Slang name or official name? Suburb names as mirrors of urban identities in Eastern Helsinki

Terhi Ainiala, Hanna Lappalainen & Samu Nyström

This article illustrates how an unofficial slang name, Vuokki, has been used as a means of constructing urban identities in an Eastern Helsinki suburb, Vuosaari.

*   *   *


What is the role of an unofficial suburb name in the construction of the suburb’s identity? In the suburb of Vuosaari, which belongs to the youngest and most multicultural neighbourhoods of Helsinki, the unofficial name Vuokki has gained more popularity during the last ten years. In this article we study the name itself, its use, and images and attitudes attached to it and examine how the name Vuokki is connected to the urbanization of the suburb of Vuosaari and to construction of urban identities.

Our research area, the suburb of Vuosaari located in Eastern Helsinki, has changed rather rapidly from a rural setting and a peripheral area beside the sea to a modern suburb along the metro line. Vuosaari has encountered two intense building booms, and this construction and building in two phases makes it an interesting research area in the frames of urbanization.

Our analysis is mostly based on linguistic methods, onomastics and sociolinguistics. We regard onomastics, the study of names, to be especially fruitful to urban studies since onomastics can illustrate how the identities of a suburb and its inhabitants are constructed not only through a built environment or various functions of societies but via linguistic choices and the names the local people give to their own places.

Furthermore, we situate our research questions and findings in a historical context. Thus the use of the name Vuokki will be analysed and discussed through the development and urbanization of Vuosaari.

We start by presenting our data and scientific approach. After that we take a closer look at the research area, Vuosaari, and, above all, its historical development. The unofficial name itself, Vuokki, and also the official name Vuosaari and their origins are studied in more detail in part four. The next part, in turn, concentrates on the linguistic analysis on how the unofficial name is used and what kinds of attitudes and images are attached to it according to our data. At the end we bring the findings of our analysis together and discuss the results of the study.


Data, methods and theoretical background

Our analysis is based on three different corpora, interview data and two surveys. The interviews, mostly done in focus groups, have been recorded in 2004–2008.1 In demographic terms, the sample comprises a heterogeneous mix of 63 Vuosaarians. While a small majority of the informants were females (42/63), the interviewees represent quite evenly different age cohorts (13–70-year-olds), social groups and occupations as well all the suburb’s five urbanized neighbourhoods. The interviewees are comprised of both native Helsinki inhabitants and migrants from different parts of Finland, as well as Somali immigrants, representing a prominent local minority. A part of the informants had lived in Vuosaari since the outset of urbanization of the district in the 1960s, whereas some had only been living in the area for a few months; the majority were somewhere between these extremes. All the interviews include discussion about the interviewees’ home district, its physical and social qualities as a locale and its names. We will analyse both spontaneous use of the names and episodes in which the use of the names is in focus (metalinguistic use). (See Ainiala et al. 2015, 362–363.)

In addition, we utilize questionnaire data collected in two different surveys, the first one in 2008 in the shopping centre called Columbus, in Vuosaari. Most of the 115 respondents lived in Vuosaari. The most recent data were collected in August and September 2015 with the help of an online survey that was distributed mainly through Facebook. There were 244 respondents; more than three quarters are present or former Vuosaari inhabitants. Like the interviewees, the survey respondents represent different social groups, although young adults and the middle-aged as well as females are overrepresented in the latest survey and over 60-year-olds in the first one. Over 90% of the respondents are Finnish-speaking.

In methodological and theoretical terms, our article brings together perspectives from socio-onomastics, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis and history of urbanity. In socio-onomastics, social and situational variation in the use of the names is studied and the reasons for these changes are examined (e.g. Ainiala et al. 2012, 110–119). The usage and attitudes towards the names will be approached from a sociolinguistic perspective by paying attention to social variation in self-reporting, authentic use, conceptions and attitudes concerning the slang name Vuokki. The analysis is based on the methods of variation analysis which describe the relationship between linguistic variation and such social variables as age, sex and social class (Chambers 2009). In addition, we will use direct measures utilized for studying language attitudes (Garrett 2010, 37–52, 159–178). The attitudes will be investigated by using both experimental methods (surveys) and a discourse analytic approach (interviews). In the analysis of interviews, our focus will not only be on the content but also on the linguistic features of formulations and the interactional aspects of the discussion (Liebscher & Dailey-O’Cain 2009; see also Laihonen 2008).

