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Origin of the Saari Surname


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A Tutorial on Finnish Surnames and Farm Names
With additional comments by Kalevi Kiesi.

These articles were copied from an archive site after the original David Saari's site went off line. Mr Saari responded: Please feel free to use this materian in whatever way mat be of help to other family historians

My surname ‘Saari’ comes from the Saari farm, located near Räyringinjärvi (Räyrinki Lake) in the Veteli (Vetil) parish, Vaasan Lääni, Finland (see map).

The Saari farm in Veteli, Vaasan Lääni, Finland

Standard surnames were not used universally in Finland until 1920. Prior to that time, surnames were adopted in western Finland mainly by members of the clergy, soldiers, merchants, and members of professional trades such as blacksmiths, carpenters, etc. Most members of farming communities in western Finland were known by their given names, patronymic names, and the names of the farms on which they lived.


The Patronymic Naming System

Like the other Nordic countries and parts of Russia, the names of members of the farming communities in western Finland are recorded in church and other records using the patronymic naming system. In addition to the person’s given name, the records list a patronymic name based on the given name of the person’s father. (If the individual was illegitimate and the name of the father was not known, the matronymic name would be used, which is based on the given name of the mother.)

The patronymic name was formed by adding ‘son’ or ‘dotter’ (for records in Swedish) or ‘poika’ or ‘tytär’ (for records in Finnish) to the given name of the parent. (Prior to the 1870’s, the Finnish church records were written in the Swedish language.)

For example. . .

My given name is David. My father’s given name is Jackie. (Yes, Jackie, although he was known as “Jack” to his friends.) My patronymic name would be “David Jackiesson.”

I have a daughter Amanda. Her patronymic name would be “Amanda Davidsdotter.”

Farm Names

In addition to a given name and a patronymic name, a farm name is used to identify the members of the farming communities in the Finnish church records.

If I lived on the “Saari” farm, my full name (given, patronymic, and farm name combined) would be “David Jackiesson Saari.”

If an individual moved to a different farm, that person would use the name of the new farm as his or her farm name.

Here is an example from my own family history:

My second great-grandfather, Anders Eriksson Patana was born 18 Feb 1840 on the Patana farm, Pulkkinen village, Veteli parish, Vaasan Lääni, Finland, to Maria Abrahamsdotter (Geddala) and Erik Andersson Patana. (See below for comments on the use of Finnish vs. Swedish forms of names.)

Anders married Lisa Johansdotter Saari on 13 June 1858 in Veteli. Lisa was born 17 May 1838 on the Saari farm in Veteli parish to Anna Lisa Eliasdotter (Finnilä) and Johan Jacobsson Saari.

Anders and Lisa lived on the Patana farm from 1858 to about 1868. During this period, the first five of their nine children were born. In the church records for this period, Anders is identified as Anders Eriksson of the Patana farm, and I record his full name as “Anders Eriksson Patana.”

Anders, Lisa, and their family moved to the Saari farm (Lisa’s birthplace) sometime between July 1867 (the birth of their son Anders Adolf) and August 1869 (the birth of their son Matts, my great-grandfather) After this relocation, Anders is identified as Anders Eriksson of the Saari farm. There is a picture of Anders in a history of the village of Räyrinki, and the Finnish version of his name “Antti Erkinpoika Saari” is used in this publication.

Which Farm Name Do I Put in My Genealogy Database?

Like many family historians, I use a genealogy database to organize my research results. And like most genealogy software programs, my database only has one surname field. Should I use ‘Patana’ or ‘Saari’ as the surname for my second great-grandfather Anders/Antti?

Some individuals use the name of the farm where the person was born as the surname (farm name) for females and the name of the farm where the person died as the surname for males.

Other individuals and organizations recommend using the birthplace farm name for both males and females.

Here is what I do:

  • If the individual has a surname in the church records, I use that surname in my genealogy database. For example, some of my ancestors were soldiers, and their soldiers’ surnames are used in the Isokyrö parish church records. I use the same surname for the children of that individual if there is evidence that the surname was used by one or more of the children.
  • If the person does not have a specific surname in the church records, I use the birthplace farm name, if I know it, for the surname for both males and females.
  • If I don’t know the birthplace, I use the name of the farm where the person was living at the time of their marriage (which usually is recorded in the marriage records).
  • If I don’t know the name of the farm where the person was living at the time of their marriage, I use the name of the first farm on which they lived as a married adult (which is taken from the birth/christening records for the birth of the person’s children and from the communion books).

The given names and patronymic name are entered in to the “Given Names” field of my genealogy database. All of the other farm names associated with an individual are listed in chronological order in the “Title-Suffix” field. For my second great-grandfather Anders, I have entered ‘Anders Eriksson’ in the Given Names field; ‘Patana’ in the Surname field; and ‘Saari’ in the Title-Suffix field so that his name is listed as ‘Anders Eriksson PATANA Saari’ in the database and on printed family group sheets, etc.

