During a trip to Helsinki last weekend, I noticed that many of the blocks in the centre of town also have a secondary name under the street name, usually an animal (the exception I found is the Senate House Quarter below).
Of course I was curious as to why these animal names (with the exception of Senate House Quarter) appear in central Helsinki. According to info available at Helsinki’s city council website here, the naming of city blocks or ‘quarters’ (a property or group of properties bounded by streets on four or more sides) originated in Stockholm in the 1600s.
In 1810, it was stipulated that these quarters (Kortteli in Finnish, Kvarteret in Swedish) be individually numbered, and names were adopted alongside the numbers to make them easier to remember. Names were traditionally taken from trades, people’s names, sea life and birds.
In Helsinki street names were officially ratified in 1820 in connection with fire regulations. Blocks were named and numbered in imitation of the Stockholm model – first in Swedish as Finland then belonged to Sweden, and from 1833 Russian name-signs in the Cyrillic alphabet began to appear alongside the Swedish ones. Finnish name signs were not ratified until 1906. No new block names had been given since the 1890s, and in the early 1910s the existing names were also dropped without ceremony, leaving only the numbers to designate the blocks. Finnish blocks names continued to be used informally for a time but then gradually fell into disuse.
The block naming tradition has enjoyed its revival only recently in the 2000s, but it seems to be popular as a fun way of reconnecting with the old town’s history and former identity. Long may it continue – I look forward to mapping out more block names next time I am in Helsinki!