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Finnish Surnames in America

John Ilmari Kolehmainen

Heidelberg College, Ohio

The non-conformity of their Old World patronymics with the dominant phonological patterns in America presented a perplexing problem to the Finnish immigrants.1 Some of them, in their anxiety to mitigate the apparent or real peculiarity of their terminology, abandoned in toto their surnames. Others sought a compromise by preserving - through clipping, transliteration, Swedicization, and translation - as much as possible of the origin, character, or meaning of their patronymics. A third group avoided both abandonment and compromise by resisting any modification of the Finnish patronymics.

Only a small minority of the Finnish immigrants have given up completely the family name; what change has occurred has been largely in the form of compromise. The most prevalent form has been the shortening of the Finnish patronymic, usually by clipping either a prefix or suffix. This process abbreviated the surname in the interests of American phonology yet retained for it an unmistakable Finnish identity. Thus, by dropping the prefix, Kaunismäki, Kauramäki, Koivumäki, Myllymäki, Palomäki, Lamminmäki, Rautamäki, Peramäki, Hakomäki, Kortesmäki, Hautamäki, Niinimäki, Katajamäki, etc., became simply Maki;2 or then again, by deleting the suffix, Mäkelä, Mäkinen, Mäkitalo, Mäkivuori, etc., were similarly transformed into Maki. The following is a partial list of clipped names; it is susceptible of considerable expansion as patronymics ending in -nen, -la, or having a root or prefix such as Koski, Niemi, Saari, etc., are abundant.

Prefix dropped

Suffix dropped

Hietakangas-Kangas Jalonen-Jalo
Hirvisalo-Salo Lamppinen-Lamppi
Isotalo-Talo Lamminen-Lammi
Parhaniemi-Niemi Leinonen-Leino
Pyöriasaari-Saari Nieminen-Niemi
Syrjäniemi-Niemi Ruonovaara-Ruono
Vitikkohuhta-Huhta Vainionpää-Vainio
Kalliokoski-Koski

(or)

Kalliokoski-Kallio
Kangasniemi-Niemi

(or)

Kangasniemi-Kangas
Wuorijärvi-Jarvi

(or)

Wuorijärvi-Wuori

Very often clipping resulted in a fairly respectable (according to American standards) patronymic, with a corresponding loss of Finnish identity. Witness the following:

Alatalo-Ala Lehtinen-Lehtin
Annala-Annal Manninen-Mann
Eckonen-Eck Niskawaara-Niska
Eloranta-Elo Parkkila-Park
Hakala-Haka Parkkonen-Park
Halmetoja-Halmet Peltonen-Pelton
Hillilä-Hill Peltoniemi-Pelton
Jackola-Jack Pennänen-Penn
Järvinen-Jarvin Tenhunen-Tenhune
Justinen-Just Turppa-Turp
Kamppinen-Kamp Wäinämöinen-Wain
Kitinoja-Kitin Wartikainen-Wart
Lamppinen-Lamp Westerinen-West
Lankinen-Lamken Westola-West

Less frequently the midsection of a patronymic was elevated to an independent status, as Nykänen to Kane. One surnane, at least, retained very conspicuously its 'Finnish' character even when abbreviated: Finnilä to Finn.

Transliteration of the Finnish patronymics, rendered necessary presumably by the inability of the Anglo-Saxon vocal organs to master the phonological peculiarities of Finnish, represented a second type of adjustment. The Finnish vowels ä, ö and y (as in Wäänänen, Möttönen and Ylevä), the consonant j (as in Jaatinen), and such combinations as au (Jauhiainen), ai (Laihiainen), ii (Siikala), ie (Hietanen), ou (Loukkonen), ui (Uitto), uo (Suominen), hj (Hjerpe), hyy (Hyytiäinen), jyl (Jylhänen), kyl (Kyllönen), myl (Myllymäki), pyy (Pyykkönen), ryt (Rytkönen), syr (Syrjälä), wäy (Wäyrynen), etc., have been generally unmanageable by Americans; transliteration has often followed. In most instances transliteration has been kept within respectable limits (Anttila to Antell, Mäki to Mackey, Muuri to Moore). The privilege, however, has sometimes been forced (Suominen to Swann, Tiikanen to Dickson, Uitto to White). A list of transliterated patronymics is given below:

