Politics of commemoration on the streets of 1920s Helsinki

Mikko-Olavi Seppälä

In this article, I will look at the revision of the street names of Helsinki in the 1920s and analyze both the public discussion around the topic and the actual outcome of the process. I will look at the changing city nomenclature as a suggestive arena for ideological negotiations and struggle, as a site of politics of commemoration and oblivion, a point of view that has not been stressed earlier and that remains highly relevant also in the current name-giving procedures.

The 1920s saw considerable opposition to the Russian memorials of Helsinki, which were considered to be at odds with a national memory suitable for the Finnish nation state, there was a. At the same time, stressing the democratization of society, Finnish-minded activists also attacked the supremacy of the Swedish language in the capital city. As the outcome of the revision, Helsinki received official Finnish street names alongside the Swedish ones. After the process, many traditional street names have also been changed. I will closely analyse the proposed and realized changes. The empirical material of the article consists largely of the Committee Reports of the city of Helsinki and the public discussion on the topic found in newspapers and periodicals.


Memory politics and Helsinki

Naming has its symbolical and ideological dimensions that can be described as politics of commemoration and oblivion. Street names can also be seen as sites of memory (lieux de mémoire) in the sense that Pierre Nora has suggested. According to Nora, sites of memory are at the same time material, symbolic, and functional. When the symbolic character is stressed, the sites of memory can be either dominant or dominated: “The first, spectacular and triumphant, imposing and, generally, imposed–either by a national authority or by an established interest, but always from above–characteristically have the coldness and solemnity of official ceremonies.” (Nora 1989, 19, 23)

During the last decades, the question of national memory or politics of national commemoration has gained prominence in historical research. Pierre Nora’s comprehensive work on the history of France has been accompanied by, for instance, Michael Kammen’s study on the collective memory and national traditions of American history, as well as by studies on politics of commemoration in Habsburg Central Europe. (Kammen 1993; Bucur and Wingfield 2001)

The struggle over memory comes up also in studies on trauma and history. Jenny Edkins has stressed that after violent and traumatic events, there is a struggle over memory. (Edkins 2003, 16) This indeed was the case after the War of Freedom or the Civil War (1918) in Finland. Another scholar of memory, Elizabeth Jelin has stated, how the “production of a national history and an official memory” creates a “master narrative of the nation” with its patriotic symbols and “pantheons to national heroes”. (Jelin 2001, 27) She calls social advocacy groups initiating commemorations as “memory entrepreneurs”. According to Jelin, “practices of commemoration and the attempts to establish memory sites always involve political struggles.” (Ibid., 42–43) The notion of memory entrepreneurs is applied in this article as it depicts different lobbies or pressure groups that took part in the ideological negotiations regarding the changes in the city nomenclature.

The revision of street names of Helsinki in the 1920s has been earlier depicted by Aminoff and Pesonen (1981). Other scholars of onomastics, like Paunonen (2010), Harling-Kranck (2005, 182–183) and Vidberg (2016, 25–26) have referred to their study. Based on the original archival material and stressing the ideological character of the procedure, I have recently written a book chapter about the topic (Seppälä 2016, 126–143). In this article, I will consider the revision from a more theoretical point of view.

In 1920s Helsinki, the capital city of the newly independent Finland recovering from the Civil War, it became evident that the street names are indeed suggestive arenas for imagining the past and present of the community and thus, as such, sites of ideological struggle. The new street names represented the dominant symbolic order; they represented and simultaneously created a kind of pantheon of Finnish history and culture. The ideological struggle in 1920s Helsinki is best understood in the context of a rising Finnish nation state and democratization of municipal governance. Indeed, the revision of the street names of Helsinki could be described as democratization of the symbolic order represented in the street names.

The traumatic Civil War and the campaign against the Russian memorials

Having been an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire from 1809, Finland gained its independence after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Universal suffrage was introduced already in 1906, but social reforms were frustrated by the Russian government. By coupe d’état in January 1918, the Socialists took over in Helsinki and the industrial centres of southern Finland. This meant the outbreak of the Civil War. There were some Russian military troops left in the country and also a German division intervened in the internal conflict. The war lasted until May 1918 and ended with the victory of the “White” “peasant army”. After political discussions on whether Finland should become a monarchy under a German king or a democracy, a new democratic constitution was confirmed in 1919.

