As I’m struggling my way through the Finnish language, I’d like to give you a little insight into the most interesting bits as well. Finnish is very different from other European languages, and often a language can reveal a lot about the culture of a place as well. For example, my suspicion is that the Finns are such a quiet people who don’t do small talk, because their language is so freaking difficult. If you have to juggle 15 cases in your head to make sense of words, you think hard whether something is worth saying or not.

One thing I find particularly interesting in Finnish are the names of the months. Contrary to pretty much any other European language I’ve heard of they are not related to the old Roman calendar, but instead use old terms (that were also common in other languages in previous times), describing the farming year in Finnland. When you translate them, they do sound rather poetic! For example “kuu”, in which all the months end, means “moon”. I am well aware that “month” has the same meaning, but it’s not so obvious to us anymore as the word has changed over the centuries.

Tammikuu (January): Tammi means oak, but in some dialects also means heart or core, which is the root of this name. This is the middle – or core – of winter in Finland. Tammi can also mean axis, and could therefore also be called the axis month of the year (New Year).

Helmikuu (February): Helmi means pearl, and the name comes from icy pearls frozen to twigs and branches you can often see glinting in the sunlight in this month. Aww, someone’s looking forward to spring, aren’t they! Winter is almost over, the sun is out, and they are so happy, they gave February a really nice sounding name (wait until we get to the end of the year…)

Maaliskuu (March): Maa is the ground, maallinen means earthy. This is the month where normally snow melts for the first time, and the bare ground with no vegetation on it yet is visible. Sometimes it is also claimed that the name might refer to “mahla” which means tree sap.

Huhtikuu (April): Huhta is cleared woodland. In this month, woodland was burned and cleared to make space for new fields.

Toukokuu (May): Touko is the seed and planting time, which obviously happens in May.

Kesäkuu (June): Kesä means summer, June is the first month of summer in Finland, and also the midsummer month. Well, that would be too easy, wouldn’t it? And it doesn’t correspond to the farming names of surrounding months. Therefore, it is more likely, that this name comes from “kesanto”, which is fallow ground. In June, fallow fields are ploughed for the first time.

Heinäkuu (July): Heinä is hay, and July is the month when the hay is cut and brought in.

Elokuu (August): Elo means life, but is also an old word for crop, and this is the harvest month.

Syyskuu (September): Syys is a poetic word for autumn, and this is the first month of autumn.

Lokakuu (October): Loka means mud – in October it rains and snows a lot, creating muddy ground. I’m really feeling a bit sorry for poor October, they could have called it the “colourful month” after all? But it looks like no one was keen on the prospect of the hard winter ahead. And did you know that in Old English, February was called the “mud month”? Apparently, in Britain people didn’t have reason to look forward to spring.

Marraskuu (November): Marras is an archaic word for dead (we can even find a connection to Latin here: mors!) or the soul of a dead person. Obviously, nothing grows in November, the trees are bare, plants have died down. Yeah, REALLY not looking forward to winter!

Joulukuu (December): Joulu now is Christmas, but goes back much further than that, to the pre-Christian Yule feast. In Finland (and also the Scandinavian languages), the feast was not renamed to a more “Christian” sounding name, but instead one feast has just replaced the other without a name change.

So, to sum them up, the months in Finnish are: Core Moon, Pearl Moon, Ground Moon, Clearing Moon, Planting Moon, Fallow Moon (or Summer Moon), Hay Moon, Harvest Moon, Autumn Moon, Mud Moon, Dead Moon, Christmas Moon.

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37 thoughts on “The Months in Finnish

    1. Tahaan on Martti lovnsuu, perhen laanji on Pyhajarveen paikka. Kiitos antamisseen kuun nimeen!

  1. Ich bin Finnin und habe auch tatsächlich erst genauer an die Bedeutung der Namen gedacht, als ich nach Deutschland gekommen bin und mehr über die Finnische Sprache geredet habe – und mein Mann angefangen hat, sie zu lernen. Die einfachen Sachen wusste ich, aber hier waren paar Neuigkeiten. Für mich ist Tammi immer nur Eiche gewesen, und Huhta eigentlich gar nichts 🙂

    1. Mir gehts mit dem Deutschen auch so. Viele Sachen sind einfach so automatisch, dass man garnicht weiter darüber nachdenkt, selbst wenn sie eigentlich offensichtlich sind.

    1. Me too, and so was my daughter. They told me first that pearls had nothing to do with the name of this month….very stisfying that it has nevertheless. Those pearls on twiggs are incredible!

  2. Think about directions: South is etelä, west os länsi, North is pohjoinen, east is itä. These are originally referring to which position a House ( dwelling) was built.

