Helsinki and its Names

– an Evening of Presentations and Discussion

by Ossian Hartig

On the evening of the 28th of November our group of three onomasticians: Terhi Ainiala, Väinö Syrjälä and I held presentations at Tieteiden talo (The House of Science and Letters) in Helsinki, hosted by Kotikielen seura – The Society for the Study of Finnish. The heading title of the evening was Kaupunkinimien kerrostumia: sosio-onomastisia näkökulmia Helsingin paikannimistöön (Layers in the Namescape of Cities: Socio-onomastic Viewpoints on the Place Names of Helsinki). The event collected an abnormally large crowd of listeners.

Terhi opened up the evening by telling the audience about the corpus’ onomastical approach to the variation of the two slang names for Helsinki: Hesa and Stadi. The corpus was collected from the popular Finnish discussion forum Suomi24.

In his presentation Väinö told about the linguistic landscape of Helsinki from the turn of the last century, especially of multilinguality in commercial names. Väinö used old photos to show, how Russian, Swedish and Finnish were used on for example the storefronts of shops in the city and how the usage of different languages changed when years went by. Väinö also discussed what kinds of difficulties a researcher has to face when researching the linguistic landscape from such a long time ago.

In my presentation I presented my initial findings about his research into the place names of the military island Santahamina, located in South-Eastern Helsinki.

The presentation covered two major themes: the official street names of Santahamina and the slang varieties for the island’s name.

Finnish conscripts taking part in the fighters’ examination, on a break in the forest area next to the road Eteläkärjentie/Söderuddsvägen of Santahamina. The roads literal translation “Southern Tip’s Road” is due to it leading to the southernmost part of the island. The fighter’s examination is mandatory test that must be passed to progress in the training.
FOTO: Ossian Hartig.

Santahamina received its very first official street names and signs in 2011 after more than a decade of using tsar-era (pre 1917) signage that consisted of letter-number-combinations. The official naming was presented with to tracks that contributed to the process reaching its conclusion in 2011. Firstly, the official documents from Finnish Army Archives that laid out the official reasoning for replacing the old naming system. Secondly there were the discussions held with local, long-time residents of the island who for a long time had pushed both the military and the city to recognize the unofficial oral place name tradition the island’s residents had used for decades.

A clipping from an Army document from 2012 showing the old sector and building numbers (Vanha numero) – the letter describes the sector; the number is the building. In the other columns one can see the (new) street name (Kadunnimi), the street number (Katunumero) and the street name in Swedish (Kadunnimi ruotsiksi).

In the second part of my presentation I discussed the variation of the different slang varieties of the name of the island, in particular the two rather similar Santis and Sandis. The latter, formed from the Swedish-language name Sandhamn, is mostly used by more mature language users and professional soldiers. Santis on the other hand is formed from the Finnish name. The surveyed conscripts (mostly 20-year olds) had never heard of the variant Sandis. The older segment was aware of the name Santis, but regarded it as the inferior or outright wrong name for Santahamina.

All the presentations inspired vivid conversation and questions from the crowd.

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