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Finland and My Name by Anita Boey

19 May, 2012 (11:51) | Random, Surviving in Finland | By: Anita Boey


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Finland and My NameGoing to Finland was one wacky idea that I had so I enrolled myself in several universities in Finland. I did not put much hope on receiving an acceptance offer. But I just wanted to put my resume in to see what happens.

About a month or less after I did so, I got an email from Finland. I have been accepted into the University of Vaasa! First, I was shocked, secondly, I was more shocked and thirdly, I was STILL SHOCK at the idea of going to Finland for the next 2 years! I had the slightest idea of Finland! My only ever encounter with a Finn was my Math teacher back in high school; actually, he was only half-Finn! Now what do I do? Quickly reading up on Finland, the Finnish culture and Finnish language, I realized that not too much information can be found online (back then). Soon the word spread that I am going to Finland and many of my friends didn’t even know where Finland is on the map! So for about a month’s time before going to Finland, my Facebook profile photo was of the world map, with Finland pointed out. To save myself some explanation to do, this Facebook profile photo idea really helped a lot!

My first ever contact with a “real” Finnish person was when I went to the Finnish General Consulate in New York City. I handed in my application for a Finnish student permit and the lady over the counter asked in a thick Finnish accent (of course at that time I just thought she had an interesting accent but didn’t think much of it), “Are you a Finn? You have a Finnish name.” The lady had a very warm smile on her face as if she hasn’t seen another Finn for a long time. Unfortunately, I had to burst her bubble by replying, “Sorry, I am not a Finn. I just have a very international name.” Trust me; in all of the countries that I have lived in, Anita is a “local” name. They may pronounce it differently, but it’s always spelt the same. That’s also how I almost missed my flight in Oslo, but that story I shall leave for another day…

Yes, and speaking of names, the Finns celebrate name days. If you haven’t heard of a “name day”, you are not alone. I was confused when I first heard of the concept. Every day of the calendar (excluding New Year’s Day, Christmas Day and February 29) is dedicated to a name or a group of similar names. So for example, on October 22, those whose name is Anita, Anitta or Anja celebrate their name days. The Finns describe it as “a small birthday”, meaning that a small feast is held at home and sometimes a small present is received on that name day. Practical tip here: if you don’t want to buy your child two birthday presents in a year, pick a non-Finnish name! ;P

Another interesting tradition in Finland is to have several names picked out for each generation. For example, I have met many elderly Finns (50 years and older, with the oldest person being 99 years old) who come to tell me that their best friend or sister or mother shares the same name as I do. I never hear a young Finn tell me the same. I deduce that the name Anita was popular and widely used 3 generations ago. My 99 year old “mummi” (grandma) shows me photos of her late sister whose name is also Anita. Now I finally understand why I was able to make more elderly friends than younger Finnish friends when I was in Finland. I guess that at the sound of my name, Anita, the older generations have flashbacks of their youth and childhood days. ? Nice.

So the next time you are looking for a suitable name for your new born child, please think about how the name will affect the child’s life! :)
-Anita Boey

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