Sunday, 1 November 2015


Being a bit of a name geek, choosing a name for our kid was a Thing. Not a thing that requires long discussions - I believe that big decisions are best made on a whim. We chose an international name, and a colleague of mine, Mr C., was disappointed that we didn't use the opportunity to give a weird Finnish name with a lot of vowels and umlauts. And indeed, we could've chosen a name like Aino, Päivi, Päivä, Aija, Eija, Aila, Eila, Tuula or even Unnaluuna if we went really overboard, or for a boy, Kyösti, Päiviö, Yrjö (see below), Yrjänä, Pyry, Syksy, Kuisma or Eino. Eino would've been a confusing name for Germans, since it's a boys' name but pronounced the same way as Aino which is a girls' name. Naming twins Eino and Aino would be really evil. For the English-speaking world, Finnish male names Kari and Toni have some confusion potential too.

In Germany, there's a shop called Yorma's. I find it hilarious and probably other Finns do too...

Jorma (which is probably pronounced the same way as Yorma, since the Finnish J is pronounced like Y in "yo", not like J in "jail") is a Finnish name, most popular in the generation born in 1940s - 1950s. Since then, it has acquired the side meaning of a penis (so it actually could be accurately translated as Dick) and understandably decreased in popularity.

A typical Jorma would look like this:

The picture is of a Finnish celebrity who is not called Jorma, but Juha.

You might have heard that in the US, a company leader of a big company is more probably called John than a woman. Finns made their own statistic: a Finnish company leader is more probably called Juha than a woman.

I promised more information about Yrjö, which is also an old Finnish name, with an even older sound than Jorma. Since its' peak times, it has acquired a side meaning of "puke". Curiously, it's also the Finnish translation of the name George from the times when people used to translate names. While I was pregnant, I threw up more than 130 times (I actually kept count, though there was one day when I lost count around 8), and we joked that if it's a boy, we'll name him Yrjö. Yrjö is also the middle name of my father, so we could've gotten away with it. Luckily (for her), we didn't get a boy.

The most common first name - last name combination in Finland is Timo Virtanen (see a list of other common combinations here). There are 233 of them. Timo Virtanen is a pretty boring name. A typical Timo Virtanen would look like this:

This again is a Finnish celebrity, who's not called Timo but Matti.

Matti is the Finnish version of John in the sense of "John / Jane Doe". in Finnish they are called "Matti / Maija Meikäläinen" (meikäläinen is an informal word for "one of us"). In German, "Max / Anne Mustermann" is used in many contexts. "Mustermann" is apparently translated "paragon", but since "paragon" was not part of my active vocabulary, I would've translated it as "Pattern-man" instead. For other languages, see here.

The page also contains similar placeholder names for things. I could write a separate blog post trying to explain a Finnish name for a generic, unspecified or unnecessary machine, "hilavitkutin", which makes no sense at all but sounds like a convincing name for a machine that actually does something (it will most probably "vitkuttaa" (verb) "hila"s (noun) but neither of them means anything sensemaking in this context).

I also want to note that this post is about given names, and there is a whole lot to say about surnames - I'll write a separate post about that. I won't write a post about naming volcanoes, since the Icelandic are giving them so ridiculous names, like Eyjafjallajökull, that there's nothing reasonable to say about the topic.