The streets of Helsinki had been newly designed and named in the early nineteenth century in Swedish, the governmental language of the country that was part of the Russian Empire. Many street names commemorated the imperial family. (Aminoff and Pesonen 1981, 43) However, the Finnish-speaking population, being the majority in the rural areas, was growing rapidly in the capital city and already by the year 1900, Finnish speakers made up the majority of Helsinki’s inhabitants. As part of the so-called Russification policy launched in the 1890s, the Russian Government tried to strengthen its hold on Finland and forced an increased use of the Russian language in the country. During the last years of the Russian era, the street names were actually written in three languages: Swedish, Russian, and Finnish, but the Russian and Finnish forms had been unsystematically and clumsily or artificially translated and were not used as such by the inhabitants. (Aminoff and Pesonen 1981, 46–50) For instance, “Estnäsgatan” in the Kruununhaka district was generally called “Vironkatu” in Finnish, although the official Finnish name was “Estnäsinkatu”. (Tiera 1911; Helsingin Sanomat 27 April 1913)

The Civil War, or the War of Liberation as the Whites called it, had a controversial and traumatic aftermath with thousands of Reds executed, put in concentration camps and dying of malnutrition or fleeing to the Soviet Union. After the war, there was an ongoing negotiation for finding a common patriotic narrative that would suit the newborn independent country and its citizens. As a way to come to terms with these difficult emotions, there was a wave of satirical mocking campaigns against the Russians and the Bolsheviks. As Tuomas Tepora has shown, the Communists were regarded as enemies within the country and were not included in the image of the Finnish nation. (Tepora 2011, 227; Karemaa 1998; Klinge 1972, 57–69)

Nationalistic activists aimed at strengthening Finland’s independence with an ideological campaign against the Russians and against memorials that were regarded as manifesting the Russian hegemony over Finland. Already during the turmoil in 1917 caused by the revolting Russian soldiers, the statue of the two-headed eagle, linked with the czarist regime, was removed from the Market Square of Helsinki. An act of resistance towards the Russification policy, the street signs with street names (also) in Russian were removed from December 1917 on. (Harling-Kranck 2005, 183) A national government’s initiative, the Finnish name of the imperial maritime fortification Viapori (“Sveaborg” in Swedish, literally meaning “the Swedish fort”) was changed to “Suomenlinna” (literally “the Finnish fort”) in the spring of 1918. (Gardberg 1998, 140)

The violation of the Russian memorials in Helsinki first started with the so-called Resvoi Peace Chapel located on a cliff between the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the Imperial Palace. Built in 1913 by a Russian pan-Slavic merchant, the chapel manifested the 300-year reign of the Romanov family in the Russian empire and was seen as a pan-Slavic provocation among the Finnish-minded citizens. In the spring of 1919, when the Imperial Palace had turned into the Presidential Palace, the chapel was painted with tar during the night – most likely by the voluntary soldiers returning from the Estonian War of Freedom. The chapel was not, however, demolished by the officials, and the activist leaders (most likely Elmo Kaila) launched a new plan to blow up the building and sent a message to the Ostrobothnian activists to execute the task. One night during the winter of 1919–1920, three men (Vihtori Kosola, Artturi Leinonen and Antti Isotalo) came to Helsinki, broke into the chapel and waited for the explosions that were never delivered to them. They were told that the measure was cancelled because the Presidential Palace was too near. After ten years, the same three men started a popular anti-Communist uprising, the so-called Lapua movement. (Kosola 1935, 203; Leinonen 1960a, 310–311; Leinonen 1960b, 35–38; Ahti 1999, 172)

The beginning of the revision and the “tar students”

The urban population of 1920s Helsinki was torn not only by a clash between Socialist and Bourgeois-nationalistic ideologies, but also by a clash between the promoters of Swedish and Finnish language. Spoken by a minority of the people, the official status of the Swedish language was secured along with the majority language Finnish by the so-called Language Act of 1922. The Finnish-minded nationalists were of the opinion that the capital city of Helsinki was still too “Swedish” and launched campaigns against institutions (e.g. restaurants and some university professors) that refused to speak Finnish. (Hämäläinen 1968, 82, 91, 172, 195, 226)

