Happy name day!
Name days have been celebrated in Finland since the 18th century. Coffee parties are often organised for the honourees, and they are greeted with small gifts and flowers. Finland has four official name day calendars for different population groups: Finnish-speakers, Swedish-speakers, Orthodox and the Saami.
The University of Helsinki is responsible for the name day lists for Finnish-speakers and Swedish-speakers. The lists are currently renewed every five years based on the prevalence of names. The University has also published name day calendars for cats, dogs and horses.
The Orthodox name day calendar is maintained by the Finnish Orthodox Church. The Saami name day calendar was compiled by Professor (Emeritus) Pekka Sammallahti.
The University Almanac Office distributes all these name day lists, as well as the name day lists of other countries such as Sweden and Estonia, to calendar publishers.
Celebrating name days
For many Finns, name days are important days of celebration in addition to birthdays. Why do we celebrate name days?
The Finnish name day tradition is based on the medieval calendar of Catholic saints. Saints played an important role in medieval culture, and their commemorative days were widely celebrated across Europe. A more secular name day tradition emerged in Germany in the 16th century, with city dignitaries celebrated on the commemorative days of their patron saints. This secular celebration of people’s name days soon spread to other population groups.
The practice of name days spread from Germany to Denmark during the Reformation. From there, it was adopted by Lutheran Sweden in the 17th century. In Finland, the practice became more common among the upper class and in the rural areas of southwestern Finland in the 18th century. In the 19th century, name day celebrations spread to other parts of the country as well. In Finland, the height of the name day tradition was in the beginning of the 20th century.
In Catholic and Orthodox cultures, name days are still celebrated according to the church tradition. Celebrations are particularly active in Catholic Poland and Orthodox Greece. In addition to Finland and Sweden, name days are celebrated as a secular holiday in Latvia and the Czech Republic, for example.
The history of the Finnish name day calendar
The Finnish name day calendar is based on the medieval calendar of saints of the Diocese of Turku. After the 16th century Reformation, it gradually developed into a modern name day calendar.
- The 1430s Codex Aboensis. The oldest manuscript with a list of the saints celebrated in Finland during the Catholic era.
- 1488 Missale Aboense. The calendar of the Diocese of Turku. The first printed calendar of saints adapted to Finnish society.
- 1544 The Prayer Book by Mikael Agricola. A calendar with 80 commemoration days for patron saints.
- 1608 Sigfrid Aronus Forsius’s almanac. The first Finnish almanac, published in Swedish in Stockholm. Included several names following the conventions of the Swedish language. In Forsius’s other almanacs from 1609 to 1624, Latin names were predominant.
- The 1600s. Old Testament names were added to the almanac.
- The 1700s. Biblical names, names of Swedish royal families and fashionable international names were added to the almanac.
- 1705 Laurentius Tammelin’s Almanach (Ajan-Lucu). The first Finnish-language almanac, published in Turku.
- 1810 The Academy of Turku was granted the exclusive right to publish almanacs in Finnish and Swedish in the Grand Duchy of Finland. Russian imperial names and fashionable international names were added to the almanac.
- 1865 Isak Edvard Sjöman’s Siveä. Kauno-annakka. A comprehensive list of new Finnish first names proposed for the almanac.
- 1882, 1883 The calendars of the Finnish Lifelong Learning Society. A comprehensive list of Finnish first names proposed for the almanac.
- 1890 Dozens of Finnicised forms of foreign names and the first Finnish name (Aino) included in the almanac.
- 1908 142 new names added to the almanac: Finnish, international and Swedish. Reform committee: Anders Donner, Jaakko Gummerus, Kustavi Grotenfelt, Kaarle Krohn, K. H. Bergroth.
- 1929 A breakthrough for Finnish names. More than 200 new names included in the almanac. Reform committee: Aarno Maliniemi, Knut Tallqvist. A Swedish name day calendar for Swedish-speaking Finns.
- 1950, 1973 Name day reforms of Kustaa Vilkuna.
- 1984 Name day reform of Eero Kiviniemi. The first reform based on extensive population data.
- 1995, 2000, 2005 Eero Kiviniemi’s later name day reforms.
- 2010 Eero Kiviniemi and Minna Saarelma’s name day reform.
- 2015, 2020, 2025 Minna Saarelma-Paukkala’s name day reforms.
Heikki Oja, Suomen kansan pyhimyskalenteri (“The calendar of saints of the Finnish people”), Kirjapaja 2011.
Minna Saarelma, Nimipäiväjuhlat (“Name day celebrations”). Kirjapaja 2006.