Additionally, we explore the relationship between the use of place names and social identity (see e.g. Ainiala & Lappalainen 2010; Ainiala 2012, 7). On the basis of previous results, the use and knowledge of unofficial names are related to ones’s belonginess to the area to which the names refer (see Vaattovaara & Soininen-Stojanov 2006, 237). We argue that the use of the name Vuokki may be connected to the speakers’ conceptions about their identities as (a certain kind of) Vuosaarians and Helsinkians. We regard identity as a phenomenon constantly under construction and variable in various contexts, not as a stable feature. It is not determined beforehand but it is constructed in interaction through linguistic choices. That is why it is complicated to define and recognize it, but identities can be reflected, for instance, in the attitudes towards one’s home area and its linguistic variation (including its names) as well as in the ways how these issues are described. (See e.g. Antaki & Widdicombe 1998; Auer 2007, 1–11; Myers 2006, 321–325, 340.)


Two steps to the urban suburb

Until the 1950s Vuosaari was a distant village with 200–300 inhabitants. This Swedish-speaking village was part of the Rural municipality of Helsinki (later the city of Vantaa). Helsinki was far away, except in summer. Since the 1880s Vuosaari was a summer paradise for the bourgeoisie of Helsinki. Dozens of summer villas were built in Vuosaari and a steamboat line between Vuosaari and Helsinki was established. A trip from Helsinki to Vuosaari lasted about one hour. The first sign of the change appeared in the 1930s, when Saseka brick factory started to operate in Vuosaari (Lampi 2005, 112–143; Harvia 1936).

Map 1. Areas consolidated to the city of Helsinki 1550–1982. Vuosaari was consolidated to Helsinki in 1966.
Map 1. Areas consolidated to the city of Helsinki 1550–1982. Vuosaari was consolidated to Helsinki in 1966.

Many neighbour municipalities and some areas of the Rural municipality of Helsinki were incorporated into the city of Helsinki in the beginning of 1946 (see Map 1). The city started to expand to new areas surrounding the inner city. These areas were planned and built according to modern Nordic postwar planning theories and especially according to Professor Otto-Iivari Meurman’s writings concerning “a forest suburb” where housing districts were located in isolation from each other. Some of the new forest suburbs were built in eastern Helsinki, close to Vuosaari (Kervanto Nevanlinna 2012, 43–110, 188–196). However, Vuosaari was not included in the great regional consolidation of 1946 and it belonged to the Rural municipality of Helsinki until the 1960s.


Picture 1. During the first step of urbanization, Vuosaari was literally a forest suburb – it was built in the distant forests of Vuosaari, far away from the urban regions of the city of Helsinki. (Photo: Studio B. Möller 1965, Helsinki City Museum)
Picture 1. During the first step of urbanization, Vuosaari was literally a forest suburb – it was built in the distant forests of Vuosaari, far away from the urban regions of the city of Helsinki. (Photo: Studio B. Möller 1965, Helsinki City Museum)

Vuosaari’s first step towards being an urban suburb was taken in the middle of the 1960s, when it was finally incorporated into the city of Helsinki. New apartment buildings started to rise in the distant forests of Vuosaari – the newborn suburb was literally a forest suburb (see Picture 1). Most of the new apartment buildings were built by Asunnonsäästäjäyhdistys (the Housing Savers Association). These buildings (even the high-rises) were mostly self-built by the members of the association.

New residents came mainly from the countryside. Vuosaari became a forest suburb with first-time urban citizens, young adults and children. The number of inhabitants multiplied in a decade; in 1970 Vuosaari had 14 810 inhabitants (see Figure 1). The first step of urbanization ended in the beginning of the 1970s and the number of the population remained at the same level until the 1990s. (Lohi 2016, 13–17; Lampi 2005, 140–163; Helsinki city statistical yearbook(s) 1966–2014; Helsinki by district 2014.)


