Why do immigrants change their names? 

The increase in immigrant name changes in Finland is due to job prospects and social acceptance. However, researchers are concerned about societal hegemony, which threatens diversity within Finnish society.

Seblewongel Tariku

Nadiia Fedorova

Published 06.03.2024 3:35

Updated 06.03.2024 3:35

In recent years, there has been an increase in name change among immigrants in Finland, estimates Laura Mattila. She works as a group manager at the Digital and population data services agency. 

“Immigrant customers frequently seek names that are easier to use in Finland or to correct transliteration issues.”  

Some customers have mentioned that Russia’s attack on Ukraine influenced their decision to change their names, Mattila says. These individuals have wanted to apply, for example, for a Finnish or international-sounding name to replace a previous Russian name. 

However, Mattila sees that the key reason for name changes increase is most likely the new Act on Forenames and Surnames, which came into effect in 2019 and made changing the name easier.  

Better job opportunities 

Ville is one of the immigrants who decided to change his name name. Ville, earlier Vitalii, moved sixteen years ago to Finland from Ukraine to work at Nokia. He is a IT specialist with a PhD. After losing his job he faced a new situation as a job seeker. 

“When Nokia relocated its operations, many of our staff moved to India and China. I did not want to leave this country because my children were born here, and know the language.” 

According to Ville, he applied for new jobs in his field for three years but failed to get any reply to his applications. 

 “The situation made me change my name and my field to find employment and acceptance in society.” 

Currently Ville owns an automotive car repair shop in Jyväskylä. He is a father of two. 

“I gave my children Finnish names from birth. Having Finnish names makes things easier for them.”  

Reasons behind changing names 

Immigrants change their names for various reasons, shedding light on the complexities of integration in a new society. 

“There is racism and different forms of discrimination in the labor market that can push immigrants to change names, particularly surnames, in order to be more easily employable,” says Olivia Maury, a researcher at Helsinki University.  

She notes that immigrants’ desire for visibility and acceptance in Finnish society is another aspect of immigrants changing their names.  

Maury emphasizes changing names for immigrants may benefit them at an individual level in their integration. However, she expresses concern about the potential loss of societal heterogeneity. 

“Currently in Finland, there seems to be a societal pressure to conform to some kind of Finnishness.”