View Full Version : Transition from patronymics to surnames

27-10-03, 11:52
Many generations of my Finnish ancesters used patronymics without a surname until the 1800s, when they supplemented their names with a surname taken froim their communal farm. What event or reason was there for this change in practice. Was it implemented during Russian or Swedish rule? Would it be similar to the European practice of appending a name with the city of birth, e.g. Loenardo De Vinci (of Vinci)?

27-10-03, 13:09
There is a rather good tutorial on finnish surnames at



27-10-03, 13:48
Thank you for the article URL. I am still not sure what event started the use of farm names. Also, did they use these farm names to refer to themselves, or is it a convention we have adopted as genealogists?

27-10-03, 14:27
I'm not an expert on this subject, but i don't think that they used surnames at all before mid 1800. Usually they used their patronymics names, or a more or less polite nickname. In the church records in Vörå they started to use surnames (farmnames) 1839. The reason for this was (probably) that the population grew rapidly and became more moveable, so they had to keep better records than before. My grandfather (born 1899) was called Johan Erik Eriksson all the time. The only times he used his surname was on more "official" occations. There was a name reform early 1900 (can't remember when - but it was during the russian time), that forced all to have a "real" surname - a name that was inherited by thier children wherever they moved.

Maybe some meber has researched this better than me?


27-10-03, 14:31
The naming convention is complex but I have the feeling that people "back then" were indentified as "Matts på Merijärvi", ie. "Matts on Merijärvi farm" or short "Matts Merijärvi". If there was a need to be more accurate or if there was a chance to mix up people the patronymic was used.

This farmname was kind of a surname, not in the context we have our familyname today meaning of "clan Merijärvi" but in the context "living on the Merijärvi farm". This Matts would be under the heading "Merijärvi" in the communion books along with the housefolks and the "pigor/drängar" that worked on the farm.

During the first decades of the 1900's Finland got a surname legislation and after this people had to have a proper surname, and this surname was passed down to the daughters and sons.

I don't know to what extent people themselves identified themselves as "Matts Merijärvi" but from protocols of meetings one can see that the farmer's marks has a descriptive addition where the farm name is mentioned. This may mean that the administration at least saw this "Matts" as "Matts Merijärvi".

27-10-03, 14:53
Before 1700 some of the names are indeed invented by genealogists. A good example is Lasse Lassila (b. abt 1490). The name Lassila comes from tha fact that it was Lasse's farm, but I'm certain that Lasse himself didnt use Lassila as a surname or a farmname. Tha name Lassila came after a couple of generations. Some of the names in Korsholm (Mustasaari) are from 1703 when the sheriff decided that all farmes must have a unique name. Som names remaind unchanged, but many where renamed. Many of the "animal-names" in Korsholm (Räf, Hjort) are from this period.


27-10-03, 15:20
My surname is Enges, and the official name of the farm has always been Enges, but from early 1700 to about 1920 nobody used that name. The house was "Thomasus" (i.e. Thomas' place), so if they used a name it was probably "Thomasus Johan" instead of Johan Enges. It was - and still is - usual to use the surname first. When I introduce myself to a person living in Vörå it's always "Enges Anders" - to a non-native its "Anders Enges".
The origin of the Thomasus name was that there was at least 4 generations when the farmowner's name was Thomas.

I guess that it was like this:
Relatives called him Johan
Village people called him Johan Johansson
- if there was a chance to mix up people they used a nickname instead or Thomasus.
Other called him Thomasus Johan (Johansson)
Church and law called him Johan Johansson Enges

There is a protocol from 1660 where they officially called Per Larson Lassila "Hara-gubben", and didn't use his real name at all. Hara-gubben was a (not that polite) nickname used locally.


27-10-03, 17:25

Can't say I'm an expert on this but I believe that the naming can be seen from two angels.

From the "administration's" side the farm name seems to have been in the papers/protocols quite a while. The fact is that the church or the jurymen needed more information about the person's identity than the given name+the patronymic. Some pointer to the farm/village was needed. As an example - the protocol transcribed here (http://sfhs.eget.net/P_articles/bomarken/B_Kronoby_01.html) from the 1730's has the farm name stated for every undersigned.

In the village the people were of course called by their given names or their nicknames - as they are today! The influence from the patronymic is there in the naming standard used. Thus people in my village were called "Anttas Matts", "Eirikas Per" etc. And another naming convention exist where the additional name came from the farm/house/village "Römbak Valdemar" or from the familyrelations "Alvas Margit", "Hanssas Margith"

I have a feeling that the naming standard has had both these angles a long time. As people has had little to do with the authorities the farmname was only seen in the communion books - otherwise the person went by his nickname when communicating with his neighbours and friends. The nickname often followed the person when moving to or marrying into another farm. The official "surname"/farmname changed as the person after the move belonged to another household.

Margaret Rader
27-10-03, 17:58
I'm no kind of an expert at all, but I would like to add that in the case of my family, it appears that a farm name associated with the family (Granholm) moved with a member of the family when he moved from Malax to Petalax. It even shows up, rarely, in parish records although usually the family is listed under the new farm name, Österback. And I do know for sure that my grandfather thought of his surname as Granholm when he came to the USA, although he immediately changed it to Holm.
The name changes when people came to America certainly complicate the matter even more.


June Pelo
27-10-03, 21:35
My father grew up in Pelo village, Nedervetil. His name was Anders, his father was Anders whose father was also Anders - thus there were 3 Anders Andersson Pelos living there. They called my father Antas Thure (using his middle name), and his grandfather was called Pelos Antas. My father couldn't speak any English so when they came through Ellis Island he was asked what surname he wanted to use: Andersson or Pelo. He chose Pelo because he thought there would be too many people named Andersson. He also said that the Ellis Island officials could speak many languages, including Swedish, so they had no language problem. I recently watched a TV program about Ellis Island and it was mentioned that the officials there tried to use the emigrant's names as they appeared on documents - they did not require the emigrant to change his name. I have heard many comments that officials chose last names for people, but it doesn't appear to be true.

Here is an article about how names were changed by emigrants after arrival in their new homeland.


Gita Wiklund
27-10-03, 23:46
Hi everyone,

there is an article written by Sirkka Paikkala "Från olika namnsystem till ett enhetligt släktnamnssystem i Finland" with a summary in english published at the site of The Genealogical Society of Finland. Youll find it here:



06-11-03, 04:28
I suppose I should add my bit :)

My father, Yrjö [George]Mäki once told me his father changed their surname to Mäki from Linnamäki because he didn't like being named for the "jail house".
It is also interesting to note that he appears in the Apostolic Church books in Republic, Michigan as Yrjö but his Marquette County birth certificate shows him as George.


06-11-03, 18:53
I've been told that in the 19th century and earlier a person could go to the priest an ask to be called by a surname.

"I want to be called Backlund Anders Johansson" would say, and the priest wrote the name in the communion book "v.h. Backlund". The v.h. meaning "vill heta" (wants to be called).

A man moving to his wifes farm started often to use that farm's name as a kind of surname. But it also happened that he took his father-in-law's surname if he had one.

Anders Portinus (1757-1820) had a daughter named Clara Andersdotter. She married Per Mattson and their children including my great great grandfather Johan used the surname Portin. Why our family had a "real" surname so early, I do not know. The name goes in fact as far back as there are church books. Perhaps it's of foreign origin from middle or south Europe.

For instance the Vallons who came to Sweden and Finland in the 17th century as well as many of the Baltic and German merchants had surnames already when they came.