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Finnish Surnames 1

Finnish surnames: A guide to Finnish last names

How much do you know about Finnish surnames? If you’ve ever visited Finland yourself, or you know a friend or two from Helsinki, you may have noticed something about the names in this region. 

Largely, Finnish names are similar to many Scandinavian titles, as they share common routes in things like Old Norse, and Germanic. 

However, Finnish names can seem a little more exotic when compared to their Danish or Swedish counterparts. It’s not just Finnish first names which make an impact either. Finnish last names are also worth learning a little about if you’re interested in the culture of Finland.

Today, we’re going to be exploring some common Finnish last names, and where they come from.

By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have no trouble identifying anyone from Finland.

Finnish surnames: The basics

The rules of Finnish surnames are similar to the ones we’re familiar with in most parts of the world. In Finland, every local needs at least one given name (first name) and a surname. You can have up to four given names before your last name too. 

Surnames are inherited from your mother or father in Finland, while given names are usually chosen by a person’s parents. The first national act on names in Finland arrived not too long ago, in 1921. 

This was the year surnames became “mandatory.” Between 1930 and 1981, it was also mandatory for a woman to take the Finnish last name of her husband upon marriage. 

For the most part, Finnish surnames are easy enough to understand, because they follow a series of 3 traditions. There are different trends for West Finnish and East Finnish names, as well as a totally different set of rules for Finnish nobility, the clergy, and the military. 

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West and Eastern Finnish last names

Until the early 20th century, the majority of Finland was an agrarian society built mostly around agriculture. The names of people from the west of Finland were usually based on their connection to a specific homestead, or farm. 

For instance, “Jussila” would refer to someone from the farm of Jussi. Farm names usually maintained the suffix “la”. 

In Finnish history, the last name of a person could change every time someone moved to a different farm. People might have various documents recording unique names based on where they lived and worked. 

Some people maintained their original surnames legally but were often better-known by their farm name to others. 

On the other side of the country, the Eastern Finnish surname tradition dates way back to the 13th century, where locals used “slash and burn” agriculture. This meant people would usually move homes numerous times during their lifetime. 

In turn, families needed to maintain surnames they could use commonly, without relying on their location as an identifier. 

By the mid-16th century, the East Finnish last names were mostly hereditary. Some of the oldest names came from the patriarchs of the families. In the 17th and 18th centuries, new names began to emerge as people combined the name of their current place of living to a common suffix. 

For example, Puumalainen would be the name of someone from Puumala. 

East Finland surnames gradually evolved, and women began to carry the family name of their fathers in its feminine form, with the “tar” suffix. If Puumalainen was the name for a man, Puumalatar would be the name of a woman. This practice quickly disappeared during the 19th century. 

The evolution of the Finnish last name

In 1921, Finnish family names or surnames became compulsory for all local residents. If you didn’t have your own surname at this point, you’d typically use your homestead title. 

Since the inhabitants of a homestead would often include family, as well as farmhands and other workers, holders of the surname would use different suffixes or prefixes to separate who was who. 

The prefix “Ala” or “Ali” on a surname, for instance, would refer to someone in the “lower” group of homestead inhabitants geographically. Alternatively, “Yla” or “Yli” defined someone who lived in the upper portion of the location. 

There are similar prefixes like Latva (upstream) and Rinta (downstream) to solve some of the confusion. 

Aside from East and Western surnames in Finland there were some other kinds of surname too. When a soldier enlisted in the army, they’d often receive a new surname. The title would stay with the soldier for as long as they served in the military. 

Often, military surnames were associated with the cottage of the solider, and every soldier assigned to the cottage got the same surname. 

Another tradition of Finnish surnames also arrived with the Swedish-speaking middle and upper classes, who often used German and Swedish surname. All of the Finnish-speaking locals capable of getting a position of status in their society would usually discard their Finnish name. 

To show their accomplishments, the locals adopted Latin, German, or Swedish names instead. Latin titles were often reserved for members of the clergy. 

What are the most common Finnish last names? 

In the world of Finnish surnames, there are a handful of options which appear far more often than others. The most common Finnish surnames often have the suffix -nen. The term “nen”, is a diminutive suffix in Finland, it usually means “small”. 

Another common suffix is “lal” which means “place of” and refers to the specific geography of a family. 

Common suffixes have evolved somewhat in the list of Finnish surnames available today. Many -nen suffixes have been transformed to -poika, or -son. This has caused a little confusion over the years. 

Any member of the patriach’s family could use the -son, suffix, though it was often connected with male children in a family. 

