Category: Esa-Pekka Salonen
When we think of Scandinavian names, what usually comes to mind are the familiar and accessible ones that have been imported from Norway, Denmark and Sweden, like Eric and Ingrid and Lars and Dagmar. But Finnish names, while still Scandinavian, are a world unto themselves, loaded with double vowels (and sometimes consonants) and tricky accents and pronunciations. Yet though this nomenclature includes clunkers like Hongatar and Kiputytto, there are many others that have a unique and quirky charm all their own. I remember that when we were researching the foreign variations of names for The Baby Name Bible, I always kind of looked forward to seeing what the Finnish take would be on a classic–like Viljo for William, Maiju for Mary.
One reason for the sparse representation of Finnish names here is the small number of Finnish-Americans in the US. There are currently about 700,000 people of that ethnicity, which is only 0.2% of the population. Nor have many celebrities publicized Finnish names–there has never been a Finnish movie star equivalent of Ingrid Bergman, for example–the only Finnish names people might recognize are Esa-Pekka Salonen, the contemporary classical conductor, or perhaps father-and-son architects Eliel and Eero Saarinen.
Another element that sets these names apart comes from the fact that the Finnish language is very different from that of the other Scandinavian countries, with their Norse roots; Finnish has more in common with Hungarian, Estonian, Turkish and the languages spoken in the Asian part of Russia. But–for you vowel lovers– double vowels are its most distinctive feature. Pronunciation can be a little tricky, but here are some simple rules: A is pronounced as in arm, E as in egg, I as in it, O as in on, U as in pull, J=Y, and W=V.
So, while the current most popular names in Finland are quite international in flavor–Maria, Olivia, Sofia, Amanda, Matilda, and Julia are all in the Top 10–here are some more traiditional choices that would be usable but still highly distinctive here: