A detailed abstract of a book (Riho Grünthal, Livvistä liiviin. Itämerensuomalaiset etnonyymit [= Finnic ethnonyms], 1997) on “names referring to Finnic groups either linguistically or geographically.” The basic breakdown:

1. Proper nouns that entered the language as proper nouns or that are merely opaque: (Finnish) eesti, liivi, lyydi, Inkeri, Suomi, vatja, vepsä, (Latvian) Igaunija.
2. 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.
3. Proper nouns that have lost both their connection with the original common noun and semantic motivation: (Finnish) Karjala.
4. Expressions with a transparent common noun origin: (Estonian (Votian)) maakeel, maarahvas, (Livonian) kalàmi’eD, raandali.
5. Ethnonyms that are used only by non-Finnic-speaking tribes: (Estonian) Eesti (originally), (Swedish) finne, (Russian) chud’.

There are discussions of the etymologies of Finland, Suomi, Karjala, and many other terms. For Finland:

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’.


  1. Loads of us travel to Stockholm via ferry. I have heard that when they see someone acting in an unusual way over there they say: Det måste vara finne. (It must be a Finn.) On the other hand, when we take a ferry to Tallinn, they say: The rustlers are coming. (Because of the windproof clothes..) :o]

  2. Those that say it must be a Finn surely haven’t but up to the bar where Swedes [ and Finns ] get legless and sing some incredibly bad karaoke. Then again, this may not be seen as unusual behaviour :)

  3. What’s the difference between Finnish and Finnic? I thought it was strange that the French had both “Finlandais” (the people) and “finnois” (the adjective) and didn’t realize that English has two forms too.

  4. A logger friend of mine told me once that if you call a logger a Polack he laughs, but if you call him a Finn he doesn’t. American Finns had a big presence in the timber industry and also in American left-wing politics, especially in Minnesota. The Red losers of a civil war mostly came to the U.S.

  5. Srah: Sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier. “Finnic” bears much the same relation to “Finnish” as “Germanic” does to “German”; it’s a family within the wider Finno-Ugric family (which is comparable to Indo-European for Germanic). It’s basically the non-Ugric languages; you can get a general description here, and here are all the dialects. The other major Finnic language is Estonian.

  6. The “Turkish” / “Turkic” distinction is very controversial; Turkish nationalists and Pan-Turkists say that there’s one Turkish language, with many dialects, spoken from Turkey to China.

  7. Let them try talking to a Tuvan or a Chuvash and see how they get along.

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