The most commonFinnish surnames by far are:

  • Virtanen, meaning “river” and derived from water or stream.
  • Korhonen, meaning “proud” or “rich and boastful.” 
  • Makinen, which translates to “hilly,” or “hilled area.” 
  • Nieminen, translating to “small peninsula.”
  • Heikkinen, which means “son of Henry”.
  • Kosikinen, translating to “small rapids.”
  • Hamalainen,meaning “Tavastian”.
  • Jarvinen, which means “a small lake.”

Clearly, the “nen” suffix is pretty popular in this country, so it may be a good way to identify a Fin when you’re travelling around Scandinavia. Experts suggest more than a third of all Finns have a surname ending in -nen. 

Although the suffix is usually diminutive, coming from the patriarch in the family, it can also signify you belong to a specific place. 

Many of the names mentioned above are connected to parts of the country or descriptive locations that the family may have lived near. “Virtanen” for example would usually mean the family lived close to a small stream. 

Many families chose the surname which combined a natural feature of the country with the “nen” suffix during the 19th century romantic period.

Although the “nen” suffix started life as a tradition from the Eastern parts of Finland, the surname spread during the 1800s, appearing often in the West too. 

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Identifying popular Finnish last names

The top names in Finland usually end with the “nen” suffix, but there has been a lot of competition between which “nen” names come out on top. Virtanen and Korhonen are essentially the best-known titles in Finland. Think of them as the Finnish Jones, and Smith. 

Korhonen is currently the most popular surname across the 5.5 million Finnish population during 2021, with around 22.2 thousand people sharing this name. A slightly lower 21.6 million people claimed the name Virtanen. 

These two names are usually followed by titles like Makinen, Nieminen, Hamalalainen, and Makela. 

While most people in Finland have a very similar surname, it’s not all about the “las” and “Nens” in this part of the world. There are also a huge variety of surnames related to things like professions and old Norse stories too. 

Here are some common Finnish last names which don’t use “nen.” 

1. Aho

Taken from the word of the same spelling in Finland, Aho means a clearing in a forest or a glade. It’s one of the many Finnish last name choices referring to a specific location. This title is a more ornamental one than some of the names we’ve covered so far. 

It likely referred to people who were born near a glade, however. 

2. Autio

Autio in Finland is a slightly sadder last name, which used to refer to a place abandoned or uninhabited. The term was often given to fields and farms no longer possessed by human beings. In Northern Finland, the name can also mean wide or spacious. 

3. Couri

Couri is a variant of the name “Courie,” which has a more habitational origin than anything else. The interesting thing about this title is it doesn’t refer to a location in Finland. Instead, Couri refers to several locations throughout France. 

4. Eskola

Eskola is a great example of one of those Finnish last names with the fun “La” finish. This title comes from the name for a farmstead in Finland. Eskola is quite a common moniker because there are a lot of farmlands throughout Finland. 

5. Elo

Elo is quite an inspiring Finnish last name. It comes from the Finnish word for grain or harvest, which many locals also link to life itself. Though this term could have some occupational elements to it, it’s often deemed “ornamental.” 

6. Halla

Another location-focused last name with a less popular “la” suffix, Halla refers to a fallow field, or frosty locations. Although many experts describe Halla as an ornamental name, adopted by many Fins for a unique sound, it does have a geographical meaning too. 

7. Kari

In Finland, the word “Kari” means a small island, sandbar, or stony rapids. Once again, this is an example of one of the many Finnish last names with multiple meanings. While some families use this title ornamentally, others can trace their lineage back to the places described.

8. Karjala 

This fun Finnish family name likely describes many families who come from cattle farmer descendants. The name comes from the word “Karja”, which means cattle in Finland. This occupational name was common among people who worked as herdsmen. 

9. Koivisto

Taken from the Finnish word “Koivu”, which describes a birch tree in Finland, Koivisto is an ornamental, and toponymic one. Although some people chose this name without any reference to a location, others picked up the title because they lived near a birch tree forest. 

10. Kangas

We love this Finnish last name because it sounds so unique and exotic. It’s actually an occupational name, according to many Finnish experts. The term “Kangas” comes from the Finnish language and means “cloth” or “fabric”. 

Professionals say the name likely referred to people who were either garment makers or textile merchants. 

11. Keto

Another fun example of a topographical or “location-based” Finnish surname, is Keto. This name looks great when matched with the short two-syllable names common in Finland. Keto means “a grassy meadow” or “field”. 

The title may have also referred to people who lived at a farmstead. 

