Understanding place names in Finnish

Place names in Finland are very literal, frequently constructed with a suffix which is a noun, which describe exactly what the surrounding are is like. The following list is common place-suffixes which will be used throughout this blog, it should help the reader visualise what some of the unusual words mean. The words in brackets are the phonetic pronunciation.

-järvi: lake (yar-vi)
-joki: river (yo-ki)
-lahti: bay (lah-te)
-niemi: cape (ni-ay-me)
-ranta: beach (ran-ta)
-saari: island (sah-ri)
-suo: marsh (su-o)
-vaara: ridge (var-ah)
-salmi: strait or narrow (sahl-mi)
-suu: mouth, as in of a river (soo)
-koski: waterfall (o as in oval)
-kylä: village (kew-lah)
-ylä: meaning upper (ew-lah)
-ala: meaning lower (ah-la)
-pohjola: north (poh-yoy-la)
-etelä: south (ay-tel-ah)

y is pronounced ew
ä is pronounced like the a in apple
ö is prounced err
a is pronounced like the a in car


  1. Then, there are many place names that are from Western/Central Europe, or linked there. Example of this is Harjavalta, which contains a homonym for an Old German walda, currently wald, which means "power" or "might".

    The beginning can be found in, for example, karja, and there's a speculation that a Central European warrior-king called something like Khariowalda is the one who's given the name. The area has emerged in the Bronze Age as a fertile planting ground. And the amount of "karja" used to symbolise one's status more directly than modern people realise, I guess. Thus, a name for a place that was very desirable, and likely belonged to the most prestigious family, gets a likely name, both parts denoting status and might.

    Then there are names like Untamala, which refers to an old Finnish proper name Untamo, which is found in, e.g. Kalevala. A modern speculation is, that Western Finland, the Finland Proper is the Kalevala country instead of Carelia, which was traditionally used probably for political reasons, to show that historically it is a part of Finland. There are many such place names in South-western Finland.

    Anyhow, history is interesting, and old place names are very interesting indeed.

    Oh, and in Finnish, a is pronounced like the "a" in "car"; it's an open vowel.


    1. Thanks for the input. Car would probably be a better example than Air. History is a very interesting subject, Finnish history is amazing but has not really had much exposer in the English speaking world.