The Finnish names for the months are really descriptive – for example, were’re now in lokakuu – the mud/sludge month! The Finnish word for month is “kuukausi”, which literally translates to “moon period”, and the names of the months reflect the agricultural and cultural activities during each cycle of the moon. So, with the arrival of autumn – trees dropping their leaves, days getting shorter, and lot of rain – I’ve been thinking about the months again. And, the internet being a varied place, found some explanations and discussions (e.g. here and here) dealing with how the months got their Finnish names…

Autumn is here...

 

The first “moon” of spring is “toukokuu” – meaning the spring sowing month (i.e. when you sow your first crop). Apparently “toukotyöt is a term covering all ploughing and sowing one’s cornfield needs in spring” (see here). Toukokuu is followed by kesäkuu (summer or fallow moon), and then heinäkuu (hay month – it’s already time to harvest the pastures). In August you have to harvest your crops, so the month bears the name “elokuu”, which is apparently related to grains (although there’s some debate). Syyskuu is next as the seasons change, with it’s name being derived from the word for autumn (syksy).

The second month of autumn (October) is lokakuu. “Loka” is a type of mud, and reflects how much it rains in Finland in September and October (trust me – it has rained nearly everly day of this month). Another name for October is also “ruojakuu”, which apparently translates as misery month (which seems like a bit of an exaggeration to me so far!). November has an even worse name, though – marraskuu (death month)! This is meant to reflect how all the summer plants have died off.

"Death month" in Helsinki (photo courtesy of Miska Michael Knapek; filckr.com)

 

But at least December has a more welcoming sound to it – joulokuu – which means Christmas month. Apparently before the 1700’s it was “talvikuu” (winter month). January is tammikuu – there is agreement that this should be translated as “oak” month, but differing opinions about the origin of the name. It might be related to oaks being the only deciduous trees that still have their leaves at that time of the year (although the leaves are dead). Another opinion is that the month lies in the middle of winter and strong oak wood was used in the centre of constructions – hence the hard “middle” month and the hard “middle” wood…

As the days get a bit more sunny in February the ice crystals (hopefully) start to sparkle – they maybe even look like pearls? That would explain why the second month of the year is helmikuu (pearl month). February was historically also called “toinen sydänkuu” or “‘vähä tammi”, which an online explanation by Harri Hirvelä translates as “second heart of winter month” or “lesser oak month”. Still sounds cold!

"Pearl month" - a view of Töölö bay (courtesy of Edoardo Costa; Flickr.com)

 

Spring sounds a bit better: March is maaliskuu (earth month) and April is huhtikuu (wood burning month). These names seem to reflect the snow melting enough to expose the soil, and the old practice of farmers to burn wood (either to  fertilize the soil or to make space for planting crops – your choice…).

There are some alternative names and/or interpretations for the months too:

  • late July to late August was called “‘mätäkuu”  (rotting month), and was thought to be the time when everything started rotting. One online comment even said that in the past doctors preferred not to perform surgery during mätäkuu for fear of the wounds not healing easily (see here).
  • And to end with my favourite… March / maaliskuu can be translated as “goal post” or “final stretch” month, reflecting that winter is almost over. Unfortunately this seems to be a misinterpretation according to some… but I think it’s a nice way to look at the last month of winter!

 

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