In 1923, a group of inhabitants from the Kallio district – most likely real estate owners and entrepreneurs – took the initiative to the city council in changing five street names in Kallio to what they perceived to be better ones. These streets were only numbered and called “the Lines” (“Linjat” in Finnish). The initiative takers were unsatisfied with the names and declared that they caused confusion and also had a bad reputation among the public – the Lines were in the heart of a workers’ district and were linked to images of low life and hooligans. In their letter to the city, the Kallio dwellers declared that the numbered Lines should be substituted with the names of Finnish nineteenth century nationalism’s great men, i.e. the writer Aleksis Kivi and the state philosopher J. V. Snellman. Having earlier set up a committee to revise the spelling of the Finnish place names of Helsinki, the municipal board of finances of the city of Helsinki now reacted to the initiative and saw it timely to revise all the official place names within the city. The linguistic orthographic revision was enlarged to include ideological revisions as well. A new five-man committee was set up, led by the city geodesist Werner Lille, with representatives from the Swedish and Finnish parties and two experts of the corresponding languages. (Proposal for the Nomenclature 1926)

Although the Kallio initiative might have aimed only at place branding by changing a handful of notorious street names for commercial purposes, many people in 1920s Helsinki felt the need of renewal of the representations of the old symbolic order. Especially the young student generation was eager to get rid of the difficult memories, fossilized in the memorials and the street names that they saw as a hindrance to creating a self-confident and unified nation. At the time when the City Committee started its work, Finnish-minded students coming from rural Finland were radicalizing and started to attack the hegemonic position of the Swedish language in Helsinki. Nourished by their activist teacher Yrjö Ruutu, the radical students gathered in two academic societies, Akateeminen Karjala-Seura (The Academic Karelia Society) and Aitosuomalainen Kerho (The Genuine Finnish Society). Their aims formulated by the young student leaders Niilo Kärki, Martti Haavio and Vilho Helanen, the Finnish-minded students strived for a Greater Finland, large in its area, politically united and led by a strong state. (Klinge 1972, 134–136; Soikkanen 1991) As for the language of Greater Finland, Martti Haavio – a poet and folklorist later to become professor and member of the Academy of Finland – declared in 1924 that “the only possible culture in Finland is a Finnish national and Finnish-language culture”. (Ylioppilaslehti 1/1925)

At the same time, the Finnish student magazine, Ylioppilaslehti, edited by Vilho Helanen and Tauno Jalanti, launched a large campaign against the Russian memorials in Helsinki. The magazine even suggested that they should found a secret society with the name “Away with the Russian memories” (“Ryssän muistot pois”). Among their tasks would be the removal of the bust of the Czar Alexander I from the Festive Hall of the university and the removal of his initials “A I” from the façade of the university main building, demolishing the symbols of the two-headed eagle linked with the Romanov rule, and replacing some of the street names, most importantly Aleksanterinkatu, Nikolainkatu and Vladimirinkatu. Aleksanterinkatu (Alexander Street) had received its name from the Imperial Alexander University that had been founded by the Czar Alexander I but had now been renamed the University of Helsinki. Nikolainkatu (Nicholas Street) was named after the Lutheran Cathedral of Helsinki, the Nicholas Church, honouring the Czar Nicholas I. Because the statue of the national philosopher J. V. Snellman was located on Nikolainkatu in 1923, the Finnish-minded students wanted to rename the street after Snellman whom they worshipped as the founding father of Finland. (Kuikka 1924; Jalanti 1925; Tepora 2011, 126)

The secret society was founded and operated during the years of 1924 and 1925 in the night of Helsinki. One of the most eager “tar students”, as they were called, was the later president Urho Kekkonen, at that time a 24-year-old law student and athlete working in the Security Police (Etsivä Keskuspoliisi). In December 1924, he took part in painting with tar the initials “A I” on the pediment of the University main building. (Kekkonen 1981, 173) When the wall was washed, the students hit again in January and dropped a large canvas from the roof to cover the notorious letters. On the canvas it read in Finnish: “THE UNIVERSITY OF HELSINKI”, and in an additional note left in the corner of the canvas, the students explained their motives:

We think that the time when our country and nation lived as slaves under the Russian rule was depressing and humiliating for Finland and for the nation. For that reason, the memories and memorials that date from or are reminders of that time are humiliating and even shameful for independent Finland. Therefore, they should be demolished as soon as possible.1 (Ylioppilaslehti 1/1925)

In the night after the 8th April in 1925, Kekkonen and his companions hit once again, this time to speed up the revision of the street names. On the street signs on Vladimirinkatu, Kekkonen glued papers with the text “Kalevankatu” – Kaleva being the mythical land in the national epic Kalevala and also Kekkonen’s second name. At the same time, street signs on Nikolainkatu were covered with the text “Snellmaninkatu”. (Helsingin Sanomat 10 April 1925; Erasmus 1925; Kekkonen 1981, 173; Uino 1985, 90) Kekkonen even continued the discussion in the student magazine Ylioppilaslehti:

It is touching to see how warmly our Swedes and half-Finns are cherishing their dear old [street] names. […] As beautiful a quality as loyalty might be, we, the young ones, despise the slavish loyalty that denies its own nationality. […] It is not only the Russianness that we want to purify our streets from. There are also many Swedish names that will not live long when the students of today grow up. For we shall make Helsinki the capital of Finnish Finland and we will not be satisfied with the clear majority of street names being foreign.2(Känä 1925)

The liberal Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat and the magazine Suomen Kuvalehti welcomed the initiatives but tended to see the tar students as barbarians that lacked respect for the historical layers of the city. (e.g. Helsingin Sanomat 21 April 1925; Tolari 1925; Bagheera 1926) The students in their turn could not understand this point of view. For instance, Lauri Hakulinen, later a professor of Finnish language, suggested that the old cultural elite of Finland was surprised about the country’s sudden independence and was now being shy and pessimistic in relation to Russia. In his presentation at the Academic Karelia Society in February 1926, Hakulinen said:

It is a morbid and comical thing to ask us and our descendants to walk on Nicholas and Alexander Street and watch in our university and on the main square of the city pictures of Alexander only so as to constantly remember our miserable past and the eternal Slavic threat in our future, so that we would never forget the lesson that we learned during the Russification period, namely, to be afraid of being too loud and straight in our speech and too independent and brave in our gestures.3(Suomen Heimo 3/1926)

The dissatisfaction with the first Committee Report

Public discussion on the changing of the street names grew in the spring of 1926 when the City Committee, after three years work, was finally ready to publish its final report. Being quite moderate, the Committee Report suggested that the popular Finnish versions of the street names should receive an official status. This meant that the Swedish Andreigatan would be Antinkatu in Finnish, Elisabetsgatan would become Liisankatu, Mikaelgatan Mikonkatu and Ulrikagatan Ullankatu. The Committee was also ready to replace the “Lines” in Kallio with new names and suggested that the straight and long Unioninkatu (Union Street) could keep its name all the way from the Observatory to the Kallio church.

However, the Committee was not unanimous. Especially the chairman of the Committee, aged city geodesist Werner Lille, would have wanted more radical changes. In his dissenting opinion, he supported stripping all the Russian-sounding street names (Kulneffinkatu, Galitzinintie, Speranskintie, Konstantininkatu, Vladimirinkatu, Nikolainkatu, Aleksanterinkatu). He suggested that the Senate Square should be renamed the Great Square, the Nicholas Church the Great Church and the Alexander Street the Great Street. (Proposal for the Nomenclature 1926)

In the Municipal Board of Finances, the majority of members shared Lille’s opinion and started to revise the Committee Report. Finland’s connection to Russia should also be cut in the street names of Helsinki. The city proved to be eager to listen to opinions and initiatives of powerful agents, which was evident in the naming of Keskuskatu (The Central Street). The new name was suggested by Stockmann’s department store, which wanted to brand its new modern building’s surroundings as the city centre. The Board of Finances also suggested that the Union Street should be renamed the University Street.

