The primary aim of the project is to reconstruct, etymologically describe and contextually study Pre-Christian and Early Christian Uralic anthroponymic systems. A special emphasis is on the Old Finnic and Mari personal name systems.

Material used for the purposes of the reconstruction of old personal names is primarily the variation of anthroponyms, mainly surnames, attested historically or in the onomastic material collected by fieldwork, and also the toponyms derived from the anthroponyms.

The reconstruction conducted in the framework of the project can only be considered the first step of such an undertaking. The materials studied in the project derive from existing data bases, publications and archives, and are supplemented by the field work during the project.

Main research aims of the project are:

  • to systematically reconstruct, as far as possible, old personal names systems in the Uralic languages
  • to reveal the main historical strata of the anthroponymic systems in the languages under investigation (Finnic, Mari, to lesser extent other Uralic languages)
  • find out the typological characteristics of the anthroponymic systems related to different periods such as the Pre-Christian and early Christian era among the Finno-Ugrians
  • describe the common and dissimilar naming motivations of people in the Uralic languages
  • give a historical interpretation of the main bulk of the reconstructed names
  • describe the cultural processes that caused the change in anthroponymic systems over time (migration, language shift, borrowing, trade networks, religious change, etc.)
  • describe the interethnic relations of the past reflected in the anthroponymic systems

Besides this primary goal, the project has important implications for the cultural reconstruction of the past of the Uralic speaking peoples. The Pre-Christian or Early Christian anthroponyms reflect the world view of the early communities of the Northern Eurasian hemisphere. It is estimated that the anthroponymic material will reveal mythological concepts, denominations of neighbour ethnicities as well as culturally relevant naming practices related to the ethnolinguistic world view of the past populations. In this interdisciplinary framework, the project will employ, as far as possible, the results of folklore and comparative religion and mythology. The cultural concepts and networks related to the pre-Christian and early Christian world view of the Finnic-speaking people, as well as the Uralic or Eurasian concepts of denomination characteristic for particular periods, will be described in cooperation with the specialists in these fields in seminal workshops.

Research methods and material

To reach the goals, the methods of typological, historical-comparative, socio-onomastic and ethnolinguistic onomastics will be implemented.

The general theoretical framework is based on the analysis of the recurring naming patterns, i.e. name models. The approach tackles the structure of names at several different levels. For the first, names are described in the framework of name typology according to their morphosyntactic structure. In this framework names are described from the point of view of their systemic character and the morphosyntactic structures that guide the naming. The semantic models employed within the name structures are then revealed by using the methodologies of etymology and cultural reconstruction and investigated on a cognitive and socio-onomastic basis to rightly interpret their use in the communities in which they emerged.

Particular emphasis is on the reconstruction of the name-givers ethnolinguistic world-view that is reflected in the name patterns preserved in present anthroponymic systems. Consequently, the analytic framework also classifies historic layers of the anthroponyms, through which the typology of change of the systems in individual languages can be outlined and contrasted with that of others.

The material derives from existing archives (Institute for the Languages of Finland (Helsinki), V.M. Vasilyev Mari Research Institute for language, literature and history (Yoshkar-Ola), Karelian Dept. of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Petrozavodsk), Toponymic archive of the Urals State University (Yekaterinburg), Eesti Keele Instituudi kohanimede arhiiv (Tallinn).

In addition, notable new materials will be collected by field work, especially from Karelian and Mari languages. Local people will be interviewed by the traditional methodologies of the onomastic field work (structured thematic interviews). The participants of the project all have a long experience on toponymic field working and they can employ their individual methodologies on data collection while simultaneously learning from each other in the course of the project and refining their field work methodologies collectively during the workshops and, if possible, joint field work expeditions.