Finnish names still subject to law - how many and what kind

For decades, Finnish law has regulated the names that can be given to a child. A Finn may not be given more than three first names, and a name which is inappropriate or can otherwise cause an obvious disadvantage cannot be approved. A limit of one surname is also enforced, although hyphenated names are tolerated after marriage, for example.

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The Names Act (Nimilaki), rewritten in 1991 and last amended in 1998, steers naming policy in Finland, deciding which names are appropriate and how many names the law allows.

“The law dictates a maximum of three first names. In principle, there can only be one surname, but two-part names as the result of marriage are naturally okay,” says Kristian Hakala, Deputy Inspector at the Register Office of Southwestern Finland.

A hyphenated surname from a previous marriage cannot, however, be combined with a new name if a person were to remarry.

“Surnames are limited to two components. But if you adopted your spouse’s surname in a previous marriage, there is nothing to stop you from attaching a new surname to that name with a hyphen,” says Hakala.

Finnish law with regards to names extended to other areas as well: a name which is in form or spelling contrary to Finnish naming practices is not permitted, nor is giving a female name to a boy or a male name to a girl. Certain circumstances may, however, allow for exceptions to these general rules.

Children can take their grandparents’ surname

A family’s children can take on a different surname than their parents. Hakala says children are expected to assume one of their parents’ last names, but the name can also be changed with a name change application.

“There are some justifications for changing a child’s surname to another surname that runs on the family. It may also be appropriate if someone other than their relatives has taken responsibility for raising the child,” he says.

In Finland it is possible to change one’s first name once by simply notifying the local Registry Office. A second occasion, however, requires filling out a formal name change application.

“The law does not limit the number of times a name change application can be submitted, but it is specific that everyone must have a first and last name,” says Hakala.

The Ministry of Justice maintains a names committee which provides the authorities with opinions in name-associated matters, if necessary.