Looking at the excitable public discussion, it seems as if no one was satisfied with the Committee Report. Also private citizens and owners of the buildings had their opinions on the issue. The descendants of the late novelist Juhani Aho were not satisfied with the proposal to link their father’s good name with the worker’s district of Kallio. The house owners’ magazine, Kiinteistölehti (The Real Estate Journal), tried to repress the changes by reminding people of the costs that these kind of changes would bring about to every company, businessman and merchant that had his address on the street that would change its name. They would have to renew their printed products, paint new signs and perhaps even lose their outstanding claims because of the changing address. (Kyllästynyt 1926) Understanding the economic arguments well, the Municipal Board of Finances considered it impossible to change the name of Aleksanterinkatu, the most important shopping street of the city.

Protectors of the urban nomenclature were few in the 1920s Helsinki. One of them was the member of the first Committee and the Board of Finances, bank director Tor Grotenfelt, who represented the Swedish Party. He insisted that both the Russian and the Swedish names of the city should be preserved. He even resisted that the old Swedish place names would be translated into Finnish – in his opinion, translating only made an upstart impact and it would be better just to imitate the Swedish words (for instance, Anneberg should be Anneberi, not Annala, and Grejus should be Greijus, not Reijola). The city was rapidly growing, he justified – there was enough space for the new Finnish-sounding names in the new districts of Helsinki. In Grotenfelt’s opinion, one should not manipulate the memory of the city:

The place and street names have been formed either from the traditional names used by the people or by the authorities that have given them an official status. In every case they are expressions of a certain time and historical circumstances. Therefore, it is a crime against historical understanding and conventions as it implies a lack of respect toward former generations to change these names without any justified reason, under a belief that this could eradicate popular experiences or memories that are perhaps not so pleasant for the present-day.4 (Proposal for the Nomenclature 1926)

At this point, the citizens had generally understood that it was not just a case of an orthographic revision carried out by objective experts. The question of the city nomenclature had become politicized. (e.g. Tolari 1925) This became evident in September 1926 when the Municipal Board of Finances handed its proposal to the City Council which, holding the power of decision, did not approve the proposal but set up a new extensive committee with representatives from each political party – even the Socialists – and a historian, Kaarlo Blomstedt from the National Archives, whose task it was to sufficiently preserve the historical layers of the nomenclature. (Committee Report 1927)


The second Committee Report and the purification of the street names

The new committee declared that they would only change “the names that were too difficult to pronounce for the Finnish-speaking population and some additional names reminding us that our country once belonged to Russia”. This principle was not fully exercised, as was shown in the case of Jägaregatan (Hunter Street). The Finnish form of the street name, the literal translation Metsästäjänkatu, was changed to the form Jääkärinkatu (Jaeger Street) which referred to the Finns that left Finland during the First World War in order to receive military training in the German army and then returned to Finland to lead the White army during the Civil War. As the reputation of the Finnish Jaegers was notorious on the lost Red side, the Socialist members of the Committee protested against this proposal that they saw as provocative and opening wounds – but they were left in the minority. (Committee Report 1927)

The new committee finished its report in June 1927, and the new street names were accepted by the City Council in December 1928. To sum up the changes, in the final revision one can distinguish four major tendencies. Firstly, for the first time in its history, Helsinki received a systematic Finnish nomenclature with proper translations and modern spelling. Secondly, along with the newly built areas of the city, Finnishness also occupied some older streets from the “Swedish rule”. The poets Creutz and Choraeus were said to have too difficult names, so they were removed and replaced by names from the patriotic works of Z. Topelius and J. L. Runeberg, also known by the Finnish-speaking population – and thus Töölö had streets named after Ensign Stål (Vänrikki Stoolin katu) and the Barber-Surgeon (Välskärinkatu). This worried some commentators who asked if this principle would some day eliminate all the Swedish-speaking writers from the nomenclature of the city. (Kivimies 1931, 105) The names of the Finnish writers Julius Krohn and August Ahlqvist were replaced with their pseudonyms Suonio and Oksanen that had a more Finnish sound to them. The traditions of Finnish literature were symbolically strengthened by replacing Bjälbo and Fredriksberg streets that both referred to (Swedish) place names with the names of the Finnish authors Linnankoski and Aleksis Kivi.

