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Galimatias Blog

The roles of names in English and Finnish - good to know for business, part 1

Kirjoittanut: Rytkönen Claire / 20.11.2023 14:44

Kuuntele blogi

The roles of names in English and Finnish - good to know for business, part 1

Työelämän sosiaalisissa tilanteissa keskustelu nimistä, nimien historiasta tai siitä, miten nimiä eri kulttuureissa käytetään, voi olla hyvä johdanto tai rupattelun aihe englannin kielellä.

Etunimen käytöllä on kulttuurinen merkitys, ja sillä voidaan osoittaa kiinnostusta liikekumppania kohtaan ja parhaimmillaan jopa edistää yhteisiä tavoitteita, yhteistyötä tai kauppaa. Lue lisää nimistä, niiden alkuperästä sekä niihin liittyvistä perinteistä. 68135DF2-F2ED-4CC5-8D41-F0661D6A4002_4_5005_c 

This blog will explore English names, their origin and role, and how they compare to Finnish naming traditions.

This history and origin of names is an excellent small talk topic for an icebreaker and this blog will also give you some tips on integrating Finnish naming culture into English.

The definitions of English names

First let’s consider what we actually call the names we use. “Etunimi” can be translated as first name, forename, given name, or Christian name. It should be pointed out that Christian name or given name, might be considered rather old-fashioned nowadays.
Toinen nimi is simply middle name at all times and everywhere.
Sukunimi can be surname, family name, or last name. Surname is the most official and also the most common of these variants.

Below is a table with the safest options highlighted.

Finnish version English version
etunimi First name, forename, given name, or Christian name
toinen nimi Middle name
sukunimi Surname, family name, or last name

Finnish first names in English

Many Finnish first names work very well in English, sharing common European roots. Even names unfamiliar to English speakers can be easily identified and understood such as Sanna, Lauri, Emil, Elias, Hannele etc. Many other names will also work well. Names that end in a consonant would usually be interpreted as male names in English and many Finnish female names which end in “a” are very easily recognisable.

However Finnish male names that end in “A” maybe easily misunderstood, such as Jukka, Juhana, or Pekka and in such cases it might be useful to add a Mr at the bottom of an email to make things clear. The names that are most confusing for English speakers are those that end in -o , -i, and -u. These may also need note of Mr or Ms at the end.

Finnish surnames - explain the roots behind them

Finnish surnames are very unfamiliar to English speakers so it could be interesting to explain the roots behind your name – does it come from nature, an ancestor, a profession, a place?

Swedish language surnames may be more familiar, but English speakers will use their own common pronunciation for -berg, -borg, - lund etc. and it will be hard to correct them.

In general the letters ä, ö, y, and j will be tricky for English speakers. You can explain the letter “j” by stating that it is pronounced as “y” as in “yet” in English. “Ä” and “ ö” are officially called “a umlaut” or “o umlaut” in English using the German term. However, many English speakers are not aware of these official names and may simply called them “a with two dots on the top” or “o with two dots on the top”. Feel free to demonstrate how your name should be correctly pronounced, but if your name is Väinö Jyväskyläläinen don’t be surprised if it never is!

Finnish love nature names

Some interesting differences in Finnish naming practices are in the virtue (hyve) names. These are usually male names in Finnish whereas they are usually female in English. For example, Faith, Hope, Joy, and Mercy are all female names whereas Usko, Toivo, Onni, and Armo are for boys in Finland. This is a fascinating difference.

Another lovely feature of Finnish is the use of a much wider range of nature names so, while plants are commonly used as in English, more general nature terms such as Thunder (Ukko), Rain (Sade), Snow (Lumi) are only for the greenest and most radical hipsters.

Difference in using a hyphen

Using a hyphen for surname, e.g. Marja Aalto-Koskinen, has a different connotation in Finland where it simply marks two family backgrounds. In England, and more recently the US Ivy League, a hyphenated name has long been a mark of aristocratic class and the joining of great families.

On the other hand, a hyphenated first name in English may indicate either a Catholic background honouring several saints (John-Paul, Mary-Theresa) or, especially in the USA, a connection to the Deep South (Mississippi, Alabama etc.) where names such as Jim-Bob, or Mary-Lou are popular. So, while a hyphen in Finland tells very little - in English it can say volumes!


Nimen käyttö on tärkeää myös kirjallisessa viestinnässä. Galimatiaksessa toteutamme kielikoulutusta yrityksille, samoin kuin eri maihin ja aiheisiin liittyvää kulttuurivalmennusta. Ole yhteydessä ja suunnitellaan tarpeisiinne sopiva toteutus.

Ota yhteyttä Galimatiakseen

Rytkönen Claire

Kirjoittajana Rytkönen Claire

English language professional, Head of English at Galimatias


Galimatias on vuonna 1996 perustettu valmennusyritys, joka tarjoaa palveluja yrityksille, organisaatioille ja julkishallinnolle.

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