Name Article

[ End of Article ]

Surnames in Finland on the threshold of the new millenium

Sirkka Paikkala


The purpose of this article is to describe, mainly through statistics, the current composition of surnames in Finland, the numbers of different name types and their distribution according to the holders of the names.

However, the specification of the linguistic structures of the names is not alone sufficient for the description of the most essential features of the Finnish surnames. Since the surnames in Finland are composed of a few types of bynames and surnames, the origins and age of which differ considerably (more closely, cf. Paikkala 1995: 109-127, Mikkonen & Paikkala 2000: 13-30), the statistics should have a two-level structure. First, the names should be determined according to the contexts of their origins, i.e., in the following manner: a) old eastern Finnish hereditary surnames, b) non-Finnish upper-class, artisan or soldiers' names (of Swedish or foreign origin or modified into a foreign form), c) patronymics, d) Swedish names of houses, e) Finnish names of houses, f) the first western Finnish surnames of the national awakening of the 19th century, g) the so-called adopted names, mostly from the early 20th century, h) immigrant names from the late 20th century, and i) marital double names. These names could then, in the second phase, be further specified within the groups by contents, structure and a more detailed description of their origins.

Since it has not been possible so far to specify the origins of the surnames of Finns in such a detailed manner, the statistical calculations remain inexact. Moreover, names with a similar form can belong to several groups; e.g. Niemi, Fi. niemi 'peninsula' is a house-based surname in certain cases, but it was also adopted as a model-based fashionable name at the time of the national awakening.

However, the statistical analysis provides us with a general overview of the entire pool of surnames in Finland.

1. The pool of surnames

The classification is based on the surname files from 1995 and 1998 of the Finnish Population Register Centre, which have been analysed more closely (S. & J. Paikkala 2000: 31-45) by considering each name separately. There is an earlier respective analysis from 1985 (S. & J. Paikkala 1988, Paikkala J. 1988), which enables us to compare the developments of over ten years.

The data of the Social Insurance Institution of Finland from 1970 showed that the pool of Finnish surnames at that time was 75,862.1 The respective figure in 1985 was 79,092 (for the population of 4.903,792).

In 1998, Finns had as many as 127,722 surnames (for 5.160,662 people, including the foreigners living in Finland), which shows a growth of over 48,000 names or 61,5% in 13 years. Respectively, the number of names had increased only by some 3,000 from 1970 to 1985, i.e. by just over 4%. The change of the late 20th century has been drastic, and it can probably be explained by a number of factors. One of them is a more careful registration of the names. There are, however, only two major reasons for the increase: 1) the Finnish population has become more international, (the foreign immigration, the Ingrian remigration to Finland2 and the marriages to foreigners by Finns), and 2) the great increase in the marital double names.

The change is clearly reflected in the fact that the Finnish citizens living in Finland already had a total of 104,653 names on 1 January 1998 (on 1 January 1995 the figure was 98,026), which means that over a half of the increase that had taken place since 1985 could be explained by the increase in the names of Finnish citizens. The calculations include 23,069 names that were used purely by foreigners living in Finland. The growth in the number of foreign names in Finland reflects, on the one hand, the fact that the immigrants have been awarded the Finnish citizenship only after 1985 and, on the other hand, that Finns have adopted the name of the foreign spouse in marriage.

However, changing surnames, which has been popular with Finns has hardly added to the total number of the surnames in the late 20th century. Nor has it affected the mutual relationships between names groups, since the names have partly been exchanged for already existing names, and rare names are continuously being eliminated.

2. Finnish surnames

The term 'Finnish surname' in these calculations refers to names that are Finnish or have been modified according to Finnish by their morphology or phonetic features, e.g. the soldiers' name Vik (from Swedish vik 'bay') > the house name Viikki > the Finnish surname Viikki. This article refers to names other than Finnish-language names as non-Finnish names. Marital double names are also excluded from the group of Finnish names, as they are not hereditary, and their second part may be foreign. In November 1998 there were 51,047 hereditary names, or 40.0% of all names (in 1985 the percentage was 58.1).