Thirdly, emphasizing the Finnish national culture meant being systematically averse to the Latin street names. Jupiter was replaced by his equivalent from the Finnish mythology, Väinämöinen, Flora Street and Sibylla Street had to change their names (to Urheilukatu and Pääskylänrinne).

Finally, with a large consensus, the new city nomenclature wiped off the Russian-sounding names from Helsinki and replaced them with Finnish national names. Nicholas was replaced by Snellman and Vladimir by Kaleva, precisely according to the suggestions made by the “tar students”. Antreankatu (Andrey Street) made way for Lönnrotinkatu because the statue of the author of the national epic (Elias Lönnrot) was on that street. The writer Juhani Aho had a street named after him in the wealthy Eira district, where he had actually lived, and replaced the Galitzin Street. Speranski Street disappeared by lengthening Merikatu (Sea Street) and Konstantin Street, once named after the Romanov Prince, got a prosaic name Meritullinkatu (Seaport Customs Street). At the same time, the traditional Jewish market of Helsinki, Narinkka (from Russian “na rynke” or “on the square”), was closed.

There was one particularly interesting change in the street names of Töölö district that reveals how symbolically loaded and well known the works of J. L. Runeberg, the Swedish-speaking national poet, actually were. The new committee was dissatisfied with the Kulneff Street that had been named after one of the poems from the Tales of Ensign Stål (1848), a book patriotically depicting the War of Finland between Sweden and Russia in 1808. In the poem, Kulneff was a fair and vivacious Russian officer also loved by his enemies, the Finns. This attitude was seen as being out of date in the 1920s Helsinki, and the street was renamed after Duncker, a Swedish war hero from the same book. The poem asks the Finns to defiantly remember the day of Duncker’s heroic death. Thus, the playful and brotherly bonds with the Russians were replaced with stressing the Western or Scandinavian bonds Finland and suggesting national commemoration that represented Russian Feindbilder or enemy images.

Once the new city nomenclature had been tentatively accepted after four years processing, the memory entrepreneurs of the Lines in Kallio remarked to their great disappointment that these numbered street names that had started the whole process would be left without any changes. According to the new committee, the Lines represented an “American phase” in the city planning of Helsinki and should be preserved – but actually there were lots of numbered streets in Russian cities as well. The house-owners and entrepreneurs of the Lines once again protested and pleaded with the Governor to give these notorious streets proper names like elsewhere in the city – but it was all in vain. (Talonomistajain Lehti 10/1927)

The new city nomenclature was confirmed by the city council in December 1928, and during the next year all the street signs of the city were replaced, starting with the seventy streets that had changed their names. It took the whole year to adjust the 11,000 street signs, not to mention the time it took the taxi-drivers and other citizens to get adjusted to the new names and be able to orient themselves in the urban environment. The journal Talonomistajain Lehti (The House-owners’ Magazine) asked if “we are suffering from a general name-changing epidemic that has struck us like an influenza all over Europe”.5(Talonomistajain Lehti 3/1929; Kiinteistölehti 11/1928) This notion reveals that Helsinki was not alone with its revision. Dismantling the European empires after the First World War had activated similar kinds of processes in other cities as well.

The fierceness of this epidemic in Helsinki resulted from the city’s special position as the capital and a university city and the delicate position between the two national languages. Despite the vast majority of the Finnish-speakers in the country, Helsinki along with other coastal cities had remained relatively Swedish-speaking. In 1928, the Swedish Folk Party was still clearly the largest group in the city council of Helsinki holding 37 per cent of the seats, while the Socialist parties held altogether some 40 per cent of the seats and the Finnish bourgeois parties altogether only 23 per cent. (Harvia 1929) Despite that, a Finnish guidebook of Helsinki emphasized how the number of Finnish speakers had increased in the population, in the bureaucracy and finally in the economic sphere, too, and that “it can be said that the Finnish national development in Helsinki is equivalent to the status of the city as the capital of Finland”. (Helsingin opas 1928, 6)

After Helsinki had concluded the revision regarding the nomenclature, discussions on the protection of traditional Swedish place names continued in the Parliament in February 1928. Adopting the name-protecting policy as part of their minority politics, the Swedish Party made a parliamentary initiative to bring back the Swedish place names to train stations’ signs in Finnish-speaking municipalities. Holding the majority in the Parliament, the Finnish bourgeois parties rejected the initiative. (Hämäläinen 1968, 163) Place names remained a political issue.


