), and Nurminen (grassland).

Sample names and their nickname forms:

Female:

Aamu (Morning)
Aava (Open, wide)
Adele (Aada, Ada)
Aila, Aili (Helga)
Aina (Always)
Aino (The only one)
Aliisa, Alisa (Alli)
Anna (Anneli, Anni, Anniina, Annikki, Annukka, Anu)
Ansa (Virtue or Trap)
Arja, Irja, Erja
Aune (Agnes)
Aurora

Birgitta, Piritta (Brita, Pirjo, Pirkko, Priita, Riitta)
Cecilia (Silja)
Dagmar
Dorotea (Tea, Teija)

Eerika
Eeva, Eevi
Eija
Eleonora, Eleonoora (Elli)
Eliina
Elisabet (Eliisa, Elisa, Elsa, Liisa, Liisi)
Emilia (Emmi)
Enni (possibly derived from Einar)
Esteri (Essi)
Eveliina

Frederika (Riikka)
Hanna
Heleena (Heli, Leena)
Helka
Hellä (Tender, gentle)
Helmi (Pearl)
Henna (Henrietta)
Henriikka
Hilja (Silence)
Hillevi (Happy/healthy/hearty war)

Iida
Iines (Agnes)
Iiris
Ilma (Air)
Ilona
Ilta (Evening)
Impi (Maiden)
Inka
Inkeri (Ingrid)
Irina (Irja)

Janina
Janna
Johanna (Hannele, Hanna, Jonna)
Josefiina
Julia

Kaarina, Katariina (Iina, Kaija, Kaisa, Kata, Kati, Katri, Katriina, Riina)
Karoliina (Liina)
Kerttu (Gertrude)
Kielo (Lily of the valley)
Kiira
Kirsi (Frost) (also a form of Christina)
Kirsikka (Kirsi) (Cherry)
Kristiina, Kirsti (Krista, Stiina, Tiina)
Kukka (Flower)

Lahja (Gift)
Laila (Helga; unrelated to the Arabic name Laila, meaning “night”)
Laura
Lea
Lempi (Love)
Lilja, Lilli
Loviisa (Louisa)
Lumi (Snow)
Lyydia

Maaria, Maija, Mari, Maria, Marja, Marjo (Maarika, Marita, Maritta, Marjatta, Marjukka, Marjut) (Marja also means “berry”)
Maarit, Marketta (Margaret)
Maire (Sugary, gushing)
Marjaana, Mirja, Mirjam, Mirjami (Jaana)
Martta
Matilda (Tilda)
Matleena (Magdalena)
Meri (Sea)
Merja
Mikaela
Minttu (Mint)

Noora
Oili (Olga)
Oliivia
Oona (Una)
Orvokki (Pansy)

Päivä (Day)
Paula, Pauliina
Petra
Pihla (Rowan tree)
Piia
Pilvi (Cloud)
Pinja (Stone pine)

Raakel (Rachel)
Rauha (Peace)
Rebekka
Ritva (Birch branch)
Ruut

Saana (the name of a mountain)
Saara, Sari (Saija)
Säde (Ray of light)
Satu (Fairytale)
Seija (Serene, tranquil)
Senja (Xenia)
Sini, Sinikka (Blue)
Sirpa (Fragment, small piece)
Sisko (Sister)
Sohvi (Sophia)
Soile, Soili (Blaze, glimmer)
Suoma (Finland)
Susanna (Sanni, Sanna)
Suvi (Summer)
Sylvi (Solveig)

Tähti (Star)
Taika (Spell, magic)
Talvikki (Winter)
Tarja (Darya)
Taru (Tarja) (Myth, legend)
Tatjana (Taina, Tanja)
Teresa
Terhi (Mist)
Terttu (Cluster, bunch)
Toini (Antonia)
Tuija (Cedar)
Tuuli, Tuula (Wind)
Tyyne (Serene, calm)

Ulriikka, Ulriika (Ulla)
Ursula
Valpuri (Vappu) (Ruler of the fortress)
Vanamo (Twinflower)
Varpu (A type of berry bush)
Veera
Venla
Vieno (Gentle)
Viivi (Viviana)
Vilhelmiina (Helmi, Miina, Mimmi, Minna)
Vilja (Grain, cereal)
Vilma
Virva (Will o’ the wisp; in Finnish folklore, this refers to a floating ball of light which appears over water)
Vuokko (Anemone)

Male:

