An observant walker through the central streets of Helsinki may have noticed street signs with animal names and icons. These are the original names of the blocks that had died out but which have been reintroduced by the city.
The Nomeculture of a city is basic on one level in that it would be impossible to navigate without it. But it is also an ephemeral layer, it reveals history and cultural attitudes that become enshrined and hidden in named spaces.
Helsinki’s nomeculture started officially in 1820 when the street names were only in the Swedish Language, but by 1833 Russian Language signs in the Cyrillic alphabet began to appear alongside the Swedish Names, natural enough as Finland was then annexed into the Russian Empire. It was only in 1906 that the first Finnish language street names began to be added at first in Töölö. In 1945 a committee was established to name streets officially.
In 1810 a Stokholm regulation required the numbering of all sites in blocks bordering on streets. Corner buildings had to have street signs added to the side of the walls, but with the additional requirement that the name of the block should be added. Apparently the names of the blocks in Stokholm in the centre are still well known. In Helsinki in 1820 when the names of the streets were ratified it seems they followed the Stokholm tradition and named the blocks also. Domestic and wild animals were used as well as names of flowers in old Helsinki whereas in the Uusimaa suburbs the names of fish and birds were used. But by 1910 Helsinkis blocks were no longer given names along with their street names, it seems this had died out from common usage. In the last few years Helsinki city has reintroduced the names of the traditional blocks at least back to the centre of the city with block names indicated alongside the street names.
In 2003 the position of Nomeclature designer was established in Helsinki City Planning Department, this person has responsibility for naming streets, districts, parks, marinas, schools, hospitals even bus stops.