Although Vuosaari had not been a real island since eighteenth century, it was still practically isolated like an island in the beginning of the 1960s. There was only one, north-leading road from Vuosaari to other destinations. The first bridge to the west (to the closest suburb of Puotila) was built privately by the Housing Savers Association/Vuosaari foundation in 1966.

There had been many plans to connect Vuosaari to the city tram, the suburban train or the metro networks since the 1930s, but none of these was realized until 1998. The first part of the eastern metro route was opened in 1982, but the last station in the east was located in Itäkeskus (about 10 km from Vuosaari). The public bus connection from Itäkeskus to Vuosaari lasted 20–30 minutes. The travelling time to the city centre remained close to one hour, the same time that was needed during the age of steamboats. In the sense of public transport, Vuosaari was an island until the late 1990s. The images and experiences concerning its distant location are repeatedly commented on in the interviews:


Inkeri2:  se oliki muute aika jännä juttu ku me oltiin sitte asuttiin Mäkelänkadulla ja tota ni (,) ja ja (,) sit mun mies         vaan rupes tota t- (.) touhumaan sitä että lähetään kattoon (,) Vuosaaresta asuntoo ja (,) ja mä sanoi että ja mää en sinne mettänkorpee halua lähtee että; ((laughing))

it was quite an interesting story when we lived in Mäkelänkatu 3 and my husband started to suggest that we should go and look at an apartment in Vuosaari and I said that I don’t want to move there to the distant backwoods

As we can see in the extract above, for those who lived in the centre Vuosaari was not a real urban part of Helsinki. Inkeri (b. 1944) emphasizes her view of that time concerning the peripheral location of Vuosaari by referring to the area by the word mettänkorpi4; the dialectal variant mettä (instead of the standard form metsä) even underlines the ruralness of the area. There were few reasons why those who did not live in Vuosaari would visit there during the first step of urbanization, namely to visit friends who lived there and the natural environment it provided. Even though some new companies (Paulig coffee roastery, Wärtsilä Shipyard and Shell) moved to Vuosaari, it was not a living part of the city. But notwithstanding this, Inkeri and her husband became Vuosaarians, like many others, at the end of the 1960s.

The planning of Vuosaari’s second step of urbanization started in the 1980s. The aim was to construct an urban district with 40 000–60 000 inhabitants (Lohi 2016, 117–155; Lampi 2005, 165–177). The construction process began in 1989 and the number of inhabitants almost doubled in a decade (see Figure 1 above). The new inhabitants were once again young adults and children. In the 1990s, immigration to Finland and Helsinki was growing rapidly. Many new ethnic minorities found their new homes in eastern Helsinki and especially in the new Vuosaari area (Helsinki by district 2014; Lampi 2005, 189–192; Kervanto Nevanlinna 2012, 341–346).

In the late 1990s Vuosaari was finally attached to the metro network. The metro line from Itäkeskus to Vuosaari was opened in spring 1998. There are two stations in the Vuosaari district, Rastila and Vuosaari. The name Vuosaari appeared on route maps (it is one of end stations of Metro route), announcements and signs in metro trains. Thus Vuosaari became a visible part of the metro Helsinki.

Picture 2. During the second step of urbanization, Vuosaari became a living urban centre with 37 000 inhabitants. (Photo: Scan-foto 1997, Helsinki City Museum.)
Picture 2. During the second step of urbanization, Vuosaari became a living urban centre with 37 000 inhabitants. (Photo: Scan-foto 1997, Helsinki City Museum.)

The new Vuosaari was also planned to be a real urban centre with commercial and cultural services. The shopping centre Columbus was opened in 1996 and the cultural centre Vuotalo in 1997. Helsinki’s first housing skyscraper “Cirrus” (87.5 m) was completed in 2006, and finally the most modern harbour in the Baltic, Vuosaari Harbour, was opened at the end of 2008 (see Picture 2). In the beginning of 2009, some areas of the municipality of Sipoo became consolidated to the city of Helsinki. Vuosaari was no more the east end of the city.

