Traditionally, surnames of Finnish descent come from a variety of sources, depending on the geography of the country.
Many of those families who come from the west of country have Swedish-Finnish surnames, while Finns who originate from the east tend to have surnames of Uralic descent, so have more in common with Latvian or Estonian names.
Either way, surnames of Finnish descent often have an interesting (and some might say exotic) vibe, so read on to find out about some of the most common Finnish last names, with their meanings and origins.
Ten most common Finnish surnames
So, we’re starting out with a list of the most common Finnish surnames, plus the number of people who have this surname in Finland in 2021, out of a population of around 5.5 million.
These are the most popular Finnish last names:
- Korhonen (22,637)
- Virtanen (21,964)
- Mäkinen (20,241)
- Nieminen (20,064)
- Mäkelä (19,111)
- Hämäläinen (18,369)
- Laine (18,260)
- Heikkinen (17,544)
- Koskinen (17,222)
- Järvinen (16,196)
The history of common Finnish surnames
In 1921, almost exactly a hundred years ago, a law was passed in Finland obliging everybody to have a surname. Up until then, communities tended to be fairly small and many people were just known by their first names.
Once it became a legal requirement to have a surname, many people simply adopted their job (such as Suutari, which means shoemaker) – or more commonly the place they were living, for example Aarnio, which means pristine forest.
Of course, if everybody who lived in a community took their name from their local geography it would lead to lots of people having the same surname! So suffixes and prefixes were added to narrow down where they lived.
Those who lived in the geographically higher part of the community added Ylä or Yli to their names, while those who lived lower down the valley or hill added Ala or Ali.
Why do Finnish names end in nen?
By far the most common suffix on Finnish surnames is nen, with more than a third of Finnish surnames ending like this. So, if you meet someone whose surname ends in nen, there’s a good chance that they are of Finnish descent.
The suffix originally came from eastern Finland and means literally “small”. Sometimes it is used to mean son, as in Hänninen, literally small Johannes or son of Jonannes, and sometimes it refers to the place the family originated from, as in Ahonen, which means small forest glade or clearing.
Finnish surnames and their meanings
We’ve looked into the most popular Finnish surnames’ meanings and you can see that the vast majority of them have a geographical origin. So, it’s clear that many Finnish families have surnames based upon where their ancestors originated from.
And, if you want to make sure that you use the correct Finnish pronunciation, check out this helpful video below.
Not a particularly flattering surname, Korhonen originates from the nickname korho or “deaf person”, so means literally “little deaf person”. However, the term also refers to someone who is elderly, aloof, clumsy or foolish.
Finland’s second most common surname means “small river or stream” and refers to the location near where these families originally lived.
Families named Mäkinen came from an area near a small hill, as the name comes from a combination of maki (hill) and nen (small).
The surname Nieminen comes from the Finnish word for “peninsula”, “cape” or “point” (nieimi) followed by the nen suffix. So families with this surname originally lived on or near a small peninsula or spit of land.
Mäkelä has the same derivation as the surname Mäkinen, and it means “near or connected to a hill”. So if you add together all the Mäkeläs and the Mäkinen, it’s clear that most Finnish families lived on or near a hill originally!
This is a surname that was adopted by families who came from the Häme district in the southwest of Finland, just north of Helsinki.
This surname come from the Finnish word laine, which means “wave” or “ocean”. It could mean that families with this name originated from the coast, or it might have a more figurative origin, perhaps suggesting someone who goes with flow!
This surname literally means son of Heikki, which is the Finnish equivalent of Harry. But the name Harry means “ruler of the estate” or “head of the household”, so it could be that the Finnish version refers to the son of the lord of the manor.
Finland’s ninth most common surname, Kosninen means literally “small rapids”. So it’s likely that families with this name originally lived near a fast-flowing section of a river or waterfall.
Järvinen means a small lake, so families with this name probably lived originally along the shores of a lake. It’s not surprising that this is such a common surname, since Finland is known as “the land of a thousand lakes”, but is actually home to a staggering 188,000 lakes.
Famous Finns and the meanings of their names
Two of Finland’s most famous sons are both racing drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Mika Häkkinen, and both have surnames with the nen suffix.
Mikka Häkkinen’s surname has two possible origins – it could mean “little cage” from the word häkki, which means “cage”, or it’s possibly a corruption of the word härkä (meaning “ox”), so “little ox”. Alternatively, it could be a variation on the name Heikkinen (see above).
As for Kimi Raikkonen, his surname is a combination of räikkö and nen, and literally means “small ratchet”.
And if you fancy finding out the Finnish version of your name, you can have some fun with this Finnish surname generator. Just type in your first or last name and it will come up with a Finnish version of your name.
We had great fun trying it out here at Routes North, and my name came out as Hilla Porola (which translates as Cloudberry, Home of the reindeer)!