Crater names – what do they stand for?

country-map_finYhteenveto suomeksi: Suomen törmäyskraattereiden nimet kuulostavat äkkiseltään erikoisilta: Lappajärvi, Suvasvesi, Keurusselkä, Iso-Naakkima, jne. Lähemmin tarkasteltuna nimet kuitenkin tarkoittavat pääpiirteittäin aivan tavallisia asioita – jopa ne kaikkein oudoimman kuuloisetkin! Monien selvityksessä tarvitaan kuitenkin etymologista analyysiä. Lappajärven on tulkittu kertovan seudulla aiemmin asustelleista metsäläisistä, suvas taas viittaa joko suvantoon, syvänteeseen  tai mustikan kukkaan, keuru meinaa käyrää, ja naakiminen on murresana väijymiselle. Lopun taulukosta asia avautuu muidenkin monttujen osalta. (Tämä teksti on poikkeuksellisesti englanniksi, sillä etäännyttämällä ajatuksiani äidinkielestä pääsin ainakin itse syvemmälle kiinni käsitteisiin.)

Craters around the world are usually named after the locations they are found in: Villages, nearest post offices, and such. In some rare cases, even a persistent meteorite hunter will do.

It should come as no surprise that in Finland – the land of ten thousand lakes – craters are named mostly after lakes. Craters are, after all, depressions. And those tend to fill up with water.

I had a revelation about the whole thing recently: I realized that all the names of our craters are descriptive ones. Just two have unknown (or debated) origins, but even their likely candidates describe ordinary characteristics of the locations. Southern open water, Large hunting place, Island lake, Water lily water, Aspen water, etc. No mentions of anything even remotely personal, such as place specific names, or ones honoring deities, houses, or people. The closest one is Lappajärvi, meaning ”Lake of the Lapps”.

I never knew about this before. But then I tried to find some information for our book project.

I tried searching the net for pictures of Sääksjärvi. The impact site is a rather big, pretty and famous lake in Kokemäki, located more than 200 km northwest of Helsinki. It means simply ”Osprey lake”. But, instead of images of the crater, I came across tons of fun party pics from a popular summer hangout beach. You see, another ”Osprey lake”, is located just next door to Helsinki.

Finland is a jungle of namesakes like these.

By far the most horrific example of doppelgangers is Saarijärvi, the northernmost impact site in the whole continental Europe. It literally means ”Island lake”. The official Finnish database of lakes lists a whopping 198 lakes called Saarijärvi, probably neglecting many small ponds and puddles. In addition, the name has also stuck with at least twenty seven farms or estates, one bog, three villages and one whole town! To top this, Saarijärvi has also diffused over the borders: at least Norway and Sweden both have dozens of Saarijärvis (yes, in Finnish) of their own.


Finnish impact craters (white outlines) and their namesakes (black outlines).

Perhaps visualizing the problem helps. On the right you’ll see a map where all Saarijärvis are marked with red. Could you find the right one, if I didn’t tell you which one it is?

Söderfjärden, a crater in the west, is neatly translated from Swedish into ”Southern open water”. It has about 15 namesakes of its own (plus another 16 in Finnish), and some abroad. Ironically, the name actually doesn’t do justice to the crater anymore: it was dried out to get arable land. But the name remains: It was given by villagers living on the northern shore of the then-open-water.

This leads us nicely to the catch (which there of course is). To understand the meaning of a name, one needs to do a bit of digging. Sometimes translations are needed, to turn old words from local dialects such as Savonian into something understandable. A place name may stick for centuries, but it changes in the process. Meanwhile the things their names originally meant – flowers, methods of hunting, etc – are described by other words. That is, if they are still called anything.

It’s a nightmare. Or a detective story.

Luckily for me, I didn’t need to do the translating: Finnish etymologists had already done that, and I just needed to go to the library. And I learned a lot, like that ”naakia” meant ”to prowl” in some old Finnish dialect, and ”paas” meant ”road” in another. These words have almost no connection to the language of our time. Or at least I don’t hear it.

I will conclude with the mysterious two: Nobody knows what their names mean anymore.

Lumparn is a bay of the Bothnian sea in the Åland archipelago. It is surrounded by various places that all share the name Lumpo in some form or another, and Lumparn is a colloquial version of that (or vice versa?). Nobody knows which one got its name first – was it a hill, a village, or the bay? And what does the name mean? If it comes from Swedish (which is traditional on the islands), it might refer to a lump or a pile – the hill perhaps? But Åland has also had a lot of Finnish influence, even settlers, so the name might mean something like lumme, the water lily – hinting that the bay was maybe named first? After all, it used to be an important waterway between Finland and Sweden. And then there is a third option: some claim the name comes from some important person, otherwise already disappeared from history.

Suvasvesi in eastern Finland is the second big unknown. Etymologists have differing opinions: The closest word in contemporary Finnish, suvanto,  means a wide and slow part of a river. But nobody would mistake a lake for a river, not in Finland. So, other authors say it might be a twisted version of saying ”deep water”, syvänne. This of course would suit the place of two craters just fine! And then there is one school of thought that claims the name comes from dialects even further east, and means bilberry flower water. Poetic, huh?

Who knows.

