Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Why Is It "Suomi"?

This woman hasn't stopped since PyeongChang as Venla Hovi has been doing media appearances all week thus far after the University of Manitoba Bisons women's hockey team captured the 2018 U SPORTS National Women's Ice Hockey Championship. Venla, as you may know, also captured a bronze medal at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games this past February while representing Finland. The funny thing about Finland, though, is that all the Finnish national teams wear the name "Suomi" across their gear rather than Finland. Why is Finland not "Finland" in Finland?

I have often wondered this myself how a country like Finland calls itself something very different than what the rest of the world calls it. Well, it turns out that Finland DOES call itself Finland. You just have to know the story to put the dots together.

Amy McPherson of BBC Travel decided to find out where the Suomi name came from and why Finland isn't used by Finland on their uniforms.
"[Krista] Fransman explained that the name 'Finland' was not Finnish-born. In fact, the original Finnish alphabet didn't even contain the letter 'f', which was introduced to the language through borrowed words. One theory is that the name 'Finland' comes from the Old English word finna, a general term once used to describe people from Scandinavia. However, some historians believe its origins are actually Swedish, where the words finlonti and finlandi are believed to have been used as early as the 12th Century to describe the land that is now the south-western part of modern Finland."
That's interesting if the name "Finland" truly came from their neighbours in Sweden. There's a heckuva rivalry between the Scandinavian nations when it comes to most sports, but to have your arch-rivals provide your name that the rest of the planet uses? That's a new level of bulletin board material!

Miss McPherson pushed on in trying to find the origins of Suomi.
"'There is no certain knowledge about the real origin of the name 'Suomi',' said [National Museum of Finland] curator Satu Frondelius. 'One theory is that Suomi comes from word 'suomaa' which means 'swampland' in Finnish.' She noted that the south-western part of the country is home to numerous lakes, which could have looked like swampland to outsiders. 'Another theory is that the word comes from 'suomu', which means 'scale' [of a fish], suggesting that people in Finland wore clothes made out of fish skins.'"
I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone wear clothes made out of fish skins, but I'm pretty sure that society would need to discard their clothes regularly due to the smell. The idea of the swampland and people that live in and around those lands makes much more sense when you consider that explorers would have come from the south, but Miss Frondelius didn't really provide any hard and fast evidence of this being true.

Miss McPherson found one more theory.
"A third theory led me to Finnish Lapland in search of the Sami, a traditionally nomadic tribe of reindeer herders. According to Klaas Ruppel, etymology expert at the Institute for the Languages of Finland, some linguists believe that both 'Sami' and 'Suomi' derive from the same proto-Baltic word, źemē, which was used to refer to land or territory, and the people living on that land.'
Again, this seems like a more likely origin of the word "Suomi". People have always described the societies they have found by the lands and environments they're found in, and I would tend to believe an etymology expert when it comes to the origin of specific words.

Miss McPherson makes an important observation about the Finns towards the end of the article. She writes,
"While traditionally Finland's Sami identify themselves as Sami first and Finnish second, this connection to the land seemed similar to the importance Finns place on nature and their surroundings."
And she follows that point with another quote from her friend, Krista Fransman.
"'I think in this multicultural world, lesser-known languages such as Finnish enrich the versatility of the country's culture,” she said. 'Finnish is our language and 'Suomi' is the word for 'Finland' in Finnish. It is only natural for us to use the name of our country in our own language.'

"However, Fransman added, Finnish, or Suomi, identity wasn't something she spent much time thinking about. 'Being Finnish means I appreciate quietness, the space and the nature around us,' she said."
I found that last line very interesting as I've heard Venla Hovi talk about the space and nature in Winnipeg. Maybe Miss Fransman is right in that an identity should be something we can be proud of, but it's our work as a society that should define us as a nation. Finland, like Canada, is passionate about hockey, and both countries usually rate high on both the Environment Performance Index and on lists of the best countries to live in. I'd say both societies are doing a good job at being good societies when it comes to the important things that people value.

If Canada was named from the Huron-Iroquois word "kanata" meaning "village" or "settlement," I'd be inclined to lean towards the swampland theory or the Sami theory since it describes Finnish society of centuries past. Regardless of what the origins are, the people of Finland should be as proud of Venla Hovi, Teemu Selanne, and Patrik Laine as the people of Winnipeg are.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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