Historical references to Northern Europe are scarce, and the names given to its peoples and geographic regions are obscure. Therefore, the etymologies of the names remain equally sketchy. Such names as Fenni, Phinnoi, Finnum, and Skrithfinni / Scridefinnum appear in a few written texts starting from about two millennia ago in association with peoples located in a northern part of Europe, but the real meaning of these terms is debatable. The earliest mentions of this kind are usually interpreted to have meant Fennoscandian hunter-gatherers whose closest successors in modern terms would be the Sami people. It has been suggested that this non-Uralic ethnonym is of Germanic language origin and related to such words as finthan (Old High German) 'find', 'notice'; fanthian (Old High German) 'check', 'try'; and fendo (Old High German) and vende (Old Middle German) 'pedestrian', 'wanderer'. Another etymological interpretation associates this ethnonym with fen in a more toponymical approach. Yet another theory postulates that the words finn and kven are cognates. The Icelandic Eddas and Norse sagas (11th to 14th centuries), some of the oldest written sources probably originating from the closest proximity, use words like finnr and finnas inconsistently. However, most of the time they seem to mean northern dwellers with a mobile life style.
An etymological link between the Sami and the Finns exists in modern Uralic languages as well. It has been proposed that e.g. the toponyms Sapmi (Sami for Lapland), Suomi (Finnish for Finland), and Häme (Finnish for Tavastia) are of the same origin, the source of which might be related to the proto-Baltic word *žeme / Slavic земля (zemlja) meaning \'land'. It has been proposed that these designations started to mean specifically people in Southwestern Finland (Finland Proper, Varsinais-Suomi) and later the whole area of modern Finland. But it is not known how, why, and when this occurred.
Petri Kallio has suggested that the name 'Suomi' may bear even earlier Indo-European echoes with the original meaning of either ’land’ or ’human’.
Among the first written documents possibly designating western Finland as the land of Finns are two rune stones. One of these is in Söderby, Sweden, with the inscription finlont (U 582 †), and the other is in Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea, with the inscription finlandi (G 319 M) dating from the 11th century.
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Famous quotes containing the word etymology:
“The universal principle of etymology in all languages: words are carried over from bodies and from the properties of bodies to express the things of the mind and spirit. The order of ideas must follow the order of things.”
—Giambattista Vico (16881744)
“Semantically, taste is rich and confusing, its etymology as odd and interesting as that of style. But while stylederiving from the stylus or pointed rod which Roman scribes used to make marks on wax tabletssuggests activity, taste is more passive.... Etymologically, the word we use derives from the Old French, meaning touch or feel, a sense that is preserved in the current Italian word for a keyboard, tastiera.”
—Stephen Bayley, British historian, art critic. Taste: The Story of an Idea, Taste: The Secret Meaning of Things, Random House (1991)