Aabraham, Aapo
Aapeli (Abel)
Aarne
Aatami (Adam)
Aatos (Thought)
Aatto, Aatu (Adolf) (also means “eve,” as in the evening before a holiday)
Ahti (Finnish god of oceans, rivers, and fishing)
Aimo (Generous amount)
Akseli (Axel)
Aleksanteri (Ale, Samppa, Santeri, Santtu) (Alexander)
Aleksi (Ale)
Alpertti, Altti (Pertti) (Albert)
Anselmi (Anssi)
Antero, Antti (Atte, Tero) (Andrew)
Anttoni (Toni)
Ari (Eagle)
Armas (Belovèd)
Armo (Mercy, grace)
Arttu, Artturi (Arto)
Arvo (Worth, value)
Aukusti (Aku, Kusti) (Augustus)
Aulis (Helpful, willing)

Edvard, Eetu
Eelis, Eljas (Elijah)
Eemeli, Eemil
Eerik, Eerikki, Eero, Erkki
Eino (possibly derived from Einar)
Ensio (First)
Erno (Ernest)
Esa (Isaiah)

Ferdinand (Veeti, Vertti)
Filip, Vilppu
Frans
Fredrik (Veeti)

Harri
Heikki, Henrikki
Heino
Hermanni

Iisakki (Iikka, Iiro) (Isaac)
Into (Enthusiasm)
Ismo (Ishmael)

Jaakkima, Joakim (Aki, Kim, Kimi)
Jaakko, Jaakob, Jaakoppi (Jasko)
Jalmari (Jari) (Hjalmar)
Jalo (Gracious, noble)
Jarmo, Jorma, Jeremias (Jarkko, Jere)
Johannes, Janne, Joni, Juha, Juhana, Jouni, Juho, Jukka, Jussi (Hannes, Hannu)
Joona, Joonas
Jooseppi (Juuso)
Jyri, Jyrki, Yrjö, Yrjänä (George)

Kaapo, Kaapro (Gabriel)
Kaarle, Kaarlo, Karl (Kalle)
Kai
Kaleva, Kalevi (Mythological ancestor of the Finns)
Kari (Macarius)
Kauko (Far away)
Kristian
Kristoffer (Risto)
Kustaa, Kyösti (Kusti) (Gustave)

Lars, Lasse, Lassi, Lauri (Lari) (Lawrence)
Leevi
Luukas
Mainio (Excellent)
Markku, Markus
Martin, Martti
Matias, Matti
Mauno, Maunu, Manu (Magnus)
Mauri (Maurice)
Mikael, Mikko (Mika, Miska)

Nestori
Niilo, Niko (Nicholas)
Nooa (Noah)

Oiva (Splendid)
Olavi, Uolevi (Olaf)
Oliver (Olli)
Onni (Luck, happiness)
Oskari (Osku)
Otso (Bear)
Otto

Paavali, Paavo, Pauli
Pasi (Basil)
Pekka, Petteri, Pietari, Petri
Pentti (Benedict)
Perttu (Bartholomew)
Pyry (Blizzard, snowstorm)

Raimo, Reima (Raymond)
Ransu (Francis)
Reijo, Reko (Gregory)
Reino (Reynold)
Rikhard (Riku)
Roope, Roopertti (Pertti) (Robert)
Ruuben

Sakari (Sakke, Saku) (Zachary)
Sampo
Samuli (Samu, Samppa, Sami)
Sauli
Sebastian (Sepi, Seppo)
Seppo (Sepi) (Smith)
Simo (Simon)
Sisu (Determination, willpower)
Soini (Sven)
Sulo (Grace, charm)

Taavi, Taavetti (David)
Tahvo, Tapani (Teppo) (Steven)
Taisto (Battle)
Taneli (Tatu) (Daniel)
Tapio (Finnish god of forests, animals, and hunting)
Tarmo (Energy, drive, vigour)
Tauno (Modest, peaceful)
Teemu (Nicodemus)
Terho (Acorn)
Teuvo (Theodore)
Timo (Timothy)
Toivo (Hope)
Topias (Topi) (Tobias)
Torsti
Tuomas, Tuoma (Tomi, Tommi)
Tuure (Tuukka)

Ukko (Finnish god of thunder and the sky)
Urho (Brave)
Usko (Faith)

Valdemar (Valto)
Valtteri (Walter)
Veli (Veikko) (Brother)
Vesa (Sprout, young tree)
Vieno (Gentle)
Viljami, Vilhelm, Vilhelmi (Jami, Vilho, Vili, Viljo, Ville)
Voitto (Victory)

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