Today, after the second step of urbanization, Vuosaari has 37 000 inhabitants. About 16% of them have a non-Finnish background (cf. 12% in the whole of Helsinki) and 19% are under 16 years of age (14%). There is a great variety of public and commercial services, indeed, the total number of shops and restaurants is nowadays almost the same as the number of the inhabitants in the beginning of the 1900s. Vuosaari has become an urban centre and a living part of the metropolitan area of Helsinki.

The names Vuosaari and Vuokki

What kind of proper name is Vuokki and where does it come from? When we highlight the unofficial name Vuokki in more detail, we see our research area has had several names and name variants in the course of the history, which also reflects the changes the area itself has undergone.

Vuokki is an unofficial name which derives from the official name of the suburb Vuosaari. Vuosaari, in turn, is a relatively old name which has been used long before the suburb of Vuosaari came into existence. Like the majority of traditional place names in Helsinki region, Vuosaari has a Swedish counterpart which is older than the Finnish one. The language spoken by the majority of inhabitants in Helsinki was Swedish until the beginning of the twentieth century (Paunonen 1994, 223–227). The island (where the suburb is now located) and the village named after the island had the name Norsö (in Swedish nor ‘strait’, ö ‘island’). There was indeed a strait here, an old navigable channel, which as late as 1698 separated the island from the continent, but after that date the strait became silted up. The oldest written documents of the name date back to the 1540s, but of course the name is even older than that (Kepsu 2005, 133–135).

The original Swedish name Norsö turned into the form Nordsjö (Swedish nord ‘north’, sjö ‘sea’) in the eighteenth century, which is actually a misspelling made by a map surveyor (cf. Pitkänen 1997). The Finnish name Vuosaari, in turn, is equivalent to the original Swedish name Norsö and is thus translated from it. Both names, Vuosaari and Nordsjö, were confirmed as official names of the suburb in 1966 when Vuosaari was annexed to the city of Helsinki. Helsinki is officially a bilingual city where all official names are given in both languages, Finnish and Swedish (see e.g. Ainiala et al. 2012, 99–100).

Vuokki can also be characterized as a slang name and be seen as an example of Helsinki slang. Originally Helsinki slang was a unique variety which developed at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century among working class people with both Finnish and Swedish language backgrounds in the densely occupied neighbourhoods of southern Helsinki. Slang was a kind of pidgin language which originated to facilitate bilingual communication. Eventually, in its later phases, gradually from the 1950s onwards, Helsinki slang transmuted into a common street language of the youth throughout the Helsinki metropolitan region. This is more or less the situation of Helsinki slang today. Even though the main user group and the function of the slang have changed, many Helsinki slang expressions and slang-based place names have remained the same for over 100 years (Paunonen 1994, 237–238; Paunonen et al. 2009).

The slang name Vuokki belongs to a younger layer of slang. It cannot be dated back earlier than the 1990s (Paunonen & Paunonen 2000), to the time when the metro line and the metro station were built in Vuosaari. In an interview with two native 25-year-old Vuosaarians (Noora and Pilvi) the interviewer asks if the name Vuokki was used when the interviewees were children. They do not think that the name is that old and see it as linked to the arrival of the metro.


Noora: se varmaan tieksä sillon ku toi metro tuli.
                it must have been you know the time when the metro came.

Pilvi: nii (,) sit tuli kaikki Vuokin metris.
           yeah (,) then came all like Vuokki’s metris5.

However, there is no widely accepted view on the age of the slang name Vuokki among Vuosaarians and other Helsinkians themselves. According to our questionnaire from 2015, the majority date the name to the 1990s and quite a few to the 1980s, but some of the respondents think it might have originated as early as the 1960s.