Alanen-Allen Autio-Ottio
Anttila-Antell Haarus-Harris
Anttonen-Anton Hakundi-Hack
Hämäläinen-Hamlin Päätalo-Patlow
Hänninen-Hanney Pajari-Pary
Hartikainen-Hartman Päkkinen-Back
Heinonen-Haynes Paloniemi-Palm
Heiskanen-Hayes Parpa-Barberg
Heiskari-Hayskar Pekurinen-Beck
Hirsi-Hershey Pekkola-Peck, Beck
Hirvelä-Hervey Pekonen-Peck, Beck
Hjerpe-Jerpey Peltonen-Beldo, Pelton, Belden
Hokkanen-Hokan(s) Pesonen-Benson
Huovinen-Hoover Pernu-Berry
Huttunen-Hutton Piira-Berry
Isakilla-Isakle Pikkarainen-Pekeine
Järvi-Jervey Pitkäranta-Pitkin
Kaarakka-Crocker Polkki-Polky
Kangas-Congos Pulkku, Pulkkinen-Polk, Polky
Kantola-Kendall Puuperä-Poopert
Karhu-Karlin Prinsilä-Prince
Kasanen-Kasen Rankila, Rankinen-Rankin, Ranken
Kokkonen-Kock Reinikainen-Ray
Kolehmainen-Coleman, Kuhlman Riipa-Rinell
Kulppi-Culp Rissanen-Reiss
Kupari-Cooper Rousu-Rose
Kynsijärvi-Kinzin Rusko-Roos
Laine-Lane Ruoanu-Roan
Lamppi-Lamby Saarela-Sarell
Laurila-Lawrey Salonen-Salvon
Lintala-Lind, Lindall, Lindell Sankari-Sanders
Lintunen-Linden Starkka-Stark
Lusikka-Luce Suominen-Swann
Lyyski-Lee Taneli-Daniel(s)
Määrälä-Marlowe Tervo-Dervoe
Mäki-Mackey, Mack Tiikanen-Dickson
Markko, Markkula-Mark Uitto-White
Markuksela-Marcus Wäänänen-Wan Van, Wanen
Martikainen-Martin Wäisänen-Wasen
Marttila-Martin Wäyrynen-Ware
Mattila-Mattlin Wentelä-Wendt
Muuri-Moore Wiippola-Wepplo
Murtonen-Morton, Murdo Wiitanen-Whitney
Nikkilä, Nikunen-Nixon Wiljamaa-William(s)
Nikkola-Nichol(s) Wirkkilä-Work
Ollanketto-Oland

The possession or acquisition of a Swedish or Norwegian patronymic - as Anderson, Johnson, Michelson, Peterson - simplified the cognominal problem for many Finnish immigrants. A good proportion of the Finns, especially the Swede-Finns of Oulu and Vaasa, had borne Swedish surnames for generations; the dominant position until recent times of the Swedish language in Finland had made inevitable a marked and continuous drift from Finnish to Swedish patronymics.3 A number of the early Finnish migrants had, moreover, resided in Norway and Sweden prior to settling in the New World; there they had either by translation or by following the tradition of the farsnamn,4 their surnames into the Scandinavian form. Layer day immigrants assumed Scandinavian names upon reaching America: Haapanen became Swanberg, Varmavuori became Sahlberg, Renkonen became Renfors, Heikkinen was transformed into Hendrickson, etc. The Swedish and Norwegian surnames are, therefore, fairly prevalent among the Finns in America. Out of the793 foreign-born males listed in Nikander's Amerikan Suomalaisia,5 171 bear Scandinavian names. One hundred and five of the 248 early Finnish settlers in the Copper Country (Michigan) listed in Ilmonen's Amerikan Suomalaisten Historia6 had Swedish-Norwegian names; similarly, 23 of the 54 pioneers in Franklin and 40 out of 162 in Cokato, Minnesota, possessed Scandinavian patronymics. Of these the most common were Anderson, Abrahamson, Erickson, Gustafson, Hendrickson, Isaackson (sic), Jacobson, Johnson, Larson, Michelson, and Peterson; Johnson is by far the most popular.

Some Finns have preferred the translaion into English of their patronymics to clipping, transiteration, or Swedicization as a form of adjustmement. Of the original surname they have retained merely its meaning: Lahti became Bay, Ritari became Knight. Ruusu became Rose, etc. If the patronymic was too unwieldy for the process, the prefix was dropped and the suffix translated, as Hatajamäki to Hill; or, vice versa, the suffix was dropped and the prefix translated, Kiviniemi to Stone. The following is a partial list of translated names:

Entire patronymic translated Suffix translated Prefix translated
Hietaketo-Sandfield Isotalo-House Järvinen-Lake
Hietamäki-Sandhill Kauramäki-Hill Jokinen-River(s)
Järvi-Lake Wuorijärvi-Lake Kettunen-Fox
Joki-River(s) Ylijoki-River(s) Kiviniemi-Stone
Kirkkomäki-Churchill Mäkitalo-Hill
Kivi-Stone Mustanen-Black
Kivijärvi-Stonelake Myllylä-Mill(s)
Lahti-Bay Myllymäki-Mill(s)
Laulaja-Singer Oksanen-Branch
Mäki-Hill Seppänen-Smith
Metsä-Forest (Forrest) Talvitie-Winter(s)
Pohjainen-North
Ritari-Knight
Ruusu-Rose
Uusijärvi-Newlake
Vapaa-Free(man)
Myllysilta-Millbridge
Pitkäjärvi-Longlake
Talo-House
Tuisku-Storm
Valkoinen-White

Others have substituted commonplace American cognomens for their Old Country patronymics without trying to salvage something from the latter. With no obvious reason, it seems that the name Wilson has had the greatest fascination in such cases. Patronymics as colorful as Eskola, Hemmi, Hurskainen, Lepistö, Poikajoki, and Virkkunen fell before irs appeal. Other radical cognominal changes include the following:

