Etusivu > Julkaisut > Castrenianumin toimitteita > CT 51

Castrenianumin toimitteita 51

Riho Grünthal

Livvistä liiviin. Itämerensuomalaiset etnonyymit


This book deals with Finnic ethnonyms, i.e. names referring to Finnic groups either linguistically or geographically. The Finnic languages can be classified in several ways, depending on the system used to define languages and dialects, and the boundaries thereof. The relationship between the Finnic languages and the peoples speaking them can be variously described, this being contingent on whether it is the native speakers themselves or the neighbouring Baltic, Germanic or Slavic tribes who are attempting to determine the ethnolingual picture.

The connections of the Finnic peoples with peoples located in other geographical areas can be seen in the occurrence of Finnic ethnonyms from old historical sources. Old Roman and West European sources like Tacitus' Germania (De origine et situ Germaniae) include valuable information about (Swedish) finne, Finland and (Estonian) Eesti, eestlane, and as far as the early records of the East Finnic peoples (Vepsians, Votes, Chudes etc.) are concerned, the early Russian sources are invaluable. The history of the Goths (De Origine Actibusque Getarum, c. 550 A. D.) by Jordanes, although concentrating mainly on the history of the Goths, also contains lists of peoples that are of the utmost importance for the study of the history of the North European and Uralic tribes. Likewise Nestor's Chronicle (Povest' vremennyh let), with its stress on the early history of the Russian Empire and rulers of Kiev, maintains marginal but, nevertheless, important records concerning the Finnic peoples. A source of indisputable value and an accurate description of the German conquest of Estonia and Latvia is Henrici Chronicon Livoniae, the Livonian Chronicle of Henric (the text is probably from 1224–1227, Tarvel 1982, 6).

Topographical terms like 'land', 'hill', 'shore' and 'isle' (e.g. Votian mäciläizeD 'the people of hill', orkolaizeD 'the people of valley') have been used as ethnic classifiers, rather than as place names and proper nouns, in some multiethnic territories. This seems generally to be the case in areas like Ingria where language boundaries are not very sharp and the speakers havealways had close contact with other ethnic groups, or at least have been able to understand their language. However, some ethnonyms that have a semantically transparent structure, e.g. (Estonian and Votian) maarahvas, (Livonian) raandali, make one ask whether such types of expression have been essential as ethnic classifiers in an earlier period, too. Some etymologies suggested for Finnic ethnonyms seem to support this idea.

Most of the ethnonyms used for different countries and areas or peoples in the world today are based on expressions that are proper nouns when they enter the language. It can be assumed that the need for proper nouns arises when topographical descriptions are no longer able to sufficiently distinguish areas, languages and their speakers. On the other hand, there are old Finnic ethononyms like (Finnish) Suomi and Häme that, although they were borrowed as proper nouns, probably originated from a semantically neutral expression like 'land'.

Ethnonyms can be split up ethnically and geographically on a semantic basis, the former referring to a people and population, the latter to a geographical object. Finnic ethnonyms usually signify both the speakers of a language and the area inhabited by an ethnic group, although even a superficial analysis will reveal that either the ethnic or the geographic denotation was created by means of derivation or arose from a secondary meaning. Of Finnic ethnonyms (Finnish) Suomi, Karjala, Vatja, Inkeri, Viro and (Latvian) Igaunija can be considered of geographical origin, whereas (Swedish) finne, (Finnish) lyydi(läinen), vepsä(läinen), tsuudi, eesti(läinen) and liivi(läinen) are primarily of ethnic origin.

The common noun source of the Finnic ethnonyms cannot be traced from any clear lexical or semantic category. Neutral meanings such as 'land', 'man', 'people', 'language' seem to be primarily stative, whereas antonymic expressions like Livonian raandali 'Livonians (people of the coast)' >< saarli 'Estonians (people of the island)', raanda-kuràli (~ raandali) 'Livonian (Curonians of the coast)' >< moo-kuràli 'Latvian (Curonians of the land)' or Latvian Igaunija (see later) are more classifying. Theories based on the meaning 'wedge' ((Votian) vad'd'aa tseeli 'Votian language', vad'd'a 'wedge') are rejected in this work.

