In Finland, a person must have a surname and 1–3 first names. Surnames are usually inherited patrilineally, while first names are usually chosen by person's parents. Finnish names come from a variety of dissimilar traditions that were consolidated only in the early 20th century. The first national act on names came into force in 1921, and it made surnames mandatory. Between 1930 and 1985, the Western Finnish tradition whereby a married woman took her husband's surname was mandatory. Previously in Eastern Finland, this was not necessarily the case.
Pronunciation of Finnish names is according to Finnish phonology. The letter 'j' denotes the approximant [j], as in English you. For example, the two different names Maria and Marja are pronounced nearly identically. The letter 'y' denotes the vowel [y], not found in English, but similar to German 'ü' and French 'u'. 'R' is rolled. The stress is always on the first syllable. For example, Yrjö Kääriäinen is pronounced ['yr.jø 'Kææ.ri.æi.nen]. Double letters always stand for a geminate or longer sound, e.g. Marjaana has a stressed short /ɑ/ followed by an unstressed long /ɑː/. When writing Finnish names without the Finnish alphabet available (such as in e-mail addresses), the letters 'ä' and 'ö' are usually replaced with 'a' and 'o', respectively, e.g. Jäätteenmäki as Jaatteenmaki. This is not the same, but visually recognizable. Finnish has a long bilingual history and it is not unusual for Finnish speakers to have Swedish surnames or given names. Such names may be pronounced according to Finland-Swedish phonology.
Finland has two predominant surname traditions: the West Finnish and the East Finnish. Until the early 20th century, Finland was a predominantly agrarian society and the names of West Finns were based on their association with a particular area, farm, or homestead, e.g. Jaakko Jussila ("Jaakko from the farm of Jussi"). Farm names typically had the suffix -la and could refer to the husband (like Jussila) or describe the location (e.g. Isoaho "large clearing"). This name could change every time the person moved to a different farm. Farm names, patronyms and village names could be used to disambiguate between different people, but they were not true inherited surnames. For example, in the novel Seven Brothers (Aleksis Kivi, 1870) the character Juhani was officially summoned as Juhani Juhanin-poika Jukola, Toukolan kylästä; "Juhani, son of Juhani, from Jukola farm, Toukola village".
On the other hand, the East Finnish surname tradition dates back to 13th century. There, the Savonians pursued slash-and-burn agriculture which necessitated moving several times during a person's lifetime. This in turn required the families to have surnames, which were in wide use among the common folk as early as the 13th century. By the mid-16th century, the East Finnish surnames had become hereditary. Typically, the oldest East Finnish surnames were formed from the first names of the patriarchs of the families, e.g. Ikävalko, Termonen, Pentikäinen. In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, new names were most often formed by adding the place name of the former or current place of living (e.g. Puumalainen < Puumala). In the East Finnish tradition, the females carried the family name of their fathers in female form (e.g. Puumalatar < Puumalainen). By the 19th century, this practice fell into disuse due to the influence of West-European surname tradition. Also, women did not change their surnames with marriage.
In Western Finland, the agrarian names dominated, and the last name of the person was usually given according to the farm or holding they lived on. In 1921, surnames became compulsory for all Finns. At this point, the agrarian names were usually adopted as surnames. A typical feature of such names is the addition of prefixes Ala- (Sub-) or Ylä- (Up-), giving the location of the holding along a waterway in relation of the main holding (e.g. Yli-Ojanperä, Ala-Verronen). In Pohjanmaa, there are similar prefixes Rinta- "downstream" and Latva- "upriver".
Common suffixes are -nen (in oblique form -se-, e.g. Miettinen - Miettisen "Miettinen's"), a diminutive suffix usually meaning "small", and -la/-lä, a locative suffix usually meaning "place of". The three most common surnames in Finland are Virtanen ("small river", from virta, "river, stream"), Korhonen ("small deaf", from archaic/dialectal korho, "deaf, hard of hearing"), and Nieminen ("small peninsula", from niemi, "peninsula, cape").
A third, foreign tradition of surnames was introduced in Finland by the Swedish-speaking upper and middle classes which used typical German and Swedish surnames. By custom, all Finnish-speaking persons who were able to get a position of some status in urban or learned society, discarded their Finnish name, adopting a Swedish, German or (in case of clergy) Latin surnames. In the case of enlisted soldiers, the new name was given regardless of the wishes of the individual.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the overall modernization process and especially, the political movement of Fennicization caused a movement for adoption of Finnish surnames. At that time, many persons with a Swedish or otherwise foreign surname changed their family name to a Finnish one. The features of nature with endings -o/ö, -nen (Meriö < Meri "sea", Nieminen < Niemi "point") are typical of the names of this era, as well as more or less direct translations of Swedish names (Helleranta < Hällstrand). Fennicizing one's name also concealed non-Finnish origin. For example, Martti Ahtisaari's grandfather was Adolfsen from Norway. Nevertheless, Fennicization was not mandatory and thus it is common to find entirely Finnish-speaking families with Swedish surnames; having a Swedish name does not imply that one would speak Swedish.