The percentage of different Finnish surnames was, however, somewhat bigger (11.2) than in 1985, when their number was 45,900. On the one hand, the increase is caused by a more specific interpretation of the names and on the other, by the names brought by the Ingrian remigrants in the 1990's, counted as Finnish names. The estimated percentage of people with Finnish names of the entire population was 77 (92.4% of the Finnish population was Finnish-speaking at the end of 2000;

3. Non-Finnish surnames

This group includes, on the one hand, names originally in use among the upper classes, and on the other, working class names. Finland was a part of the Kingdom of Sweden from the Middle Ages to 1809, after which it was an autonomous grand duchy of Russia until its declaration of independence in 1917. Finnish was granted the status of an official language equal to Swedish in 1863. At the establishment of the Swedish-Finnish House of Nobility in 1626, it became obligatory for the nobility to have surnames. The learned circles adopted the hereditary surnames in the 17th and the bourgeoisie in the 18th century at the latest. In accordance with the official language of the Kingdom, these names were Swedish almost without exception, but the educated people had also names modified according to classical languages. At a later stage, Swedish surnames were also systematically given to handicraftsmen and soldiers and in the 19th century to the working population of towns and factories especially. These, too, became established as surnames in the late 19th century, as did the Swedish patronymics. As even Finnish-speaking people were given non-Finnish names in the 17th and 18th century, the names did not always indicate the mother tongue of the name holder.

In 1998, the number of non-Finnish names (including Swedish names) of all names was 44,693, i.e. 35.0% (the equivalent number in 1985 was 18,371, i.e. 23.2%), whilst the holders of such names represented only 22% of the entire population.

Of the non-Finnish names, Swedish names ending in -son 'son' and -dotter 'daughter' that have originally been patronymics (the so-called secondary patronymics) and the equivalent Norwegian or Danish-based originally patronymic names ending in -sen have been treated separately. There are a total of 438 patronymic names ending in -son, with over 44,000 holders, while the number of names ending in -sen is 165 (over 2,000 holders; e.g. Jörgensen, Kjeldsen, Knudsen). Furthermore, Finns living abroad have a total of 428 names ending in -son and 191 names ending in -sen, which can be regarded as patronymic and which are not used in Finland. There is a number (145) of names ending in -sen

that do not resemble Scandinavian patronymics (e.g. Berkhuijsen, Boesen, Diesen). In a few instances, it is difficult to draw the line between patronymic names and names of the educated circles, ending in -en, especially if the name includes an accent, e.g. Halvorsén, Olsén.

All names with the ending -son in the form of patronymics have not originally been real patronymics. Instead, they may also have been formed according to a model (other than the name of the father); such names were especially popular in the late 19th century, as the usage of surnames began to be established among the people who had not previously had surnames at all.

Even names based on surnames or by-names, rather than on first names, but whose origins still resemble the formation of patronymics, have been included in the calculations. Such names are, inter alia, Backmansson, Bomansson, Källarsson. English names, such as Dawson, Higson, Madison are included, as well.

In 1998, there were only two names ending in -dotter (Ersdotter, Stefansdotter), and even they have been introduced only after 1985.

4. Marital double names

According to the 1985 statistics, marital double names (e.g. Isohookana-Asunmaa) amounted to 14,821 (18.7% of all names), and yet the holders of these names represented a mere 0.3% of the Finnish population. The counting date (1 July 1985) is interesting, since the new law on surnames that liberalised the choice of names upon marriage became effective on 1 January 1986. The law made it possible for the wife to preserve her maiden name without taking the name of the husband and gave the right to the husband to adopt the wife's name either as such (as the name

of the couple) or combined to his own name as a marital double name. We cannot conclude, on the basis of the numerical changes, how the law has affected the increase in the number of marital double names. Only names with a hyphen are counted as marital double names in the statistics of this, which excludes, e.g., names according to the Spanish or Norwegian practices (e.g., Garcia Nuutinen, Jensen Strang), where there are no hyphens. Their number is, however, marginal.