Finnic ethnonyms can be grouped according to their background as follows:

Proper nouns that entered the language as proper nouns or that are merely opaque: (Finnish) eesti, liivi, lyydi, Inkeri, Suomi, vatja, vepsä, (Latvian) Igaunija.


Proper nouns that originally referred to a smaller area, i.e. only a part of their present-day denotation. These types of ethnonyms sometimes closely resemble place names: (Finnish) Inkeri, Karjala, Suomi, vatja, Viro.


Proper nouns that have lost both their connection with the original common noun and semantic motivation: (Finnish) Karjala.


Expressions with a transparent common noun origin: (Estonian (Votian)) maakeel, maarahvas, (Livonian) kalàmi'eD, raandali.


Ethnonyms that are used only by non-Finnic-speaking tribes: (Estonian) Eesti (originally), (Swedish) finne, (Russian) chud'.


The etymologies for the most widely spread Finnic ethnonyms suggested or favoured in this volume can be summarized as follows:


The name Finland (Swedish) Finland, finne 'Finn' has never been used by the Finns themselves. The oldest record (Tacitus 98 A. D.: fenni) and the compound word structure of Finland lead one to conclude that finne must be considered a primary alternate for Finland.

The stem finne (< findo 'Finder' < *fenthan- ~ *fenthn-) may originate from the same word as (Old High German) fendo, (Middle High German) vende 'pedestrian; wanderer' (*fanthian-), (Old High German) fand_on, (Anglo-Saxon) fandian 'research; try, check', (Middle High German) vanden 'visit', (Gothic) finthan, (Old High German) finthan etc., 'find, notice, get aware', etc. The original meaning suggested for finne by Hultman as early as 1896 is 'wanderer', an explanation describing the way of life of the people (cf. (Livonian) kalàmi'eD 'Livonians; fishermen'). This meaning conforms with what Tacitus wrote about the fenni. Fishers, hunters and people with no permanent dwelling place may be appropriately described as 'wanderers'.


Apart from Finnish the name Suomi 'Finland' is known in other Finnic languages as well: (Karelian) suomi 'Finland, Finnish language' ~ (Ludian) suom(i) id., suomelain'e 'Finn' ~ (Votian) soomi 'Finland, Finnish language', soomalain(õ), soom(õ)lain 'Finn' ~ (Estonian) Soome 'Finland', soomlane 'Finn' ~ (Livonian) sùom 'Finland; an inhabitant of Finland; Finn', sùomli 'Finn'. The oldest record is apparently the personal name Suomi (811).

The most prominent theory for Suomi was suggested by Koivulehto (in Virittäjä 1993). In his opinion the same Baltic word (Lithuanian) zem-, (Latvian) zeme 'land', often considered to be at the origin of the words (Finnish) Häme and (Sami) N sabme 'Sami, Lapp; Lapland; Sami language', sabmelas 'Sami, Lapp(ish)', can also be seen in the origin of Suomi. Koivulehto suggests that Proto-Finnic *^sämä had a parallel form in early Proto-Sami. The Proto-Sami form (later *saamee) was later re-borrowed by the Baltic languages (*saama-s). Koivulehto suggests that in the next stage the word was borrowed again by Proto-Finnic, where it began to take on the meaning South-West Finland, the territory closest to Sweden. The Proto-Baltic long a was substituted by Proto-Finnic long o as in the case of certain other Baltic loan words: (Finnish) huone, tuohi, vuohi, vuota.

Nevertheless, we need not base our theory on Proto-Sami. Kalevi Wiik (1996) proposes that instead of Proto-Sami, the word might have been borrowed back by Proto-Baltic *^säämää from Proto-Finnic *^sämä (< Proto-Baltic *^zeme). The Proto-Finnic open vowel would have then been substituted with the only open vowel possible in Proto-Baltic, long a.