Vuokki is a very typical unofficial place name since it has been formed on the basis of the official name, by shortening it and adding a slang suffix to the root of the name (see e.g. Ainiala et al. 2012, 105–106). A slang derivational suffix has no semantic function and it only “translates” a name into slang (Ainiala et al. 2012, 106). Vuokki includes a slang suffix –kki, which is not a typical place name suffix. The most common suffixes in place names are –is and –ari. Besides Vuokki, one other well-known neighbourhood name with the slang suffix –kki, is Suokki, shortened from the name Suomenlinna (Paunonen & Paunonen 2000). Suokki was already current in the 1940s (Paunonen & Paunonen 2000) and may well have functioned as a model for Vuokki.6

When we compare the name Vuokki to its counterparts in Eastern Helsinki, alongside the metro line, we notice that Vuokki is among the youngest unofficial suburb names. The other eastern metro stations named after a suburb are Herttoniemi, Itäkeskus, Myllypuro, Kontula, Mellunmäki, Puotila and Rastila. The two latter ones, Puotila and Rastila, are located at the same metro line as Vuosaari and were opened in 1998. The other metro stations were opened already at 1980s. Without exception, the suburbs with metro stations opened already at 1980s carry older slang names than Vuosaari, Rastila and Puotila. Examples of common slang names are Hertsika and Herttis (for Herttoniemi, from 1920s), Itis (from Itäkeskus, from 1980s), Myllis, Myllikä, Myllikkä, Myltsika (Myllypuro, from 1960s and 1970s), Kondeka, Kondis, Kontsi (for Kontula, from 1970s), Mellis, Mellu (Mellunmäki, from 1970s) and Potski, Puotis (for Puotila, from 1970s). Even though these suburbs have gained new slang names (e.g. Kontsu and Meltsi) in addition to the older ones at 1990s, it seems that normally a suburb has had a slang name already before a metro station was built. Only Vuosaari and Rastila – Rastila actually being part of Vuosaari suburb – have not had any commonly known slang names before 1990s. Furthermore, one reason that Vuosaari has not had any common slang names earlier, might lie in the name’s phonological structure. Unlike some other neighbourhood names, e.g. Herttoniemi and Mellunmäki, Vuosaari is probably easier to pronounce.

As a conclusion at this point, we can state that unlike most of the eastern suburbs in Helsinki, Vuosaari did not have any established slang name until 1990s, after the metro line and the metro station were built. It thus could be presumed that the slang name Vuokki was born in connection to the arrival of metro and thus to the urbanization of Vuosaari suburb.


Vuokki in use and attitudes

Three databases used in this study do not include identical questions about the name variant Vuokki, but by combining them we can see who are associated with users of Vuokki, who report themselves as using it and who use it in practice as far as we can conclude on the basis of the interview data. Because the data have been collected on different occasions over a period of almost ten years, we can also consider whether some kind of change has been going on.

In the newest questionnaire, the respondents were explicitly asked whom they consider to use the term Vuokki. This topic was also raised in some interviews. In the comments, many kinds of groups are mentioned, but the use of Vuokki is connected most frequently to a certain age group, namely teenagers and young adults (altogether 66 mentions).  Typical users are described, for instance, as “young and youthful people” (female, age: 56–65). Another category mentioned repeatedly is place of residence. According to respondents, Vuokki is used by those living in Vuosaari (28 comments), but part of the respondents argue that it is used not only by Vuosaarians but also by other Eastern Helsinki inhabitants (13) or native Helsinkians (12). In many comments these two aspects, age and place of residence, are explicitly related. In contrast, there are several respondents who emphasize that Vuokki is used by all Vuosaarians or its use is not age-related: “All who live there or nearby” (male, age: 46–55). When the social status of the users was commented on – which did not happen very often – it was thought that the expression was used by those from the lower classes or by socially excluded people. In the following example, the social description is framed with a modal particle (fi. ehkä ‘perhaps’) which shows that the respondent is unsure of the connection between Vuokki and lower social classes: “young people, children and perhaps some ‘lower classes’” (female, age: 36–45).

