The Meaning of the Finnish Months
First off, kuu in modern Finnish means “moon”. The name of every month ends in –kuu.
1. Tammikuu – January
In modern Finnish, tammi means “oak”. However, we can’t be sure where the name of the month comes from. There are several explanations for the origin of the name tammikuu. This word was developed before the Finnish written language was invented, and all the origin explanations are theorized afterwards.
- In some Finnish dialects, tammi means the center of a wheel, the middle beam of a mill, or other “center” type words. This origin would make sense because tammikuu is in the middle of winter.
- It could be a metaphorical use of the name of the tree, referring to the heavy frost during winter.
2. Helmikuu – February
The word helmi has a similar equivalent in many closely related languages. We don’t know how it made its way into these languages originally. Helmi means “pearl”, and it refers to how the snow will sparkle in winter when the sun finally comes out after the darkness of early winter.
- Karelian: helmi
- Votic: elmi
- Estonian: helmes
- Livonian: el’m
3. Maaliskuu – March
For the third month of the year there are two theorized origins:
- It’s likely that maalis is related to the word maa (probably through the adjective maallinen). Maa means ground, country or Earth. It’s probably named this way because in March, the snow starts to melt in places, revealing the ground underneath.
- It has also been theorized that it’s related to the ancient Estonian words for April, because they are similar phonologically: in old written Estonian, April is mahlakuu or maalakuu. In modern Estonian, April is “aprill”. This explanation is only based on the similarity between the two words phonetically, because in Finland, mahla (“sap”) doesn’t start coming into the trees in March yet.
4. Huhtikuu – April
My etymological dictionary doesn’t have an explanation for huhtikuu. It also doesn’t list the word huhta, which is thought to be the origin of the name of the month.
Huhta can mean “cleared woods”. During April, it was common to burn whole stretches of forest down, because the resulting ash fertilized the soil. This was done especially in April because the forest wasn’t too dry yet in this month, making it easier to control where the fire went.
5. Toukokuu – May
The word touko has a similar equivalent in a wide range of Finnish-Uralic languages. In all of these languages, the word means “spring”. It’s uncertain how it came to the Finnish-Uralic languages. Some theorize it’s an original word, while others see it as a loanword from proto-Aryan.
- Karelian: touko
- Votic: tõuko
- Estonian: tõug
- Erzya: tundo
- Mansi: tūja
- Khanty: tog
- Hungarian: tavasz
6. Kesäkuu – June
There is an obvious, as well as a less obvious, origin story for the name of June.
- In modern Finnish, kesä means “summer”. Perhaps that’s all there is to it. However, in many Southwestern Finnish dialects, “summer” was called suvi rather than kesä. Agricola and other Finns who “invented” the Finnish written language made the decision to adopt the word kesä as the official term for “summer”.
- In the Southwestern dialects, the word kesä meant “ley farming” rather than “summer”. In other places in Finland, “ley farming” was called kesanto. Ley farming means the practice of leaving certain fields empty for a year or longer to let the soil renew itself. In June, these fields that had been left empty for a period were taken into use again.
7. Heinäkuu – July
The name heinäkuu simply comes from the noun heinä, which means “hay”. In Finland, the hay is cut to be stored as food for cattle to eat in winter. The word heinä has a similar equivalent in many closely related languages and is considered an old Baltic loanword.
- Karelian: heinä
- Votic: einä
- Veps: hein
- Estonian: hein
- Livonian: āina
- Northern Sami language: suoidni
8. Elokuu – August
The word elo can be translated as “crop”. Elokuu is the harvest month in Finland. The word for “harvesting” is elonkorjuu. The word elo has been derived from the verb elää “to live”. As such, it can also be translated as “life”. You can find the word elo in some compound words: yhteiselo “co-existence” (literally “together life”), and hiljaiselo “subdued existence” (literally “quiet life”).
The word elo has a similar equivalent in many closely related languages:
- Karelian: elo
- Votic: elo
- Veps: elo
- Estonian: elu
- Livonian: j’el
- Sami languages: eallu
9. Syyskuu – September
Syys and syksy both refer to autumn. September is the first autumn month. Syys is most often found in compound words, such as syyssade” autumn rain”, syysloma “autumn vacation” and syyshalla “autumn frost”. If you’re just referring to autumn, you should use the word syksy.
The word syys has a similar equivalent in many closely related languages:
- Karelian: syys
- Ludic: šügüz
- Veps: sügüz
- Southern Estonian: süküs
10. Lokakuu – October
The word loka means “mud”. October is an ugly month, which can be rainy and snowy, creating muddy ground. The origin of the word loka is unknown, but could be an ancient Finnish word. We can find equivalents in some closely related languages:
- Karelian: loka
- Ludic: loga
- Estonian: loga
11. Marraskuu – November
The word marras on its own is not very commonly used in modern Finnish, but it means “dead” or “dying”. November is the month when nature dies.
November is dark and dreary, which has led to another hypothesis of the origin of the month’s name. Marraskuu can have originally meant the dark times when the spirits of the dead (martaat) are on the move.
You can find sources online that claim marras is an ancient Indoeuropean loanword (in Latin mors). My etymological dictionary brings up the possibility that it’s an Indo-Iranian loanword.
12. Joulukuu – December
We can translate joulukuu as “Christmas month”. The month’s name is based on the word joulu. Originally, the word joulu referred to a Pagan mid-winter celebration. The word’s meaning changed when Christianity settled down in Finland in the 16th century.
It’s possible that December was just called talvikuu in ancient Finnish. The term joulukuu would be younger. Finnish adopted the word joulu from Scandinavian or Germanic languages, probably from the Swedish jul.
That’s all for the meaning of the Finnish months! I hope you found this interesting. Below, you can still find the names of the months in a table.