The sibilant in the present-day Finnic and Baltic languages can be explained by assuming that in Baltic the original Proto-Finnic *^s ("sh") was retained when the word *^saamaas was reborrowed by Proto-Baltic. In Latvian *^s has become s through its own development, a fact which explains the form of the name Samu sala. Thus, in this particular case it seems reasonable to assume that the name Suomi was reborrowed by Proto-Finnic only when h became established as an independent sound in the Proto-Finnic phonemic paradigm. h is retained in some relatively old Germanic loan words like (Finnish) hipiä and hurskas. Because ^s occurred in neither Proto-Germanic nor in Proto-Scandinavian at that time (cf. LÄGLOS 1 1991, XI), there is no indication as to how ^s might have been substituted in Proto-Finnic.

In the present work it is suggested that from the very beginning Suomi and its earlier variants referred to the same area in Southwest Finland. This theory is based on the following scenario:

During the battle-axe culture Proto-Baltic *^zeme was borrowed into Proto-Finnic (*^sämä) as suggested by Koivulehto. The name roughly denotes the area where the battle-axe culture finds have been made.


At the time of the next West Finnish archaeological culture (Kiukainen culture) *^sämä split into two. This change took place when *^sämä was borrowed back into Proto-Baltic (*saama) and it began to take on the meaning of a much narrower area on Finland's southwest coast, whereas *^sämä (<< (Finnish) Häme; (Sami) sabme) continued to be used as the name for the inland area of the former battle-axe culture.


The next major cultural change that may be observed in the area of the Kiukainen culture shows the influence of Scandinavian bronze culture. Proto-Baltic *saama was inherited by the Proto-German language of this new culture. In Proto-German *^s did not occur and was substituted by *s, while *aa was substituted by *oo (Proto-Baltic *saama > *sooma- > Proto-Finnic *soome-). Both of these sound changes are characteristic of Proto-Germanic.


The ethnonym (Finnish) Karjala 'Karelia', karjalainen 'Karelian' (1143 in the Novgorod Chronicle) was used reflexively by various groups speaking Finnish dialects, Karelian and Izhorian. There are two alternate theories for the origin of this name both of which are based on the hypothesis that it has a common origin with (Finnish) karja 'stock, cattle'. Nevertheless, motivation for this ethnonym might be sought from the Finnic languages, since the original Germanic or Baltic reconstruction suggested for karja is difficult to connect chronologically with the rise of Old Karelia. Linguistic considerations alone suggest that the word could be as old as the early Baltic or Germanic contacts. One possible theory might be to assume the primacy of Karjala from which karjalainen would be derived. The other theory suggests that karjalainen is derived directly from the common noun karja, which would be analogous to (Finnish) vatja : vatjalainen, vepsä : vepsäläinen, etc. Even in this case the province name Karjala could be derived from karja, but then it must be understood as referring to 'the area of the Karelians' (karjalainen). In this case the derivative suffix -la would have a similar function as the second part of compound words like (Estonian) Eestimaa and -maa i.e. a formant the names of many provinces and countries. The meaning of karja(lainen) might be in this case 'group, herd, crowd (= people)' rather than 'people having a big cattle'.


The Olonets Karelians (livvi), Ludes (l'üüd'i) and some Veps have called themselves by an ethnonym usually considered to be a Russian loan word (< (Russian) ljudi 'people').


The periferal location of Veps districts and the lack of contacts are obviously the reason some Veps people did not use an ethnonym at all in describing themselves. The ethnonym (Vepsian) vepsl'äin'e, -laan'e, bepsläin'e, lain'e, -laan'e 'Veps', vepsan' kel', bepsan kel' 'Vepsian' may occur for the first time in the Jordanes Text (550 A. D.), but very little can be said concerning its origin. Apparently it is an old proper noun which had primarily or only an ethnic function.