The respondents and interviewees were also asked whether they use Vuokki themselves. These results do not necessarily correspond to the real usage and only reveal how people suppose they act or want to show they act (e.g. Trudgill 1972; Vaattovaara 2004; Ainiala & Lappalainen 2010). The self-reported use of Vuokki in the questionnaire data is illustrated in Figures 2a and 2b.

Figure 2a. The self-reported use of Vuokki in 2008.

Picture 2. During the second step of urbanization, Vuosaari became a living urban centre with 37 000 inhabitants. (Photo: Scan-foto 1997, Helsinki City Museum.)

Figure 2b. The self-reported use of Vuokki in 2015.


The figures show that the younger the respondent, the more likely he or she reports using Vuokki. This is not surprising in the light of previous research, for young people are known for favouring slang expressions (e.g. Chambers 2009, 182–184). In addition, on the basis of the two surveys, the use of Vuokki has increased during the last decade and is still increasing (for the real and apparent time method, see Labov 1994, 43–112; Chambers 2009, 198–219). However, conclusions concerning differences between two surveys must be drawn carefully, because the composition of respondents and the methods used for selecting informants were not similar in them. If we look at the results in more detail, we see that self-reported use correlates with the respondents’ place of residence: those who live in Vuosaari or have lived there earlier are much more likely to use Vuokki (present inhabitants 60%, former residents 56%) than those who have never lived there (37%).

If we compare interviews and the more recent questionnaire data, we notice a few differences. Firstly, many middle-aged and older informants interviewed in the beginning of the 2000s do not recognize Vuokki at all and very few of them admit to using it themselves as we can see in example 3. In contrast, only one tenth of the respondents in the survey carried out in 2015 say they have not heard anybody using the name variant. The participants here are Pirjo (b. 1950), Pentti (b. 1934) and Tarmo (b. 1942) who have lived for decades in Vuosaari. They all say they would not use Vuokki themselves (l. 4, 6, 7, 19). Nor is it familiar to Pentti and Tarmo (see l. 21–23). Tarmo also mentions that his 30-year-old son has never used it (l. 24–25). However, Pirjo notes that her daughter used Vuokki, when she was younger (l. 8, 14, 17).


01 Int: vielä jos tota näistä (,) nimistä sen verran että (,) että (,) ootteko (,)
               if ((you could say)) a bit more about these names                  have you

02 voisko, voisittekste itsep puhua Vuosaaresta käyttäen esimerkiks
      could     could you yourselves talk about Vuosaari by using

03 nimeä Vuokki? (,) tai Vusa;
      the name Vuokki  or Vusa for instance

04 Pentti: e:[:i (.) ei ei ei.
                      no       no no no

05 Int:            [tai joitakin mu[ita?
                          or some other ((names))

06 Pirjo:                                          [@u::[:h@

07 Tarmo:                                                  [ei.

08 Pirjo: ihan niin nuari.              kyl mun tyt[täreni puhu Vu[okista.
                   ((I am not)) that  young ((but))  my daughter talked about Vuokki

09 Int:                                                                           [nii                     [o- onk ne onks ne
                                                                                             yes                     are they     are they

10 selvästi sitte i- (,)  ku nuoren polven käyt[tämiä nimiä?
      clearly names which are used by the young generation?

11 Pentti:                                                                              [on (.) on
                                                                                                       yes    yes

12 [joo.

13 Tarmo: [todennäkö[sesti.

14 Pirjo:                                [mun tyttäreni käytti tätä Vuokki-sanaa.
                                                   my daughter used the word Vuokki.

