The conference of Personal Names and Cultural Reconstructions

Text: Vilma Lauhakangas & Manu Paavilainen
Photographs: Oona Raatikainen

The writers are students at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Helsinki. They worked as conference assistants at the conference.

The conference of Personal Names and Cultural Reconstructions was held at the University of Helsinki on August 21ー23. The venue of the conference was Metsätalo (“forest house”), an 80-year-old building that once introduced its students to sciences that were far from linguistics. What is interesting about the decor of Metsätalo is that itshows all the species of wood native to Finland. During the first day of the conference, it was palpable that the beautiful wooden architecture had made a nice first impression on the visitors. 

A conference regarding personal names seemed to be something that the people in the field had been hoping to have for quite some time. The conference organizers and representatives of the University of Helsinki, Terhi Ainiala and Johanna Virkkula, were happy to welcome the 76 attending researchers from 28 countries. In addition to linguists and onomasticians, scholars from the fields of history, archeology and other disciplines were present. The programme of the conference included three keynote lectures, 50 session papers and nine posters. 

As the first keynote speaker, Ellen Bramwell from the University of Glasgow, opened the presentation part of the conference with a socio-onomastical look into personal names and the effect of dominant British and Scottish naming systems within different communities in Scotland. The second keynote, by Mr. Frog from the University of Helsinki, also had a local focus as it explored Finnic names and naming systems, and their connection to mythology and their value in historical reconstruction. The last keynote, by Aleksandar Loma from the University of Belgrade and Serbian Academy of Sciences, considered anthroponomastics and the problems of chronological and social stratification with a look into the use of zoonyms as given names among Indo-European people. The subject of personal names and naming systems was explored in a wide variety of ways spanning from deciphering ancient Etruscan cuneiform to modern trends of the use of syllables in Japanese given names.

The conference dinner was served in the well-known restaurant and culinary college Perho. After the dinner, there was a musical performance by the vocal group Kärhämä. The lyrics and composition were generated by Lotta Jalava, inspired by etymologies proposed by professor Janne Saarikivi. 

The following morning it was raining in Helsinki. The conference program of the last day still attracted a lot of people and soon the corridor was full of umbrellas and the sound of laughter. The sun came out eventually and the presentations continued until the afternoon. The conference ended with a closing session by the organizers, Terhi Ainiala, Jaakko Raunamaa, Janne Saarikivi and Johanna Virkkula. 

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