Very many explanations for Finnic ethnonyms have erroneously been based on the homonymy between (Finnish) vatjalainen, vatja, (Votian) vad'd'alaine, vad'd'alain(õ) 'Vote (people)', vad'd'aa t^seeli 'Votian language' (first in the Novgorod Chronicle 1069) and (Finnish) vaaja, (Votian) vad'ja, vad'd'a 'wedge' and its analogy. This theory is abandoned in the present work. The following conclusions are drawn regarding the origin of vad'ja:

From an etymological point of view (Finnish) vatja, (Votian) vad'ja, vad'd'a) and (Finnish) vaaja, (Votian) vad'ja, vad'd'a 'wedge' ~ Sami U vyöy'jee 'patch (cloth)', etc. may belong together and be Baltic (or Germanic) loan words (< *vakja), cf. (Lithuanian) vágis (< *vagja-), (Latvian) vadzis 'wedge etc.'.


However, it is not necessarily the case that vad'ja originated as an ethnonym literally meaning 'wedge'; hence it can be presumed that the province name in Estonia Vaiga (< *vakja; cf. (Finnish) Vatjanmaa) is primary with respect to its ethnic meaning (Votian) vad'd'alaine, vad'd'alain(õ) 'Votian (people)'. The latter is apparently derived from the former (*vakja).


On the other hand, if in fact the name for Germany in the Baltic languages is of ancient origin - (Lithuanian) Vókia, (Latvian) Vacija 'Germany', (Lithuanian) vókietis, (Latvian) vacietis 'German (person)', the province name Vaiga could have been borrowed from this, although the origin of (Lithuanian) Vókia, etc. is obscure (Fraenkel 1272, Karulis 1992 2, 463-464). According to this theory the proper noun was borrowed by Estonian from the Baltic languages, and became the name of an Estonian province situated in the northern part of present-day Tartumaa. In the local dialect the original form *vakja was changed to Vaiga as a result of metathesis. In Votian ij (< *kj) changed to d'd', and maintained the secondary homonymy with the old common noun *vakja 'wedge' of Baltic origin. The homonymy occurred already in the Estonian dialect of North Tartumaa.


Thus, the original meaning of (Votian) vad'd'alaine, vad'd'alain(õ) could be 'the people of Vaiga, the inhabitants of Vaiga', which soon began also to denote the inhabitants of a larger cultural area, including the eastern shore of Lake Peipsi and the Votians. This is the way it became known in Russian sources, too. In the Votian language this ethnonym became another way, in addition to the old and neutral expression maa t^seeli, of refering reflexively to the Votian people and language.


(Russian) chud' (probably used by Jordanes in 550 A. D. to refer to some other people) is a good example of the difference between the Finnic languages and dialects, and other ethnic groups. Livonians apart this expression has been used of all Finnic tribes. The debate concerning the history of chud' has, in the main, taken place on the basis of two possible alternatives: whether or not the Chudes were an unknown Finnic tribe, or whether a Finnic group might be considered to be the original Chudes. Another question has dealt with the problem of whether the word (Russian) chud' has been borrowed by Sami (N ^cutte) or vice versa. Sami N ^cuttecannot be a borrowing from Russian chud', because ^c is always replaced by (Sami) with c- in early Russian loan words. Nevertheless, it might be suggested that Sami N ^cuttereflects sound changes taking place after the dispersion of Proto-Finnish and Proto-Sami: Proto-Finnish ?*^c'- > Proto-Sami *c- > Sami N c-; Proto-Finnish ?*c'- > Proto-Sami *c'- > Sami N ^c- (like *s' > ^c) (Korhonen 1981, 128). As Russian ^c- (ch-) has been replaced with c- in loan words occurring only in the easternmost Sami languages, it can be assumed that (Old) Russian *c- (~ *c'-) has respectively been replaced by Sami ^c-. This idea may be supported by the typographical form tjud' in early written sources as well as by Komi t's'ud'.


(Finnish) Inkeri 'Ingria', inkeriläinen 'Ingrian', (Izhorian) inGerikkoi 'Ingrian', inGerläin 'Ingrian' (first in Henrici Chronicon Livoniae 1221), the only Finnic ethnonym that has been proposed as based on a personal name. Another theory suggests that it was originally a place name, or more precisely the name of a river. It has been assumed that the name Ingria became important in the era when Sweden, the principality Novgorod and the Germans fought for supremacy over the area.