15 Int: nii (.)  ni.
              yeah yeah

16 (,)

17 Pirjo: sillon ku hän oli koulus[sa.
                   when she was at school

18 Int:                                                          [mm (.) m;

19 Pirjo: mä en [(.) koskaa käyt(täny).
                   I never use(d) ((it))

20 Int:                      [mut mut tun- tuntuuks se jotenkin tota millaselta se sit kuulostaa.
                                     but does it se- seem somehow          well how does it sound

21 Tarmo:  täysin vieras mulle siis tämä (Vuokki en tiä – – ).
                       totally foreign to me this (Vuokki I don’t know)

22 Pentti: niin kyllä sen tiesti ymmärtää ku se tossa yhteydessä kerrotaa mut et
                      yes of course I understand it when it comes out in that context but

23 ei:: sitä kyllä (.) em mä käy[täs sitä.
      no I don’t use it

24 Tarmo:                                         [poika on kolkytvuotias mut ei se tota, koskaa oos
                                                                 (my) son is thirty years old but he has never

25 sit käyttäny,
      used it

26 Int: mm.

27 Tarmo: (– pari [vuot[ta).
(– a couple of years)

28 Int:                        [mm.

29 Tarmo:                             [ky[l se o ihan tun-
                                                    it is totally unkno-

30 Pirjo:                                       [mulle se on tuttu siis näitten,
                                                           it is familiar to me

31 Int: mm,

32 Pirjo:  [viistoistvuotiaitten koululaisten;
                    as used by fifteen-year-old school kids

33 Pentti: [nuoriso;
                      young people

34 Pentti: niin_on.
                      yes it is

36 Pirjo: sanastona (,) sanastosta.
                   as ((their)) vocabulary from ((their)) vocabulary

Secondly, the extract reveals another difference between databases. In the interviews, the use of Vuokki is strongly related to adolescence – even that it is a variant which is used only when one is a youngster and it is rejected after this time of life. When Pirjo describes her daughter’s use of Vuokki, she systematically uses the past tense (puhu ‘talked’ l. 8, käytti ‘used’ l. 14, oli ‘was’ l. 17), which can be interpreted that her daughter does not use it anymore and the variant is not tied with a certain generation but a certain period of life. Later Pirjo specifies the users of Vuokki as 15-year-olds (l. 30, 32, 36). The phenomenon in which the use of a variant increases in a certain period of life but decreases later is called age-grading in sociolinguistics (see e.g. Labov 1994, 83–84; Wagner 2012; Buchstaller 2015). On the basis of earlier research, it is more typical that when young people favour a variant more than older age groups, it predicts a change in the speech community, for the language use of a generation seems to remain quite stable after youth (e.g. Labov 1994, 73–112; Chambers 2009, 200–219). If the views of the interviewees hold true, the use of Vuokki would will not increase. However, the most recent questionnaire data do not support this hypothesis.

The interviews enabled us to examine whether the interviewees use Vuokki or the official name Vuosaari when they refer to the suburb spontaneously (excluding metalinguistic use). It is not surprising that the only interviewees who use the variant spontaneously are young people, both native Finns and immigrants (cf. Chambers 2009, 182–184). Example 4 comes from the interview of two teenagers, Ulla and Leena, who were 15-year-old girls (b. 1993) when the interview took place. The names of the suburb have not been discussed before the extract, but Ulla uses Vuokki spontaneously (l. 6, 9) when the interviewer asks whether the girls spend their time in the local shopping centre (l. 1).


01 Int: hengaatteks_te koskaa siel Kolumbuksella;
               do you ever hang around there in Columbus

02 Ulla: jo[o.

03 Leena:  [joskus.

04 (,)

05 Ulla: joo kyl mä välil sit_ku o aikaa.
                 yes I sometimes do when I have time

06 Ulla: et siäl on niinku e- et enemmä porukkaa Vuokista (.) et niinku sit
                 there are like more groups from Vuokki there                so like

07 ku o Rastila ni siel o enemmä porukkaa Rastilasta (.) mut sillee
       there are more groups from Rastila in Rastila            but so

08 niinku kyl me (0.2) porukka niinku hengaa sekasin et ei oo vaa
      we like                    the gang also hangs around together that it’s not only

09 sillee et tää on Rastilaj je- alue ja toi on Vuokin? (.) tai sillee
      so that this is the area of Rastila and that one is the area of Vuokki or so

