Namers find inspiration in people, places, and things both far and wide. However, art and literature are often at the heart of our creative wanderings. The process, expression, and advice of great writers is like nourishment for our naming souls. For instance, Zinzin has written blog posts on Elmore Leonard, Jack Kerouac, and Don DeLillo and Jhumpa Lahiri, among others. With all due respect to those great writers, perhaps no one nourishes and inspires this namer more than one of the greatest writers and artists of all time, Tove Jansson.
Tove Jansson blew the lid off what it means to be a creative force in the world. She was an internationally acclaimed author, novelist, painter, illustrator and comic strip author. There’s so much to cover when Tove Jansson is the subject, because her work is vast and varied. However, this blog post will focus on…you guessed it…names! And she created some fabulously fun ones.
First, who was Tove Jansson?
That’s a question worth exploring in depth, because she is a fascinating human. However, for our purposes here, I think this excerpt from the Tovepedia encapsulates her best.
Tove Jansson (1914–2001) was a Finnish writer and artist whose illustrated books for children, and fiction for adults, have become famous throughout the world. She is best known as the creator of the Moomin stories for children – as well as the Moomin comic strips and picture books that followed – and for The Summer Book, a novel widely considered a classic of Nordic fiction. Yet she excelled in many different literary and artistic forms, achieving early fame as a promising young painter and cartoonist, and, later, as the author of novels and short stories, poems, and plays for radio and theatre. She even wrote songs.
Tove Jansson’s approach to work, just like her approach to life, was wholehearted and vital. She would strive for originality and freshness, creating prose and pictures imbued with colours, a talent for storytelling, and values that were both humane and inclusive. Her love of nature is a constant theme, especially of the sea that surrounded the Finnish island where she spent her summers.
Tove Marika Jansson was born on August 9, 1914 and died on June 27, 2001. Her grave is situated at Hietaniemi cemetery in Helsinki, Finland.
If you’re up for a more lengthy and in-depth read about Jansson, check out Sheila Heti’s fantastic 2020 article in The New Yorker called Inside Tove Jansson’s Private Universe.
Meet the Moomintrolls
Tove Jansson created The Moomintrolls, also called The Moomins. They’re a fictional family of white, smooth, round characters with large snouts who live in Moominvalley. Similar in appearance to a hippo, they are indeed trolls. And they appear in her children’s series of nine novels, short stories, and a comic strip released between 1945 and 1993. The stories are about The Moomins’ adventures with their various friends. (Zinzin-namer aside: these stories are completely delicious, for kids and adults alike.)
Once again, the Tovepedia, does a nice job of summarizing The Moomins:
In 1945 Tove Jansson wrote and illustrated a gentle fantasy for children, The Moomins and the Great Flood, a story she created to distract herself from the wartime devastation of Helsinki. It would take two further books, Comet in Moominland and Finn Family Moomintroll (known as The Happy Moomins in the USA), for the Moomins to become established as a series, with a readership spreading far beyond Finland. By the time she published the last novel in the Moomin series, Moominvalley in November, in 1970, the books had become an international phenomenon, translated into some 60 languages. Their beautiful ink-line drawings and character designs are today known and loved by millions.
After thinking about how I’d like to present these invented names, I did a little research. As it turns out, Wikipedia has an entry entirely devoted to Moomin characters, written by Yvonne Bertills in her 2003 dissertation for Finland’s Åbo Akademi University. It includes original Swedish names of the characters with the etymologies and suggested word associations. (Factoid: Tove Jansson grew up as part of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland.)
Without further ado, let’s get to some fun and fabulous character names in The Moomin series.
My top 10 favorite names created by Tove Jansson
(Swedish: Filifjonkan – no semantic meaning, but with the first element compare filibuffare “joker”, filidera, “make bad noise”, and with the second, fjompa/fjanta/fjolla + -an = “silly/foolish/fussy woman”) – known as The Fillyjonk in some English translations, the first we hear of is the late theatre director in Moominsummer Madness (the Rat is his widow) and the young Fillyjonk who joins the Snork Maiden in the late night jaunt to the wishing well. Later we meet the wonderful psychological study of the “Fillyjonk Who Believed In Disasters” in Tales from Moominvalley. Not a single moment of fantasy or joy, only duties and discipline; she is an extremely methodical person tied down with principles and has a deep rooted belief in prestige and tradition. Nevertheless, after a catastrophe, The Fillyjonk can be freed from the trammels of social expectation and can discover the joys of freedom, irrationality and self-expression. Deep inside she has had a wish to live freely as the Moomin family does, without any worries. Fillyjonks resemble humanoid rodents; they are tall and thin, with long muzzles and raccoon-like rings around their eyes.
(Swedish: Mårran – morra “to growl; to grumble”, Finnish: Mörkö – “bogeyman; bugbear”) – cold and ghost-like, she represents loneliness and all that is scary in the world of Moomin.