But this is very interesting. This is a type of our own history, living and breathing just beside us. And we only rarely even realize it is there.

Now I ask that you do some digging of your own. Can you trace what your favourite crater name means? Is it unique, or does it have dozens of namesakes?


Table: Finnish impact crater names with translations, and the approximate number of namesake and synonym sites found around the country (and the world). Taulukko: Kraattereidemme nimet käännöksineen sekä niiden nimikaimat ja synonyymit lähialueillamme.

Kraatterin nimi / Crater name Nimen yleiskielinen merkitys
Name translation
Tarkat nimikaimat / Exact namesakes Synonyymit / Near-namesakes and synonyms
Nimikaimoja ulkomailla / Namesakes abroad
Iso-Naakkima Suuri väijyntä(paikka) (naakia ~ hiipiä, vaania, metsästää) Large(r) stalking (place). (iso ~ large; naakia ~ to prowl, to stalk) 1: Pikku-Naakkima
Karikkoselkä Karinen ulappa. (karikko ~ kari; selkä ~ ulappa, avovesi) Open water with near-surface rocks. (karikko ~ shoal, reef, underwater rocks, skerry; selkä ~ open water) 19: Karijärvi, Kariselkä
Keurusselkä Käyrä ulappa. (keuru ~ käyrä; selkä ~ ulappa, avovesi) Curved open water. (keuru ~ curved, bent, crooked; selkä ~ open water) 7: Käyräjärvi, Käyräselkä
Lappajärvi Lapinjärvi, Lappalais(ten)järvi. (lappa ~ saamelaisten tai metsäläisten kutsumanimi, myös metallisolki) Lappish lake. (lappa ~ saami culture or people living off the forest, also buckle or metal fitting; järvi ~ lake) 2 43: Lapinjärvi, Lapinselkä 1
Lumparn Tuntematon. Mahdollisuuksia: 1. Möykky(nen/vesi), Kasa(nen/vesi), Tapuli(nen/vesi). (lähellä Lumpokasetin mäennyppylän mukaan: lumpo ~ lumppu, möykky; kaset ~ kasa, tapuli) 2. Lumme(vesi). Lumpeikko.(suomalaisten uudisasukkaiden nimeämänä; lumpo > lumme) 3. Lyhennetty versio vanhasta miehen nimestä (Lumpo > Salomon). Unknown. Possibilities: 1. Lumpy (water) (after nearby hill Lumpokaset; Swedish: lumpo ~ lump; kaset ~ pile) 2. Water lily (water) (from Finnish settlers; lumpo > lumme ~ water lily) 3. Shortened version of old man’s name (Lumpo > Salomon). 2: Lumpo 1
Paasselkä 1. Todennäköinen: Avoin vesitie, Tie avoveden vieressä. (paas ~ tie; selkä ~ avovesi, ulappa) 2. Epätodennäköinen: Kivipaaden ulappa (paas > paasi ~ isokokoinen kivi) 1. Probable: Open water way, Way next to open water. (paas ~ road; selkä ~ open water) 2. Unlikely: Stone boulder open water (paas > paasi ~ large boulder)
3: Paasvesi, Paasijärvi, Paasiselkä
Sääksjärvi Kalasääksen järvi. (sääks > sääksi, tarkoittanut myös eri murteissa onomatopoeettisesti useita kalaa syöviä lintuja tiirasta kotkaan) Osprey lake. (sääks > sääksi ~ osprey, onomatopoetic word for fish-eating birds from common tern to golden eagle; järvi ~ lake) 25
Saarijärvi Järvi jossa on saaria. Island lake; Lake with islands. (saari ~ island; järvi ~ lake) 210+ ? Over 50
Söderfjärden Eteläinen ulappa. (Ruotsia: söder ~ etelä, fjärden ~ selkä, ulappa) Southern open water. (Swedish: söder ~ south, fjärden ~ open water) 15 16 in Finnish: Eteläselkä, Eteläjärvi 2
Suvasvesi Kiistelty: 1. Suvantovesi, Hitaasti virtaava vesi. (suvas > suvanto) 2. Syvä vesi. (suvas > syvänne) 3. (Mustikan) kukkavesi. (suvas > suvainen ~ marjan, eritoten mustikan kukka) Debated: 1. Pooling/slow water. (suvas > suvanto ~ pooling or slow water) 2. Deep water. (suvas > syvänne ~ deep water) 3. (Bilberry) flower water. (suvas > suvainen ~ (bil)berry flower) 145: Suvantojärvi, Syväjärvi, Syväselkä
Kukkarinselkä (Suvasvesi N crater)
1. Todennäköinen: Verkonmerkin ulappa. (kukkari ~ verkonmerkki; selkä ~ ulappa, avovesi) 2. Epätodennäköinen: Juopon ulappa. (olla kukkarissa ~ jopunut käytös)
1. Likely: Buoy open water. (kukkari ~ buoy; selkä ~ open water) 2. Unlikely: Drunk open water. (kukkari ~ drunken behaviour)
Haapaselkä (Suvasvesi S crater)
Haapoja ulapan rannalla. Aspen open water. (haapa ~ aspen; selkä ~ open water) 22 56: Haapajärvi, Haapavesi

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