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What’s in a name? Perhaps an entire day!

What’s in a name? Perhaps an entire day!
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Well, this isn’t mere imagination. It actually happens in Finland. In the country popularly known as ‘Land of thousand lakes’, people not only celebrate their birthdays each year, but their name days as well and the tradition of assigning names to specific dates stretches back to medieval times.

A combined press run of around 14 million calendars is published in Finland each year. The practice of name days, whereby a name or set of names is assigned to each day in the calendar, has deep roots in Finnish culture,’ says Minna Saarelma-Paukkala, Head of the Almanac Office of University of Helsinki, which is responsible for coordinating name days.This custom goes back to the middle ages. We also have some names on the calendar from the pre-Christian era, then we have Catholic names, then Swedish names and some Russian names, she says.

Following this we have the Finnish names from the time of our national awakening, and then all kinds of newer names related to recent international influences. So, in a way when you look at the Finnish name day calendar, you can see the history of Finland in a nutshell, adds Minna.Over the centuries, the importance of such name days changed and so did the various traditions associated with it. ‘It’s a great feeling to have your name on the calendar. And for people like me to whom birthdays are like reminders of our growing age, celebrating name day is more special than celebrating birthdays,’ says 72-year-old Ulla Maija Tianin, a Finnish citizen. 

There are presently 834 names in the Finnish name day calendar and the list is updated every five years. The main criteria for inclusion of the names in the calender is that at least 500 people should have that name.The list being prepared for 2015 has a number of new names but the older ones will be retained too. Few names are removed from the list if they cease to exist over the years, while due to fluctuating popularity few names eventually return to their flavour, Minna explains.

‘The name day celebration don’t just end here. Finns also have official name day calenders for cats, dogs and horses as well!,’ says Daniel Paul, an Indian who is settled in Finland and runs his dance company.
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