      1. What other houses? 😉

        Pohjoinen / north refers to ‘pohja’, bottom – the furthest wall from door was best situated towards north, the coldest (compass) direction. The same goes for etelä / South, derived from ‘esi’, ‘edessä’ meaning “in front of”. The door should face the warmest direction, south, so the door would be in front.

        Länsi / west comes from a bit further, but Finnish related languages have words of the same root, and they mean “low-lying”. The sun sets, lays low, in the west.

        Itä / east is the direction were the sun “grows” – ‘itää’ is the verb for sprouting, growing,

  3. What an interesting article! I am Finnish myself and have recently been wondering about the names of the months… Love your page, an excellent idea! 🙂

  4. “Tammi” also means a dam. I’ve heard a theory according to which “tammikuu” was named as such because it is a good month to build dams as water is frozen. I have no idea whether this theory was backed by any studies or if it was just someone’s guess.

  5. Well… I feel myself really stupid now. And happy! But mostly stupid. I’m native finn and I’ve never even thought about the names of the months 😀 great article and interesting blog overall!

    1. Hahaha, well, it’s not necessarily something you would think about in your native language, it stands out more if you have to learn it as a foreign language, as you need to try and find some helping points to remember them all! Thanks though =)

  6. I would like to add here a comment about marraskuu: Marraskuu was not only the month in which everything in the surrounding nature was dying – it was also, litterally, the month of the death, when dead people returned into our world and into their old homes. There is a clear connection to the Halloween and All souls´s day et cetera, which are in the end of October, In Finland that celebration was called Kekri, and it was very gay celebration with lots of alcohol and lots of fertility magick (read = sex.) The whole following month of Marraskuu was time when people had to behave well and even talk in a subdued way, and avoid quarrelling because the ancestors were around and watching. There was a place in the table made for the dead, and they were served throughout the month. They were also called to sauna, and a burning fire and enough water was always left there for their use. In some areas one living person was chosen to represent the dead – he (or she) was channelling questions and answers between the dead and living and wore his clothes inside out as a mark of being from the other side. In the end of the month the dead people were politely asked to sit into the sleigh, which was driven to the churchyard so they returned to the otherworld.

    1. Thank you so much for adding this, that’s really interesting! I guess I should have thought of the All Souls thing, but I’ve never before heard of all the other things.

    2. Sorry this is so late! I just started taking a Finnish class, and our Finnish teacher, who is herself a Finn, described marraskuu to us not really in terms of the death but in terms of I guess the core of the tree or the plant that survives through the cold even when the outside of the plant dies. I thought both ways of looking at it were very interesting!

    1. Mätäkuu is not in marraskuu! It starts toward the end of July and lasts almost all August. That is the time when food spoils easily and when any cuts on one’s body fester (and develop puss=mätä) easily. This is because of favorable temperature and all kinds of living and active bacteria, spores etc. in the air during that time. Personally, I have observed that climates change seems to have made mätäkuu longer.

      1. Thanks for clarifying, that makes a lot more sense! I was wondering why things would fester in winter when it’s cold.

  7. One should also remember that months of the past did not always coincide with the accurate modern lunar calendar. Some “months” were shorter than actual months, and some months may have been longer. This is because in the past, months happened not only with moon cycles, but with various phenomena of the natural world.

    Hence, here is a list of old Finnish month names. Most months list several names that have been in use.

    January; iso tammi, kuurakuu
    February: pikku tammi, kyynelkuu, kaimalokuu, helmikuu, haarakuu, syväkuu, kuurakuu
    Around February & March: vaahtokuu, variskuu, hankikuu or hankkuu, kevätkuu
    March: harakankuu, kuurakuu, mämmikuu, maaliskuu
    April: jäänlähtökuu, sulamakuu, kiimakuu, kiurukuu
    May: mahlakuu, tuohikuu, tulvakuu, kevätkuu, toukokuu
    June: suvikuu, kesäkuu
    July: karhukuu, heinäkuu
    August: elokuu, sänkikuu, kylvökuu
    October; ruojakuu, likakuu, lokakuu
    November; marraskuu
    December; talvikuu

    This list is not complete, since there has been other names as well in different parts of Finland.
    As those speaking Finnish (and with knowledge regarding meanings of some old words) can see, old names had to do with natural world and spirit world.

    1. Wow, thank you! I didn’t know there were so many more names! I find Mämmikuu particularly amusing – is it really because that was when it was eaten, or does it have another meaning? How about Karhukuu, was summer the time when they were most visible / dangerous or something?

  8. Good information. Lucky me I discovered your site by accident (stumbleupon).
    I’ve saved as a favorite for later!

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