The revision of the Helsinki city nomenclature during the 1920s was an ideological and eventually a political negotiation. The place names were seen to represent the symbolic order and have an effect on citizens. With the changing hegemony, different groups of memory entrepreneurs emerged aiming to demolish old memorials and initiate new commemorations. Along with the ideological inspiration, commercial aspirations played a role in the process. Having functioned mostly in Swedish language, Helsinki now saw a Finnish national wave, and the new nomenclature was especially designed for Finnish speakers. Independent Finland and the Finnish-speaking culture, now rising to a hegemonic position, were celebrated in the new nomenclature, as the Russian and Swedish sounding street names were systematically replaced. Dismantling the European empires after the First World War activated similar kinds of processes in other cities as well and Helsinki was not alone with its revision. A comparative study of name changes in other European cities would provide an interesting research area for future study.

Elizabeth Jelin writes how “the traces and fragments left by the past” can be in contrast with “the intentionalities of memory entrepreneurs in the transmission of memories”. (Jelin 2001, 101–102) Despite the dominant symbolic order introduced by the authorities, the silenced memories continue their existence and may become activated later on. One example of this kind of development, the name of the Jewish market place Narinkka returned to the nomenclature of Helsinki in 2005. This time the name, located in the commercial centre of the city in Kamppi, was celebrating the historical heritage and, at the same time, contributing to the multicultural or cosmopolitan branding of the city.



The National Library of Finland
The digital database of the Finnish Journals
The Päivälehti Archives
The digital database of the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat

Printed Documents

Proposal for the Nomenclature of the City of Helsinki streets, squares and public places. The Municipal Board of Finances of the City of Helsinki 21 September 1926. The Printed Documents 1926 N:o 20.

Committee Report regarding the Proposal for the Nomenclature of the City of Helsinki streets, squares and public places by the Municipal Board of Finances. The Printed Documents 1927 N:o 20.

Newspaper Articles

Yrjö Harvia, “Miten Helsinki äänestää?” in Aitta 6/1929
Tiera, “Pirstaleita” in Helsingin Sanomat 16 May 1911
“Eräät talonomistajat” in Helsingin Sanomat 27 April 1913
“Kalevankatu ja Snellmaninkatu” in Helsingin Sanomat 10 April 1925
“Näkökohtia katunimien kysymyksessä” in Helsingin Sanomat 21 April 1925
Tolari, “Kirje Helsingistä” in Helsingin Sanomat 26 September 1925
Kyllästynyt, “Talonumerojen ja katunimien muuttaminen” in Kiinteistölehti 6/1926
“Katukilpien muutto Helsingissä” in Kiinteistölehti 11/1928
“Tsaarinkuvat ja pieteetti” in Suomen Heimo 3/1926
Bagheera [Erkki Kivijärvi], “Eräät ‘silmätikut’” in Suomen Kuvalehti 5/1926
“Pois linjat” in Talonomistajain Lehti 10/1927
“Katsauksia” in Talonomistajain Lehti 3/1929
Kuikka, “Puuttuva seura” in Ylioppilaslehti 19/1924
“Kallis muisto menneiltä loiston päiviltä” in Ylioppilaslehti 1/1925
T[auno]. J.[alanti], “Meitä pilkataan!” in Ylioppilaslehti 3/1925
Erasmus, “Helsingin katukilvistä” in Ylioppilaslehti 11/1925
Känä [Urho Kekkonen], “Paljon on vielä kirveellä työtä” in Ylioppilaslehti 11/1925



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Mikko-Olavi Seppälä

PhD, Adjunct Professor, University Researcher, Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies, University of Helsinki.