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.


  1. You're probably correct about translating Mustermann to paragon. As a native speaker of German (who is sometimes a bit slow on the uptake), that meaning actually never occurred to me in this context. Instead, I only got a secondary meaning: "sample man", as used in Musterhaus or Musterexemplar.

  2. About Yrjö being the Finnish translation of the name George: I have no idea if I try to pronounce Yrjö even remotely correctly, but when I try to say Yrjö out loud, it remindes me a lot of Girgl, a Bavarian nickname for Georg/George.

    1. According to the wiki page, , Yrjö is derived from Geôrgios which is a Greek name and means a farmer.

      "Yrjö" is pronounced pretty unsurprisingly from the German viewpoint: y, j and ö are pronounced like in German, and r is the Finnish rolling r ( ) and all sounds are short (as written).