(Swedish: hattifnattar – with the first element compare hatta, “dither”; the second element is related to fnatta (omkring), “flutter around”; få fnatt, “go crazy or get excited over something”; poss. fnatt, “squirrel”) – small white ghost-like creatures that resemble worn socks. Hattifatteners are always on the move and travel the sea in large groups (but always in odd numbers), such as boat convoys. They meet every year on a lonely island. Their only goal in life is to reach the horizon. They may communicate using telepathy. The Hattifatteners cannot see very well, but their sense of touch is very strong, and they can feel ground vibrations and electricity. Hattifatteners assemble once a year when they “recharge” in a thunderstorm, when they can cause electrical burns. Hattifatteners grow from seeds, but only if this seed is sown on Midsummer Eve.
(Swedish: Hemul – hemul, a legal term, “authority or warrant for something (n.), entitled (adj.)”) (In Swedish “Hemulen” means “the hemul”) – Hemulens feature frequently in the books. One of them is an avid stamp collector, and another is an avid skier. A female Hemulen raised Moominpappa in an orphanage, and later Moominpappa met her aunt, who looked confusingly like her. Other characters frequently find the Hemulens annoying or overwhelming, as they can be somewhat loud, bossy, abrasive and insensitive, but they are well-intentioned and usually have other redeeming qualities. In the beginning of Finn Family Moomintroll, a hemulen who is a keen stamp collector is depressed, as he has every stamp on the face of earth and has lost his purpose in life. Later on, he finds a new purpose: to collect plants. In Finn Family Moomintroll, “un-Hemulenish” (ohemul) contains a sense of “unwarranted, unjustified”.
(Swedish: Trollkarlen – “The Wizard”) – appearing in Finn Family Moomintroll (Swedish: Trollkarlens hatt), he is a powerful magician who travels the Universe with his flying panther, looking for the King’s Ruby. His top hat is found in the Lonely Mountains by Moomintroll, Snufkin and Sniff, who take it back to Moominhouse. Chaos ensues, as anything you put inside the hat is transformed. Moomintroll himself is changed into a strange creature by the hat when he uses it to hide in during a game. The hat also changes the Moominhouse into a sort of jungle. The Hobgoblin has a quite intimidating appearance, but is friendly.
(Swedish: Joxaren, Finnish: Juksu) – The Joxter is Moominpapa’s old friend and father of Snufkin. He is described as worry-free, cat-like and so lazy that he described his perfect life as: “sitting in a fruit tree, eating fruit as it grows”. He appears beige in colour and has water-clear eyes. He has forebodings throughout the book telling his friends of danger. Joxter also shares his son’s dislike of authority figures stating that their family was at war with a park keeper in “The Exploits of Moominpapa”.Joxter is the lover of The Mymble (elder).
(Swedish: Lilla My – my, “micron, mu”) is a small, determined and fiercely independent Mymble. When she wants something done, she does it straight away. She is very aggressive and totally disrespectful, but can be a good friend. She is Snufkin’s half-sister.
(Swedish: Snorken) – the Snork Maiden’s older brother, also friends with Moomintroll. He and his sister first meet Moomintroll in Comet in Moominland. After that he appears only in Finn Family Moomintroll. He is described as mauve in colour, though changes to a pale green when frightened. His character is obsessive over details, rules, and protocol in the books. In the Japanese TV series, he is described as an avid inventor who has strong belief in the power of science and an obsession with building a flying vehicle.
(Swedish: Snusmumriken – dialectical snusmumrik or mumrik, “old man who talks carelessly; old codger, old bore; old snuff-taker; snotty or scruffy old man,” derived from snus, “snuff,” + interjection mum, also in mumla “mumble,” with pejorative ending -ik) – Moomintroll’s best friend, the son of the elder Mymble and the Joxter, and half-brother to the Mymble’s daughter and Little My. Snufkin wears old green clothes and a wide-brimmed hat that he has had since birth. He lives in a tent, smokes a pipe, and plays the harmonica. He is based on Tove Jansson’s ex-fiancé Atos Wirtanen who was also known to wander.
(Swedish: Too-ticki) – a friend of the family, craftswoman and practical philosopher. Has her first appearance in the novel Moominland Midwinter and returns in the short stories of Tales from Moominvalley and in comics. The character and the name are modelled after Tuulikki Pietilä, Tove Jansson’s life partner.
Although The Moomins is a children’s series, I highly recommend it for kids and adults alike. Tove Jansson also wrote novels for adults, of which the best known is The Summer Book (1972). Tove Jansson wrote it following the death of her beloved mother “Ham” (another great name).
In Tove Jansson’s style of writing, I love how she weaves personal experience with exceptional narrative that humbly delivers universal truths. And she’s not afraid to explore the darkness with the light.
At Zinzin, we view the process of naming as an art and a science. We look far and wide for inspiration, from Greek philosophers to modern sports and wisdom from creative thinkers. Thinking in non-linear ways and connecting unexpected dots is what we believe helps to create a great, evocative name for a company, product, or service.
Jay Jurisich says
Love it, Ali! I think my 3 favorite Moomin names are Groke, Snork, and Stinky, any of which would make a great kid name too! (Or, should one’s spouse demur, perhaps a pet’s name.)
Thanks, Jay. That was an especially fun one to write. Your top 3 favorites are great. Now I may have to change the name of my cat (or kids)? 😉