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Expert: Immigration to increase name diversity

Name-giving conventions have become more international in the beginning of the 21st century, expert Minna Saarelma-Paukkala says. As Finns become more accustomed to names from elsewhere, she says, families with Finnish heritage will start giving their children foreign names. This has, of course, already happened in Finland's history.

Turvapaikanhakijat siirtyvät järjestelykeskuksesta vastaanottokeskuksiin. Kuvassa turvapaikanhakijoita SPR:n Tornion vastaanottokeskuksessa.
Finnish first names tend to be of foreign origin, says expert. Image: Riikka Rautiainen/ Yle

Immigration has led to Finnish first names diversifying, certainly since the 1960s and especially in the 2000s, says Minna Saarelma-Paukkala, who is chief of the almanac office at the University of Helsinki.

"More Muslim and Russian nomenclature has come in, but migrants from the Vietnam and countries in Asia and Africa have also brought new names with them," Saarelma-Paukkala says.

Thousands of Finns with any variation of the first name Mohammed already exist. There are also hundreds of Finnish people with names such as Ali, Ibrahim, Omar or Hassan.

According to the expert the majority of these names occur in families of foreign extraction, while Finns with little to no foreign heritage are still slow to adopt certain non-Finnish varieties.

"Finns with only or predominantly Finnish heritage constantly adopt international names, mainly through pop culture," Saarelma-Paukkala says. "But there are cases where such names are given in Finnish-speaking families, once the names become more familiar. A good example of this is the adoption of the Russian female first name Nadja, which was added to the Finnish almanac this year."

Majority of Finnish names from abroad

Finns celebrate so-called Name Days on days when their name is listed in the Finnish calendar or almanac. Only names that are common enough get in, and cultural differences are also salient.

"Before we start including Muslim names in our calendars we should discuss it with the Muslim community and see whether that is something they would even want collectively. Name days are a staple of Finnish culture," Saarelma-Paukkala says.

But the fact is that a majority of Finnish names are actually not directly of Finnish origin. Even most names in the Finnish calendar are only Finnish modifications of names either from the Bible or some other international context.

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