12. Lahti

Lahti is a word plucked straight from the Finnish language. Similar to many of the title we’ve looked at so far, it means a “cove” or a “bay.” This moniker is common among people with ancestors who lived near a cove or beachy area. 

Some people also chose this term as an ornamental surname.

13. Laine

Laine comes from the Finnish word of the same spelling, which translates to mean wave, or ocean. Experts again aren’t always sure whether Laine is a topographic name describing where a family came from, or an ornamental title. 

14. Lampo

One of our favorite Finnish family names, Lampo comes from the name “Lampi,” which is a popular first name throughout Finland. The term seems to come from the world “Alampo,” which comes from the Greek name, Eulampios, which means “splendid.” 

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More great Finnish family names

Though many of the surnames in Finland comes with a “nen” or “la” suffix, there are also a variety of other titles you can explore when you’re learning about the region. As you may have noticed so far, many of these titles were either ornamental, or based on a location. 

Some name seven come from popular given names too. 

1. Harju

Finland’s surname “Harju” usually comes from the term used to describe ridges in Finland’s topography. The name refers to where Finnish families used to live. It could refer to someone who lived on a ridge near a river. 

2. Huhta

The family name “Huhta” comes from the Finnish word which often means glade or forest clearing. There’s some distinct beauty in this name, particularly if you imagine yourself standing in a forest clearing when you speak it aloud. 

3. Kivi

Kivi is quite a cute Finnish surname, and one we love speaking out loud. Similar to many options on our list of Finnish surnames, this is a topographic title meaning “small stone” or pebble. It may refer to families which grew up in rocky areas.

4. Linna

Linna is a word from the Finnish dictionary which usually means “castle.” Professionals say there’s a good chance this name often belonged to people who used to live and work near a castle. However, it could have been an ornamental name too.

5. Lepisto

The “o” suffix isn’t as common in Finland as it appears to be in other parts of the world. However, there are still plenty of popular Finnish surnames with this finish. Lepisto comes from the word “Leppa” which describes the alder tree from Finland. 

6. Luoma

One of the few last names in Finland which doesn’t seem to follow the traditional trends, Lumoa actually refers to a descriptive feature of a person. Coming from the word “Luomi,” which means a red mark or mole on the face, Luoma potentially began life as a nickname. 

It can also mean “creek” or “small river,” depending on your position in Finland. 

7. Kotila

An appealing Finnish last name for people who have strong roots to the country, Kotila comes from the word “Koti,” which means home in Finland. The title is likely to be a habitational one obtained from the initial names given to farmsteads.

8. Manni

Manni is an interesting name from Finland, which doesn’t connect to any place or specific geography. Instead, Manni comes from the Icelandic name “Manni,” which means man. This is likely to be an adopted name from elsewhere in Scandinavia. 

9. Nurmi

Nurmi is another title taken directly from the Finnish language. Used to refer to grassy areas or pastures, Nurmi is reference to the huge amounts of farmland throughout Finland. You’ll find many Finnish surnames are connected to farms. 

10. Oja

Simple but attractive, Oja is one of our favorite names from Finland, because it’s so easy to spell and say. This geography-focused surname refers to a dike or ditch. This might have been the title chosen for people who lived in lower parts of Finland. 

11. Rautio

Although occupational names aren’t as popular in Finland as they are elsewhere in the world, you can still discover a handful of these titles in the country. Rautio, for instance, means “smith” and refers to people who used to work in the trade.

12. Ruona

Ruona is an appealing toponymic name that’s easy to remember and looks great written down. This title comes from the word from Finland meaning “creek” or “alluvial land.” The surname also appears to refer to similar surnames like Ruonakoski. 

13. Salo

Another example of a toponymic surname referring to where ancestors in Finland made their home, Salo comes from the Finnish word for wilderness. This title, meaning “forested wilderness,” could have applied to a lot of Finnish families. 

14. Vitta

Vitta, like many titles throughout Scandinavia, has German origins. The title comes from an old German word meaning “forest.” The chances are this was the title chosen for families who lived close to a forest. 

Celebrating every Finnish last name

As you may have noticed when reading through our Finnish surnames list, there are plenty of popular titles out there to explore. Like many parts of the world, Finland has many people with the same surnames than others. 

However, you can still learn a great deal about Finland’s culture and history by exploring some of its most common titles. 

If you’re keen to learn more about Scandinavian locals’ names, read our other lists showcasing the top choices for regions like Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. 

We also have some great lists on Finnish first names. Check them out if you’re looking for inspiration for a new arrival in your family. 

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