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Helsingfors? Helsinki? Åbo? Turku?... Which is it?


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Debbie Santelli

Astute Quarterly readers have pointed out our occasional use of Finnish place names, suggesting that editorial staff pay closer attention to the use of the Swedish version in our newsletter. Someone forwarded to me the official recommendation of the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland, which can be viewed on the web at: this link

In their article online, authors Sirkka Paikkala and Mikael Reuter discuss the challenges concerning which place names should be used in a variety of instances and why. For example: "This question was recently brought up again, as the name-counseling services of the Research Institute received an inquiry from a municipality about which names they should use in their English brochure. Finnair's magazine Blue Wings was criticized last autumn for using the title 'Timeless Tammisaari.' The editorial board contacted the name-planning services to find out how this 'perpetual problem' was to be tackled. A translator explained in the Översättaren (8/96) ('Translator') magazine that she had until then solved the problem by using the Finnish or Swedish names of the source text and giving the name in the other language in brackets as a translator's note.

The uncertainty is understandable. So far, there have been no recommendations to the question. However, there is a clear need for consistent guidelines, at least as regards official publications."

Finally, the authors recap: "At the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland, we have already studied this question in cooperation between the Finnish and Swedish Language Planning Departments. Our studies have shown that we should not make our judgment only on the basis of the lingual status of the area in question, but that we should also pay attention to the language of the text itself, so that the languages close or cognate to Finnish or Swedish would have a special position."

As a member of the Swedish Finn Historical Society Quarterly newsletter's editorial team, I will certainly endeavor to use the Swedish names in light of the subject matter of our publication. Admittedly, I have always used the place names that have been provided by submitters of articles, but I can plead ignorance no longer.

For more information about places in Finland, SFHS has an excellent article available on the SFHS website with an in-depth explanation of the unique place names of Finland called "The Search for Origin and Definition of Place Names," by Edvin Brännbacka and translated into English by June Pelo. See the complete text at: this link.

In preparation for another trip to Finland in 2004, I recently picked up a travel guide published by Lonely Planet Publications (www.lonelyplanet.com) called "Finland" (ISBN 0-86442-649-6). In the appendix is a comprehensive list of municipalities that may bear Swedish and/or Finnish names on maps and street signs. If, like me, you aren't a native of Finland, you might want to review the list accompanying this article to help with any confusion. Many thanks to those who pointed out the problem and provided helpful information - another SFHS mission accomplished!

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