The University of Helsinki has revised its University Almanac, the original source of Finland’s name day calendar, adding 39 new Finnish names and 57 new Swedish names that weren’t included in the last 2010 edition.
The tradition of celebrating name days traces back to the Christian calendar of saints' feastdays and is now only observed in parts of Europe and Latin America. In Finland the idea likely originated in the Eastern Orthodox Church, which is still active in Finland today.
It is a simple concept: each day of the year is assigned one or more names, more or less arbitrarily. Many Finns celebrate their name days like a birthday, with the attending cards and flowers and maybe even a cake.
New names on the Finnish name day calendar in 2015 include Sisu (February 28), Aava (March 25), Taika (March 7), Annu (December 9), and Paulus (January 25), while the Swedish calendar features new names like Amos (March 31), Viggo (April 2), Melina (May 5) and Bianca (August 14).
500 names in 50 years
In order for a name to be included in the almanac, it must have been used as a first name in Finland at least 500 times within the last 50 years. Inclusion for Swedish names only requires 50 such namesakes.
Earlier editions of the almanac deleted names that were judged to no longer be in use, but the team responsible for the 2015 version chose not to do this.
“Experience has shown that names that have been deleted sometimes come back into fashion and must be restored. The name Okko is a good example. It has now been re-added to the calendar, even though it made its last appearance there in the '50s,” says docent Minna Saarelma-Paukkala, one of the compilers of this year’s almanac.
Saarelma-Paukkala acknowledges that older less-popular names were also not omitted so as not to cause unnecessary resentment. Besides, there is plenty of room for the new names, she says.
“People with names that have been dropped in the past are sometimes very offended. They think we ‘name day people’ decide which names will be included according to our whims, but in reality, it is the Finnish population that decides when they name their children.”
The new almanac has received mostly positive feedback since its release. For instance, the placement of the new name ’Sisu’ on Finland’s national flag day honouring Finnish culture has garnered praise.
Some names are not quite popular enough to make the grade, however, and these will be reviewed again in five year’s time. Even though the inclusion criteria are quite clear, many people lobby the almanac team hard on behalf of a certain name. Saarelma-Paukkala understands the disappointment of those people whose name is still not found on the calendar, but says it shouldn’t stop them from celebrating if they want.
“You can unofficially celebrate a name day anytime. If you are named Helen, you can celebrate on Helena’s name day, for example.”
A surprisingly diverse range of names
From an international perspective, Finns have access to a wide variety of name choices. The number of names used in Finland in the last 30 years has increased exponentially. There were just over 30,000 first names in use in Finland in the 1980s, but today there are close to 100,000 names to choose from.
Finns are quite creative at coming up with new names, especially when compared to countries in Central Europe, for example, where Catholic names are often passed down from generation to generation. Many new names were born in the 1800s in Finland, when nationalist sentiment ran strong. In addition to nature-related names, the Finns began to name their children life-affirming names like Usko (Faith), Toivo (Hope), Onni (Joy) and the like.
“The 2000s have been characterised by many parents that wish to give their children a highly original name. The influence of popular western culture is also highly evident. Individuality is a strong trend, but so is the return of traditional Finnish names that were widely used a century ago, like Väinö, Helmi, Emma and Iida,” says Saarelma-Paukkala.
“After the war, Finns gave their children common names, like Pekka, Leena and Liisa. They wanted to emphasize that their child was just like any other ordinary Finnish boy or girl.”