In 1995, there were 31,110 marital double names with only one holder; 915 of these were names of foreigners and 30,525 names of Finnish citizens living in Finland. The number of marital double names has thus more than doubled between 1985 and 1995.

A moderate estimate of the increase in marital double names is that their number had grown up to 33,000 by 1998. The strong growth is not a consequence of the 1986 law on surnames, but rather a result of the fact that the trend of double names did not begin in a wider scope until the 1970s and that it has continued ever since. The popularity of these names is probably a sign of the enhancement of educational equality and the grown appreciation of people's own roots.

Table 1. The distribution of surnames used in Finland in 1998 according to principal groups.

Name groups





per name

Finnish names






Non-Finnish names






Of which patronymics ending in -son












Marital double names












5. The structure of Finnish surnames

Table 2 shows the distribution into different structural types of surnames that are Finnish either linguistically or phonetically. Of the derived names, this article separately mentions only names ending in -nen and -la ~ -lä (others are discussed more precisely in Paikkala S. & J. 2000:36).

Table 2. Finnish surnames by structural types 1998. Non-Finnish-language names are included.

Structural types





number of
name holders
per name

root word


















- ending in -nen






- ending in -in[en]-






- ending in -la, -lä






- with other suffixes












5.1. Surnames of the root word type

The first row of the classification in table 2 shows the number of the names that do not lexically consist of two parts, i.e., do not resemble compounds (or do not have the most typical suffixes of the Finnish surnames). Most of the surnames of this group include root words (Laine < Fi. laine 'wave') or single-part names (mostly names of houses), or newer short-formed surnames resembling root words. This last group includes the so-called adopted names, which do not necessarily have equivalents in the vocabulary or other nomenclature, e.g., Aarto, Helme, Kahi.

However, for example, the name Raivio (Fi. raiv/io 'a forest or field that has been cleared' < raivata 'to clear') is not considered a name with the -io suffix, as the appellative raivio has been adopted as a surname without derivation (or possibly first as a name of house and after that as a surname), even though the appellative itself includes a suffix. The difference is important because of the function of appellatives and proper nouns.

5.2. Surnames of the compound type

Surnames of the compound type resemble compounds (e.g. Sinisalo < Fi. sininen 'blue' + Fi. salo 'forest', Paloheimo < Fi. palo 'fire' + Fi. heimo 'tribe', Koivumäki < Fi. koivu 'birch' + Fi. mäki 'hill'), and yet they are not regular compounds. This group also includes hereditary surnames in which there are, for some reason, two name elements (e.g. Oinas-Panuma), but does not include marital double names. The names in this group are originally mostly names of houses. Most of them resemble names of natural features (Kiviniemi 'Stone Peninsula') or have even been adapted from names of natural features into names of dwellings (Ahvensalmi 'Perch Strait'). Some of the compound-like names are old eastern Finnish names (Ikä/heimo 'Age/tribe'), and some of them are newer names that have been adopted into a Finnish form mostly in

the early 20th century (Mänty/viita 'Pine/thicket', Kilven/salmi 'Water lily leaf/strait', Korven/kontio 'Woodland/bear').

5.3. Derived surnames

Since the ending -nen has generally been regarded as the most common characteristic of Finnish surnames and the ending -la/-lä is the most common and the most typical of names of houses, they have been classified separately.

5.3.1. -nen

Most of the names of this group are eastern Finnish surnames, and it has been estimated that they had been introduced in the 13th century. The origins of these names are exceptional, as they were adopted, without a model from the upper classes, by the free peasantry who lived from hunting and burn-beating of woodland. As for their contents, these collective names resemble their European counterparts: the individual name of the head of the family (Heiska/nen), a nickname (Korho/nen), an occupational name (Seppä/nen 'Smith'), the name of citizenship or tribe (Hämä/läinen 'a person from the Häme region'). The number of old eastern Finnish names ending in -nen from the 17th century at the latest that are still in use is 8803 (there is a total of some 1,300 names that can be considered as old eastern Finnish surnames). Another big group of holders of names ending in -nen is found mostly among the working and agrarian population of western Finland, where these names started to become more general in the 1870's. They were especially popular among people without previous surnames. These names had most often a nature word as the first part (Virta/nen < Fi. virta 'river', 'flood', Mäki/nen < Fi. mäki 'hill', Koski/nen < Fi. koski 'rapids', Järvi/nen < Fi. järvi 'lake'). Part of the surnames ending in -nen were originally names of dwellings (Paikkala 1988: 48-50).