I also use a Farm and Village “fact” to record the name of the farm and village for each place where my Finnish ancestor’s lived. This “fact” includes a date field so that I can record the period when the individual lived at this farm.

Village Names and Subdivisions of Farms

In the Finnish church records, each farm is associated with a village. Because there may be two or more farms in a particular parish having the same farm name, the village name is an important part of the records associated with our Finnish ancestors.

When a farm was divided, a prefix often was added to the original farm name. For example, if the Saari farm were to have been divided, one part might have been called Yli-Saari (Upper Saari, usually given to the farm which stood on higher ground or upstream) and the other Ala-Saari (Lower Saari).

In the older church records, these prefixes may be used inconsistently. For example, in the christening records, the farm name may be recorded with the prefix for the christening of some children and without the prefix for other children.

Swedish vs. Finnish Forms of Given and Patronymic Names

The Finnish church records were written in the Swedish language prior to the 1870’s. Some individuals in Finland spoke Swedish and presumably used the Swedish forms of their names. For these individuals there is no inconsistency between the Swedish-language names as recorded in the church records and the names that these individuals would have used in their homes.

Other individuals spoke Finnish. Although the Swedish-language forms of their names are recorded in the church records, these individuals would have used the Finnish-language forms of names in their homes and conversations.

Among Finnish family historians, the question becomes, “Which form of the name is the ‘right’ name?”

There are several different answers to this question.

Some people use the Finnish forms of names for all individuals because, after all, these people lived in Finland.

Other people use the Finnish forms of names for people who have Finnish surnames/farm names and the Swedish forms of names for people who have Swedish surnames/farm names on the assumption that people with Finnish surnames would have spoken Finnish in their homes and people with Swedish surnames would have spoken Swedish in their homes.

I use the form of the name as recorded in the church records with the clear understanding that this is the “church record name” and not necessarily the name that the individual would have used in conversation.

More on Finnish Names

Kalevi Kiesi posted the following comments about Finnish surnames to the Finngen discussion list on 22 June 1997 (copied here with permission).

The most of Finns had surnames before the Swedish era. Then surnames step by step vanished in western and southern Finland. In eastern Finland surnames survived (in Savolax and Karelia).

The change most probably was due to the way of cultivating fields. In west and south there were natural fields. The people did not move much and so the tax collectors were not interested which family paid the tax of the farm, to keep in mind every farm was important. So the villages and farm was listed exactly. The farmer was put in the list but family name was not important.

In east people burned the forest, they prepared “kaski” and put the seed into the ash. While in west people were living every family in own farm and house in villages, in east families often lived in wildmarks, where families were large consisting all the relatives and often also outsiders called partners (bolagsman). In eastern farm there could live as many as sixty 60 persons in same house. They moved often because their way of burn the land for agriculture. Same place could be cultivated only few years. Recovering of that area took many years. The common factor to the tax collector was not the farm, but the person and the family (familyname).

Especially in the province of Savo (Savolax) male persons surnames were written in form of -nen and females -tar. In a family, whose father was Matts Suhonen (same as Suhoin or Suchoin), had sons whose names were Suhonen and daughters gotten names in form of Suhotar. When the people moved more north, east and south from Savo, this type of writing of names spread with them. But “the surname border” was quite sharp and clear. Maria Henricsdotter Suhonen was to east from that border Maria Suhotar and to the west Maria Henrichsdotter.

I have now found several practises in Ostrobothnia, mostly the people carried their farmname like David describes, but when we are looking the area between Oulu and Kajaani towns Ahonen-Ahotar type surnames can be found. The farm is Leinola, male inhabitant has surname Leinonen and female Leinotar.

Swedish names does not mean anything of your native language. Like said they are often soldier, craftman or town people names mostly people who did not have own farm. Many crofters got Swedish surname in 1800’s. Later in the 1800’s also more wealthy Finnish farmers began to use Swedish surnames in southwestern Finland though the family were totally Finnish speaking. Later in 1900’s there were two big waves to translate the Swedish names to Finnish, in 1906-1907, 100-year after the birth of J.W. Snellman, about 100 000 changed their names, and in 1935-1936, 100 years after the publication of the Kalevala, also 100&nbsp000. (Source, S. Karskela: Sukututkijan tietokirja, p. 298) Then many of surnames became also protected ones (only one family can have it). Also some totally Swedish speaking families have Finnish surname for some reason.

One type of foreign names came from schools. When a boy from Kajaani (Cajana) town was sent to school, except his first names were turned to latin he got an additonal name Cajanus (from Cajana). So Erich Jöransson Leinonen from Kajaani area could later have a fine latin name Ericus Georgi Cajanus (not a real person) or like a son of a southwestern riding farmer. His name was Grels Henricsson from Kulta farm near today Salo town. He went school in Turku in the beginning of 1700’s, graduated and got a chaplain’s post, the name then was Gregorius (Henrici) Chryselius (I think that Chrys- something in Greek means gold, which was the farm name—Kulta in Finnish). He was a real person.

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