Huhta-Swaning Pellikka-Tanner
Korpijärvi-Smith Puhakka-Daniels
Leppänen-Alders Puta-Sailor
Lohvansuu-Lustig Porkola-Hagen
Karikanta-Kelley Pirilä-Harrison
Määttä-Poulson Ruokoja-Rivers
Mäkelä-Thompson Saurikainen-Benjamin
Matalainen-Walman Tiihonen-Fields
Nousiainen-Stephens Tiito-Williams
Pajala-Homer Vehviläinen-Warren

Despite the action of a minority in renouncing, their ancestral names or the tendenicy of some Finns to modify their patronymics by clipping, transliteration, Swedicization, or translation, it is fairly obvious that most foreig-born Finns have held fast to the Old Country cognomens. Yearbooks, calendars, histories, and biographical compilations published in this country are dominated by such typical names as Anttila, Elonen, Haapanen, Hakala, Heikkinen, Hokkanen, Järvinen, Kauramäki, Lamminen, Miettinen, Niskanen, Ojajärvi, Partanen, Rautalahti, Seppänen, Toivonen, Vanhatalo, Wuorijärvi, Ylisaari, etc. Statistical evidence also indicates the preponderance of the unchanged Finnish patronymic. Of the 793 foreign-born, male Finns listed in the Nikander collection, more than 500 have retained to the letter their original surnames. Of the foreign-born males living in Ashtabula, Conneaut, Fairport, and Warren, Ohio, probably less than 20 per cent have mutilated their cognomens in any degree; the percentage is slightly higher in such metropolitan area as Cleveland and Chicago where the pressure for phonological adjustment has been stronger.7 Acting effectively in deterring the rapid Americanization of Finnish patronymics have been such immigrant institutions as the churches, temperance societies, fraternal lodges and brotherhoods; even the Socialist organizations have been but slightly touched by 'internationalism' and count only a few members who have changed their Finnish surnames. The development of nationalism in Finland and a corresponding rise in national sentiment among the New World Finns have played significant roles in keeping at a minimum the modification of Old Country patronymics.

The forces activating name changes, on the other hand, have been more than psychological. While an awareness of the 'foreign' character of their patronymics led to some changes, far more resulted from the operation of tangible factors. Revision has occured most frequently among those groups whose contacts with the non-Finnish population have been frequent and intimate. To illustrate: of the 171 Finns using Swedish-Norwegian surnames (in Nikander's Amerikan Suomalaisia), 107 were either doctors (13), business men (65), clergymen (8), and professional men (21). Of the 64 transliterated, translated or wholly distorted patronymics appearing in the same collection, 41 were business or professional men.8 To the present time, however, the rank and file of the immigrants have been little touched by these considerations but have kept the Old Country patronymics. What action their sons and daughters will take is yet a matter of conjecture.

References

[1] A number of interesting studies have appeared on immigrant names. See, among others, H. L. Mencken, The American Language (1936), 474-554; J. B. Dudek, 'The Americanization of Czech Given and Surnames', American Speech, 1, (1925-1926), 18-22, 16l-166; R.W.Swanson, 'The Swedish Surname in America', ibid., 3 (1927-1928), 468-477. The present writer gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Astrid Petrell and M. E. Kunkler in the preparation of this article.
[2] The Finnish vowels ä and ö are inevitably rendered jo this country as the English a and o. The Finnish v and w are interchangeable.
[3] The language problem in Finland, past and present, is admirably treated in J. H. Wuorinen, Nationalism in Modern Finland (Columbia University Press, 1931). The present trend in Finland is from Swedish to Finnish patronymics.
[4] Swanson, 'The Swedish Surname in America', loc. cit., 476. The names of most of the Finnish colonists in New Sweden (1638-1654), for example, had been earlier changed into Swedish. V. Voionmaa in his 'The First Finnish Pioneers in America', Finland-United Sates (1938), 57-60, suggests the following derivation of names found in the colony's records: Ekhon-Ekonen, Hallton-Halttunen, Homma,-Hommanen, Kackim-Kokkinen Collman-Kolehmainen, Kuckow-Kukkonen, Laican-Laukkanen, Leyhon-Leihoinen, Linton-Lintunen, Mink-Minkkinen, Parchon-Parkkonen, Repott-Reponen, Rong-Ronkainen, Resse-Räisänen, Savoy-Savolainen, Taske-Taskainen, Teoy-Toijanen, Tolsa-Torsa, Veinon-Väänänen.
[5] Werner Nikander, Amerikan Suomalaisia, Muotokuvia ja Lyhyitä Elämäkerrallisia Tietoja (19279, passim.
[6] S. Ilmonen, Amerikan Suomalaisten Historia, 2 (1923), passim.
[7] Suur-Chicagon Suomalaisten Vuosikirja (1937); Ohion Suomalaisten Vuosikirja (1931-1932), passim.
[8] Nikander, Amerikan Suomalaisia, passim.

Published by American Speech. A Quarterly of Linguistic Usage, Volume XIV, p. 33-38, 1939.

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