All over the world, this small country is known as Finland, and only Finns themselves prefer to call it by the mysterious word Suomi. Even more exotic to foreign ears sounds the official name of the republic – Suomen Tasavalta. How did this word appear? No one can give an exact answer, but science offers several convincing hypotheses.
Origin of the name: Finland
Many peoples use self-names (endoethnonyms), which sometimes vary from the names assigned to them by the international community. For example, Hungarians call themselves Magyars, while ethnic Chinese refer to themselves by the word Han.
With Finland, the cardinal differences are because of the remoteness of the languages from which both names are derived. The word Finn, like Finlandia, is of Germanic origin, whereas the self-name Suomi is presumably of Finno-Ugric or Proto-Baltic origin. Originally, Finnish dialects did not even have the letter F, so in the modern language it is used only for loanwords.
The first written mention of the Finns can be found in the works of ancient scholars. According to Ptolemy’s Geography, people with this name lived on the territory of the modern Baltic. In ancient times, another Finno-Ugric tribe, the Saami, inhabited the eastern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula.
They were engaged in hunting and gathering, so their neighbors – ancient Germans, called them Finn (from Old Upper German finthan – “to seek”, “to notice”). Later, the Baltic Finns occupied the Scandinavian Peninsula, pushing the Saami northward, and the Germanic name spread to them as well.
The words finnr and finnas appear many times in the Icelandic Eddas and Norse sagas of the XI-XIV centuries. The name was fixed in Swedish, and from there it spread to all the other languages of the world. It was the Swedes who first began calling this land Finland.
Origin of the word Suomi
The history of the Finnish name of the country is still unclear. It first appears on the pages of Novgorod chronicles. Sumi – so our ancestors called the people who settled in the coastal areas in the southwest of modern Finland. This region even today is officially called Varsinais-Suomi – “Native Finland”.
Scientists have offered several hypotheses regarding the origin of the word Suomi. Many mistakenly associate it with the indigenous people of Finland – the Saami, but most etymologists do not support this idea.
According to one of the most popular versions, the name Suomi comes from the Finnish words suo and maa, which literally means “land of swamps”. After all, in the early twentieth century, one-third of Finland was covered with impassable swamps. Many swamps have been drained and converted into farmland, but they still occupy a large part of the country.
According to another version, the name comes from the word suomu – “fish scales”. It is known that the people inhabiting this area were avid fishers and even made clothes of fish skin.
Where in the world is Finland called Suomi?
Some scholars argue Suomi was borrowed from Proto-Baltic languages and comes from the word zeme, “land. In the Baltic countries, Finland is still called by similar words: Suomija in Lithuania, Somija in Latvia, and Soome in Estonia. According to this theory, the borrowing of the Finnish dialects occurred several times and served as the basis for the appearance of the words Suomi (Finland), Häme (a geographical region in Finland), and Saami (the name of the modern inhabitants of Lapland).
In 1917, Finland was proclaimed an independent state, and the self-name Suomi gained an official status. It is the word that appears on postage stamps and commemorative coins and can be seen on the uniforms of the Finnish ice hockey team.
Despite the abundance of hypotheses, all of them are accepted by the scientific community with a share of skepticism, from which we can conclude that the mystery of the origin of the name Suomi remains unsolved to this day.
Suomi is the official name of Finland, which is used mainly inside the country. The exact origin of the word is not clear. It probably goes back to Proto-Finnish suo, or Proto-Baltic zeme, meaning “land”. The international name of the country, Finland, has Germanic roots. So the land of the Finns was called by their closest neighbors, the Swedes. From Swedish, the name spread around the world. Outside the country, the word Suomi for Finland is officially used only in the Baltic countries. The preservation of the historical self-name is an important component of the national identity of the Finns.