Name days of Swedish-speaking Finns
The University of Helsinki has compiled separate name day calendars for Finnish-speaking and Swedish-speaking Finns since 1929. The name day list for Swedish-speakers has been regularly updated on the basis of the prevalence of names. Since 2015, Leila Mattfolk, PhD, has been in charge of the updates.
Finland’s name day calendars have been edited to serve the entire population as well as possible. If you do not find a name in the calendar for Finnish-speakers, you can celebrate it according to the calendar for Swedish-speakers – and vice versa.
Marianne Blomqvist, Dagens namn (“Name of the day”). Schildts Förlags AB 2002.
Marianne Blomqvist, Vad heter finlandssvenskarna? (“What are Swedish-speakers called?”) Svenska folkskolans vänner 2006.
Orthodox name days
The Orthodox name day calendar is based on the calendar of the Finnish Orthodox Church. The Orthodox name days are published annually in an almanac called Ortodoksinen kalenteri (“Orthodox Calendar”).
According to the tradition of the Orthodox Church, every day of the year is dedicated to the memory of a holy figure. As saints, the Church honours “martyrs who suffered for their faith, the great teachers and confessors of the Church, the true disciples of Christ who struggled, and the steadfast defenders of His Church.”
A significant change has been made to the Orthodox name day list for 2024. The names of foreign-language saints have been given new names that are suitable for use by Finns.
It is typical of the Orthodox name day calendar that the same name may appear on several different days. For example, there are several saints in the calendar bearing the name Johannes, referring to John the Baptist, Saint John of Damascus, and Saint John Chrysostom. A person’s name day is always determined by the saint after whom they were named.
In the Orthodox Church, baptism means admission to the congregation. The child is usually given a name in connection with baptism, but the Church also has a separate naming ceremony on the eighth day after the child’s birth.
According to Orthodox tradition, children are given only one name. It is chosen according to a holy figure who is commemorated near the child’s own birthday or with whom the family feels a close connection. The name relationship is understood as a spiritual kinship that makes the saint the heavenly intercessor and protector of the child.
The website of the Finnish Orthodox Church: www.ort.fi
Saami name days
In 1997, the Saami people got their own name day calendar, compiled by Professor (now Professor Emeritus) Pekka Sammallahti from the University of Oulu. He also holds the copyright to it. This name day list, based on the Northern Saami language, is considered a significant cultural achievement both in Finland and in the other Nordic countries.
The Saami name day calendar has 566 names, of which 335 are male names and 231 female names. Most of the names are Saami forms of foreign names: for example, the Saami name for Vilma is Vilbmá and the name for Einari is Eidnár. Examples of traditional Saami names include the female name Juoksáhkká and the male name Ahkebeaivi. The calendar has not been revised since 1997.
In the 21st century, more and more children have been given Saami names. This may have been influenced by both the Saami name day calendar and the Saami Language Act that entered into force in 2004. The Act safeguards the right of the Saami people to maintain and develop their own language and culture and to use their own language with the authorities.
Ánne Nuorgam, Saamenkielisten nimistä (“On the names of the Saami”). Yliopiston nimipäiväalmanakka 2005 (“The University’s name day almanac 2005”).
Name days of cats, dogs and horses
In 2011, the University of Helsinki published name day calendars for cats, dogs and horses. The calendars were prepared by Marianne Blomqvist and Minna Saarelma-Paukkala.
The names of cats, dogs and horses were compiled into calendars based on academic theses, animal enthusiasts’ websites and literature in the field. Some of the names were obtained directly from the owners of the pets. The calendars include Finnish, Swedish and international names. Common first names given to pets, such as Otto or Venla, are assigned to the same days on which they appear in the name day calendars of people. Attention has also been paid to other special days in calendars. For example, the Saami National Day on 6 February is the name day of dogs called Joiku (“Yoik”, traditional Saami song), and the Defence Forces Flag Day on 4 June is the name day of dogs called Marski (“Marshal”) and Turva (“Security”).
The name day calendar for cats includes 593 names. Popular Finnish cat names are Mirre and Nöpö. Examples of international names include Batman and Cicciolina.
The name day calendar for dogs includes 659 names. Haukku and Peni are examples of traditional Finnish dog names, while Asterix and Picasso represent newer names.
The name day calendar for horses includes 590 names, ranging from official names of Finnhorses to nicknames used at stables. Traditional horse names include Harmo and Liinaharja, while Darling and Tomahawk are examples of newer ones.
Minna Saarelma, Koirien nimipäiväkirja (“Name day book for dogs”). Minerva Kustannus Oy 2011.
Minna Saarelma, Kissojen nimipäiväkirja (“Name day book for cats”). Minerva Kustannus Oy 2012.