An effect of industrialization was that large numbers of people moved to the cities and towns and had to adopt a surname. Missing an inherited surname, they invented one from scratch. Initially, these were in Swedish, and they were not very stable; people called them "superfluous names" (liikanimi), and a person could change one's surname several times during their career. Later, Finnish became the preferred language, and themes were taken from nature. The most common examples of this type are Laine "wave", Vainio "field", Nurmi "grassland" and Salo "grove". When applicable, -nen or -la could be suffixed, e.g. Koskinen "rapids + nen".
Unlike in Swedish, Finnish patronymics are not used as surnames. Thus, the Finnish situation differs considerably from e.g. Sweden with hundreds of thousands of Anderssons etc. Patronymics are considered additional given names. An exception is Icelandic citizens resident in Finland, who are allowed to follow the Icelandic name tradition.
In 21st-century Finland, the use of surnames follows the German model. Every person is legally obliged to have a first and last name. At most, three first names are allowed. A Finnish married couple may adopt the surname that either spouse had as non-married, in which case this name will be the surname of their children. A spouse changing his or her name may decide to use a double-barrelled name consisting of his or her former and current official surname. In the case where both spouses keep their names they may choose either name for their children, but all siblings must share the same surname.
All persons have the right to change their surname once without any specific reason. A surname that is un-Finnish, contrary to the usages of the Swedish or Finnish languages, or in use by any person resident in Finland cannot be accepted as the new name, unless valid family reasons or religious or national customs give a reason for waiving this requirement. However, persons may change their surname to any surname that has ever been used by their ancestors, if they can prove such claim. Some immigrants have had difficulty naming their children, as they must choose from an approved list based on the family's household language.
Surnames behave like regular words when forming grammatical cases. Thus, for example, the genitive of surname Mäki is Mäen, just like the regular word mäki ("hill") becomes mäen in the genitive.
The native Finnish tradition of first names was lost during the early Christian period, and by the 16th century, use of Christian first names was dominant. The popular names were usually the names of saints whose cult was widespread. This resulted in some differences between the Western and Eastern Finnish first names, as the names in Eastern Finland might have had forms derived from Russian or Church-Slavic, instead of Swedish and Latin forms. The most important source for researching the name forms actually used by the Finns themselves in the 15th to 18th centuries are the surnames preserved in written sources, as these often are formed on the basis of a first name. The first names themselves are usually given in Swedish or Latin forms, as these are the languages used in the sources. The name actually used was a Fennicized form of the name, which might change as the person became older. For example, a person given the name Gustaf in the parish register might be called Kustu as a child, Kusti as an adolescent, Kustaa as an adult and Kyösti or Köpä as an old man.
In the early 19th century, almost all Finnish first names were taken from the official Almanac, published by the Royal Academy of Turku, later University of Helsinki. The names were mostly names of the saints whose cult had been popular before the Reformation, but the Almanach also incorporated a number of names from the Old Testament, which were added to certain days during the 17th and 18th centuries. During the 19th century, the Finnish forms were gradually added to the Finnish Almanach, while the Swedish and Latin forms were removed. At the same time, the vicars gradually started to use Finnish name forms in parish registers. This in turn, cemented the Finnish name forms used. By the 1930s, the use of Finnish names was stabilized and most of the popular names were noticed in the Almanach. Since then, the Almanach has been gradually changed to include new, popular names. At present, all names which have at least 1,000 bearers are incorporated into the Almanach of the University of Helsinki and given a "name day" (Finnish: nimipäivä). At present, 792 of the 35,000 first names used in Finland are listed in the Finnish Almanach.
Since the digitalization of the Finnish national population database in the 1970s, the most popular names in Finland (of all Finnish residents or citizens who have lived after that point) have been
|Men's names||Equivalent saint||Men named||Women's names||Equivalent saint||Women named|
|Juhani||Saint John||332172||Maria||Virgin Mary||355087|
|Johannes||Saint John||236343||Helena||Saint Helen||166254|
|Olavi||Saint Olaf||217861||Anneli||Saint Anna||143411|
|Antero||Saint Andrew||180783||Johanna||(female form of Saint John)||142891|
|Tapani||Saint Stephen||152220||Kaarina||Saint Catherine||129888|
|Matti||Saint Matthew||126720||Liisa||Saint Elisabeth||100555|
At present, the Names Act (Finnish: Nimilaki; Swedish: Namnlagen) of 1985 requires that all Finnish citizens and residents have at least one and at the most three first names. Persons who do not have a first name are obligated to adopt one when they are entered into the Finnish national population database. Parents of new-born children must name their child and inform the population registry within two months of the child's birth. The name may be chosen freely, but it must not be
Waivers may be granted if valid family, religious or ethnic reasons give grounds to use a name contrary to these principles. Persons may change their first names once without a specific reason. For subsequent changes, valid reasons must be presented.