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Diversity of children's names expanding in Finland

The range of first names chosen by parents in Finland has doubled since the 1980s.

Talvinen maisema Kajaanin Akkovaaralta.
Nature is increasingly an inspiration for baby names. Image: Julia Sieppi / Yle

The variety of first names given to children in Finland is on the increase. Individuality is a growing phenomenon as parents aim to give their children unique names. Naming trends are also changing at a faster rate than ever.

Parents who value nature and a natural lifestyle tend to favour Finnish nature-based names, says Minna Saarelma-Paukkala, Director of the University of Helsinki Almanac Office, which publishes a standard annual list of namedays.

“There are parents who specifically want to give their child a Christian name, and then others who under no circumstance want to,” she notes.

Others try to name their child something that works in many languages. Currently names with the letter ‘r’ in them are out of fashion because a Finnish ‘r’ is hard to pronounce internationally. With the exception of the boy's name Väinö, names with umlauts are also dwindling in popularity.

Surge in name variety

“In the 1960s you could deduce a person’s nationality based on their name. Nowadays such names as Sofia, Emma, Sara, Oliver, and Daniel are simultaneously fashionable in many countries,” said Saarelma-Paukkala.

Immigrants are also constantly bringing new nomenclature. According to Saarelma-Paukkala, an immigrant family will often want to give their child a name that echoes their own culture but also has a place in the Finnish community.

“Then the names conform into Finnish society. Once the name is familiar, Finnish families adopt it.”

Finns currently have over 120,000 first names in use. According to Saarelma-Paukkala this is a giant leap from the 1980s where the range was nearer 50,000 names.

Story continues after photograph.

Ukko Vilho Valtterin nimiäiskakku.
Image: Yle

A turncoat name

If a unique name which does not clearly indicate a specific gender is given to a child, over time the name may eventually settle as a name given to the opposite gender. The most recent examples of such names include Tuisku and Lumi (meaning 'flurry' and 'snow').

In the 1800s Rauha and Sulo ('peace' and 'grace') were originally given to both boys and girls. A more recent name with a gender shift was Lenny.

“In the twentieth century a common name given to girls was Lenny, whereas nowadays it is a name given solely to boys,” says Leila Mattfolk, a name consultant at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Dainty girls and masculine boys?

Saarelma-Paukkala has been looking into the name trends of peculiar and unique names of the past two decades.

“Girl names are often beautiful nature names, delicate and soft to say. Boys' names on the other hand have tended to be more masculine such as Routa, Tahko or Jymy. The substantial differences between new male and female names is pretty interesting," says Saarelma-Paukkala.

In the midst of crumbling gender roles Saarelma-Paukkala wonders whether it is necessary to divide names by gender. For example, in Sweden name legislation was altered so that names are no longer tied to a specific gender, as they remain in Finland.

Mattfolk does not see a change in sight for Finland.

“There are no statistics on the effects of such a law. I would guess that the established tradition of giving a boy a boy’s name and vice versa with girls, will still be in place for quite some time,” she says.

Saarelma-Paukkala explained that gender has traditionally been an important part of determining social interactions in Finnish culture.

“It is generally thought that interacting in society is easier when you know what gender another person represents. Then again, Finnish culture has always accepted that not all names are gender-linked.”

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