In Finnish Estonia is called (Finnish) Viro (virolainen 'Estonian', viro 'Estonian (language)) after its nearest province to Finland Virumaa (first mentioned in Scandinavian runic writings of the 12th century, several records in Henrici Chronicon Livoniae). The oldest expressions used by the Estonians themselves are transparent; (Estonian) maarahvas 'people of the land', maamees 'man of the land' respectively maakeel 'language of the land'.

The most serious attempt so far to explain the etymology of (Finnish) Viro leans on its similarity to the Baltic word meaning 'man': (Lithuanian) vyras, (Latvian) virs; cf. (Yatvingian) wiros (Karulis 1992 2, 537), not at all an unproblematical comparison, since the Baltic (Lithuanian and Latvian) words force one to presuppose an original form of *ii. Generally speaking Baltic *ii was also maintained in Finnic. The only exception is (Finnish) virsi 'hymn' (? < Baltic, cf. (Old Prussian) wirds; (Lithuanian) vardas '(first) name', (Latvian) vards 'word; speech; promise; name'). On the other hand, if the form wiros cited by Karulis represents an old variant of the word meaning 'man', the theory of the Baltic origin of Viro may be considered possible and the compound form Virumaa (Viro + 'land') would represent an older and non-elliptic form of the name.


Also, the southern neighbours of the Estonians, the Latvians, call Estonia (Latvian) Igaunija (igaunis, igauniete 'Estonian' (masc. and fem. forms); igaunisks 'Estonian (language)') after the nearest province to Latvia (Estonian) Ugandi (first mentioned in Henrici Chronicon Livoniae). The name was used earlier in a compound form igaunu zeme, the latter part adding the characteristic 'country, land' to the name. Similarly, the Livonians have called the Estonians after the closest Estonian district to them (saarli 'Estonian', saarmaa keel 'Estonian language' < Saaremaa 'Ösel').


The present work suggests that (Estonian) Ugandi (> (Latvian) Igaunija) is primarily a place name and may originate from the Old Russian common noun *ug 'south, southern land, southern wind' (~ (Russian) jug, juga 'dry; fog; hot', juzhnyj (uzhnyj) 'southern, south' ~ (Ukrainian) jug ~ (Old Church Slavonic) jugû, (Bulgarian) jug 'south, southern wind' etc.). Originally, the name may have been used as a contrastive antonym, e.g.

from a particular geographical standpoint: (the people of) the South (Estonia) >< (the people of) the North (Estonia) or, even

b) (the people of the South (Estonia) >< the people using this ethnonym and their habitat.


(Estonian) Eesti 'Estonia; Estonian language', eestlane 'Estonian', the form with which the Estonians and most other peoples refer to them, was already recorded by Tacitus in Germania in 98 A. D. (aesti : aestiorum gentes). There is, however, no clear evidence concerning the history of this ethnonym. What Tacitus wrote suggests it was first used to denote the people (not a Finnic tribe) of the south-eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Primarily it was an ethnic ethnonym, although in Tacitus' text it is apparently connected geographically with the south-eastern coast of the Baltic Sea.

The existence of an aesti people was indicated by other medieval writers and especially Scandinavians. An original common noun source might be sought in a (Proto) Germanic or (Proto) Baltic language.


The Livonians have had many ways of refering to themselves: (Livonian) kalàmi'eD, raandalist, kuràlist and liibi, liivõ-keel' 'Livonian language', liivõ(z), liibõ(z), (seldom) liivnika 'Livonian', and this use of the latter (first mentioned in the Chronicle of Nestor') has also been used by the Latvians. The etymology of this ethnonym is obscure. It is clear even though that even the first literary records connect it to the old Livonian territories of present-day Latvia

NB! For technical reasons, some words in this text appear in (over)simplified transcription!