When my great-grandfather on my dad’s side arrived at Ellis Island from Finland his name was Jussi Jääskäläinen. When he left Ellis Island it was John Johnson. Whether it was changed by the immigration people, or if it was suggested, or if he himself changed it I’ll never know, but the latter is pretty unlikely — he couldn’t speak a word of English. Never could. Regardless, the family has been Johnson ever since. My mother’s ancestors came from Finland too, but their names weren’t such tongue twisters and weren’t changed.
I’ve had a strong urge over the past several years to connect with my Finnish heritage. I grew up speaking the language and living many of the customs brought over from the old country, and though it may seem like a frivolous thing, I’ve decided to reclaim my family name. I’m moving back to Montana soon, a beautiful woman is going to walk by my side, and we’re going to join our lives together as married partners.
We’re also going to start our new life with a new name. I’ve lived for 66 years now with the name Johnson, about as dull and generic a name as there is. I’ll still go by my web handle pj finn on the internet, but I’ll finish my years on this planet as half of a couple who go by the name of Jääskäläinen. And there you have it.