The number of names ending in -nen has slightly grown since 1985, even though some rare names have been left unused. The increase is obviously solely a consequence of the Ingrian remigration. The Ingrians, whose roots are in the regions of Savo and Karelia still have a great number of old eastern Finnish names ending in -nen, with spellings that may have changed from the Finnish original to a Russian form for dialectal or other reasons. Afterwards they have been transcribed back to Finnish into a non-Finnish form (e.g. Jakimainen instead of Jaakkimainen). The Ingrians also have names which follow the eastern Finnish -nen pattern (e.g. Monikainen, Olokainen) but which have not been used in Finland previously.

5.3.2. -la, -lä

This group consists of the surnames that include a name of a house with an -la- or -- ending, e.g. 0lli/la (< Olli < Olof, the given name of the patron), Mäke/lä (< Fi. mäki 'hill'). These, as well as other types of names of houses have been introduced to the Finnish pool of surnames only in western and southern Finland. They started to be established as hereditary surnames systematically in the late 19th century, when the usage of surnames was adopted in the region in general. The deep cultural differences between eastern and western Finland (unlike eastern Finland, western Finland adopted the system of regular cultivation early, which meant that the house was in a more central position than its inhabitants from the point of view of the tax authorities) has also marked the adoption of hereditary surnames. In western Finland, it was usual for a long time to identify the regular people merely on the basis of the given name and the patronymic in the documents. As the population of the western Finnish countryside started to use surnames, they usually adopted the names of the dwellings, which had often already been used as by-names. The use of surnames was only determined as a general and equal practice in the entire country in the law on surnames of 1921.

5.3.3. Other derived surnames

This group only includes names in which the suffix has been added to the (appellative or proper) name upon the formation of a name of a house, a by-name, or a surname. Sometimes the names of houses introduced as by-names or surnames include vernacular given names that have been formed by derivation, e.g., the vernacular version Laukka of Lauri (< Laurentius) > the house name Laukka > surname Laukka. Such by-names or surnames have not been regarded as derived. Similarly, if the house names include standard-language words that have suffixes (e.g., Raiskio Fi. Raisk/ io 'a woodland that has been ruined by extensive felling', Epäilys Fi. epäil/ys 'doubt'), the respective surnames have not been regarded as derivations.

Most of the suffixes (e.g. -io/-iö, -kko/-kkö, -ma/-mä -mo/-mö, -nne, nto/-ntö, -sto/-stö) have been used in the formation of either names of houses or new, so-called adopted names. Some suffixes (e.g. -s, -kas, -käs, -ska, -skä, -tsa, -tsä, -tsu) have been originally used as suffixes of by-names or surnames, as well. The number of derived names has increased especially as a result of the extensive changing of the names into a Finnish form in the early 20th century (esp. 1906 and in the 1930's).

6. The distribution of names according to name holders

Fig. 1 shows the share of names with different frequencies in 1995. The bar shows the percentages of the names. Names with one holder represented just over 40% of all names. The percentage of names with more than one but under ten holders was 27. This means that more than half of the surnames in Finland had less than ten holders, albeit that approximately half of them were non-hereditary marital double names.

The share of names with at least 5,000 holders was more than just over one per mil, while names with over 1,000 holders represented 0.85% of all surnames. The percentage of names with more than 100 holders was 6.3 of all surnames in Finland and 10.2% of Finnish names. This group included 72% of the name holders and 93% of the holders of Finnish names.

