A calendar page from 1712 with namesdays
Namesdays or name days are a tradition, found in various Catholic countries, of attaching personal names to each day of the year, and celebrating the association of particular days with those for whom that day is named. The tradition is also very widely practiced in the Nordic countries, especially in Sweden and Finland. For example, in Sweden January 28 has the name Karl (sometimes spelt Carl), and Swedes celebrate the namesday of King Carl Gustaf - and all other men named Karl - on this day.
The celebration of namesdays has been a tradition in Catholic countries since the middle ages. The namesdays originate in the list of holidays celebrated in commemoration of saints and martyrs of the Catholic Church. For example, the name Karl or Carl (celebrated in Sweden on January 28) was originally Carolus Magnus, the Latin form of Charlemagne, and a commemoration of his death on this date. The church promoted celebration of namesdays (or rather saints days) over birthdays, as the latter was seen as a pagan tradition.
Where namesdays occur an official list is held containing the current assignations of names to days. There are different lists for Finnish, Swedish, Sami and Greek Catholic countries. From the 18th century and onwards the list of namesdays has been modified in Sweden and Finland, but not in other countries.
Namesdays in Scandinavia
During medieval times the namesdays were of little significance in the Nordic countries, except for the celebration of patron saints for various guilds. A more widespread celebration of namesdays began in the 17th century, at first in the royal court and among aristocracy, but successively also among the general population. The Church of Sweden promoted celebration of namesdays over birthdays, as the latter was seen as a pagan tradition.
From the 18th century onwards, names used by the royal family were introduced to the Swedish list of namesdays, followed by other common names. In 1901 a comprehensive modernization was made to make list up to date with current names. The monopoly on almanacs, held by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, expired in 1972 and so did the official namesday list. Competing namesday lists began to emerge but the official list was still in general use until 1986 when consensus of a new list with three names on each day was reached. This list was revised in 1993 and reduced to two names on each day. However, widespread dissatisfaction with the list prompted the Swedish Academy to compile a new two-name list which was finally accepted and brought into use in 2001. Although it does not have the official status of the 1901 or older lists, it is now universally used in Sweden.
Today Finns celebrate their namesdays (or nimipäivä) according to their given name on the date given by the calendar published by the Helsinki University's Calendar Office (Almanakkatoimisto). The University owns the copyright to the list of names and their corresponding dates.
This is the old Swedish list, sanctioned by the Swedish Academy in 1901. Some days still refer to traditional or religious feasts rather than personal names. Some of the names below are linked to the original saints or martyrs from which they originate. (For the current 2001 list, see external links below)