10 et kyl niinku se on sekasi enite.
      we mostly hang around together

Finally we studied images and attitudes related to Vuokki. They were first investigated by using Osgood’s semantic differential in which Vuokki was asked to be evaluated by using seven adjective pairs: pleasant–unpleasant, cold–warm, urban –rural, old-fashioned–youthful, masculine–feminine, neutral–irritated, official–unofficial (for the method, see e.g. Garrett 2010, 53–56). The respondent was asked to choose where his or her position lies, on a scale between these two bipolar adjectives. The analysis of the semantic differential shows that Vuokki is more likely to be described by adjectives which can be considered more positive in this context: pleasant, warm, urban and youthful. The positive stance towards the slang variant can also be seen in evaluating statements (e.g. the acceptance of Vuokki as part of the name of a local cafeteria) which were studied using a Likert scale.8 This kind of tendency can be expected on the basis of the fact that the majority of the respondents report using the variant themselves. They are of like mind most strongly on the urbanity (urban vs. rural) and informality (official vs. unofficial) of the name, whereas it is not associated with either masculinity or femininity.

How should one explain the results and differences between the sub-corpora? The differences can partly be related to different kinds of methods, but we argue that Vuokki has become more known among the inhabitants of Vuosaari, its use has increased, as well as positive attitudes towards it, over quite a short period of time. It is noteworthy that according to the latest survey, most of the respondents (65%) reported using slang and unofficial names in general, which cannot be considered self-evident in the light of earlier research (Rosenberg 2011, 60–64; Vierto 2014, 45–55).

The change in the use of Vuokki and attitudes towards it can be explained by the rapid growth of population (Figure 1), as well as the demography of the area, for Vuosaari is a suburb of children, young people and young adults. In 2000, for instance, almost 23% of Vuosaarians were under 16 years old (cf. 16% in the whole Helsinki; see also ch. 3). On the basis of our own ethnographic observations in the area, Vuokki is considered especially the variant of new Vuosaarians living in its new side.



In this article, we have shown that the names are not only expressions with which places are identified and differentiated from others, but are attached with social meanings. In our case study of the slang name Vuokki we have discussed its use, as well as attitudes related to it, by combining urban history and socio-onomastics perspectives. The use and images associated with the name have been analysed in the light of the urbanization of the suburb – how a countryside-like and peripheral area has developed as an urban and dynamic suburb with full services and good connections to the centre by metro. In the analysis, we have scrutinized the self-reported and authentic use of Vuokki by relating it to such social variables as the age and the place of residence. In addition, we have described images the respondents associate with the name variant by using methods designed to study language attitudes. We have also illustrated the use of Vuokki and the images related to it by analysing a few extracts from interviews qualitatively. We have shown that Vuokki is favoured by adolescents and young adults and it is also associated with them. However, during the last decade it has become more frequent among older generations as well. On the basis of the semantic differentials and other methods used for measuring attitudes towards the variant, Vuokki is considered, above all, to be an unofficial and urban name, and that is why it is an optimal resource for expressing the urban identity of an inhabitant living in a modern suburb like Vuosaari. It is naturally combined with living in Vuosaari, but nowadays it is also known and used elsewhere in the Helsinki region. Vuosaari has gone through an exceptionally rapid and radical social change. As a consequence of the change, it has been taken over by a new generation which has its roots in Helsinki. On the basis of our analysis, it seems to be very natural for them to use unofficial names like Vuokki. We interpret this usage to be a means to show their belongingness to their own area.



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Appendix. Transcription symbols

.                     falling intonation
;                     slightly falling intonation
,                     level intonation
?                    rising intonation
↑                    rise in pitch
_                    emphasis is indicated by underlining (e.g. cat)
:                     lengthening of sound
su-                 dash indicates a cut-off of a word
[                     utterances starting simultaneously
(.)                  micropause: 0.2 seconds or less
(,)                  pause: 0.3 seconds or more
@                  animated voice
(  )                 item in doubt
(-)                  word in doubt
((  ))               comment by the transcriptionist


Terhi Ainiala

PhD, Adjunct Professor, University Lecturer, Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies, University of Helsinki.