Fig. 1. The percentage of names according to name holders in 1995. The lowermost stratum shows the share of names with more than 5,000 name holders, and the uppermost stratum shows the share of names with only one holder.


Fig. 2. The percentual distribution of different surnames 1998.


Fig. 3. The distribution of name holders between various name groups in 1998.

Table 3. The most common surnames in Finland in 2001.
Among foreigners' names are included the surnames with more foreign holders living in Finland than holders with Finnish citizenship. There are also a few names which already have a majority of holders with Finnish citizenship, but which had not been introduced in Finland until the last quarter of the 20th century. Source: The National population register system. The Finnish Population Register Centre and the city administration centres. Up-to-date data on the number of personal names.

15 June 2001






(nearly all
Swedish names)





















































































































1 The figure is slightly too big because of the composition of the database.

2 The migration of the Russian Ingrians with Finnish roots to Finland in the 1990's, which has been called remigration in the legislation.

3 This figure does not include the parallel versions of names of the same ancestry that are still in use (e.g. Kärkkäinen ~ Kärkkänen, Laitiainen ~ Laitinen).


Mikkonen, Pirjo, Paikkala, Sirkka. 2000. Suomalaisten sukunimistä. [On the surnames of Finns.] In: Pirjo Mikkonen & Sirkka Paikkala, Sukunimet, 13-30. Helsinki: Otava.

Paikkala, Sirkka. 1988. Finnische Familiennamen auf -(i)nen. Studia anthroponymica Scandinavica 6, 27-69.

Paikkala, Sirkka. 1995. Från olika namnsystem till ett enhetligt släktnamnssystem i Finland. [From different names systems to one unified system of surnames in Finland.] In: Kristoffer Kruken (ed.), Slektsnamn i Norden. Rapport frå NORNAs tjueförste symposium i Oslo 17.-20. september 1992, 109-127. (NORNA-rapporter 58.) Uppsala: NORNA-förlaget.

Paikkala, Jarmo. 1988. Yleisimmät sukunimemme 1985. [Our most common surnames in 1985.] Sukuviesti 1988:3, 22-23.

Paikkala, Sirkka & Jarmo. 1988. Tilastotietoja suomalaisten sukunimistä. [Statistics on the surnames of Finns.] Sukuviesti 1988:1, 22 -25, 30.

Paikkala, Sirkka & Jarmo. 2000. Tilastotietoja suomalaisten sukunimistä 1998. [Statistics on the surnames of Finns in 1998.] In: Pirjo Mikkonen & Sirkka Paikkala, Sukunimet, 31-45. Helsinki: Otava.

Unprinted sources

Aakkosellinen sukunimiluettelo. Maaliskuussa 1970 käytössä olleet sukunimet Kansaneläkelaitoksen kortiston mukaan. [The alphabetical surnames catalogue of the Social Insurance Institution of Finland 1970.] The Research Institute for the Languages of Finland, Helsinki. [The E-mail address of the Finnish Population Register Centre.]

Valtakunnallinen väestötietojärjestelmä. Väestörekisterikeskus ja maistraatit. Ajantasainen tiedosto henkilönnimien määrästä. [The National population register system. The Finnish Population Register Centre and the city administration centres. Up-to-date data on the number of personal names.]

Väestörekisterikeskuksen sukunimitiedosto 1985 (tulosteena). [The surnames register of the Finnish Population Register Centre (printout).]

Väestörekisterikeskuksen sukunimitiedosto 1.1.1995. [The surnames register of the Finnish Population Register Centre 1 January 1995.] The Research Institute for the Languages of Finland, Helsinki.

Väestörekisterikeskuksen sukunimitiedosto 1.11.1998 (tulosteena). [The surnames register of the Finnish Population Register Centre 1 January 1998 (print-out).]

Source: Onoma. Journal of the International Council of Onomastic Sciences, Vol. 37 (2002), p. 267-277.

© Sirkka Paikkala and The Genealogical Society of Finland

[ Beginning of Article ]