Being Risto Pakarinen

When a baby is born in Finland, it is customary for the godmother (or father) to buy him (or her) a spoon that has the baby’s vital stats engraved in it. At that point in time, the stats are height and weight at birth as well as the date and time of birth.

And – naturally – the name.

Yes, that is me, being Risto Pakarinen

Why? Maybe because in a country whose national anthem has a line, “your song will be heard higher”, instead of “highest” – a common mistake by Finns, by the way – and another line, “our country is poor, and will remain so”, nobody is born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Until recently – and of course I am making this up as I go, I have no stats to back this up, simply anecdotal evidence from my family and friends – it was also a tradition to keep the name of the baby a secret until the christening.

These two traditions came on a collision course when I was born.

My godmother, my aunt, had done what she was expected to do and she’d got me a silver spoon with an image of a cuckoo clock showing 3.40 am, my height and weight, and on the backside of the spoon, my name.


According to family legend, my father convinced my mother to name me Risto instead, just on the eve of the event. And according to the same legend, he made up his mind having consulted the Helsinki Metro Telephone Directory which, at the time, had no one called Risto Pakarinen.

I was the special one.

Growing up, I always thought I was still the only Risto Pakarinen in the world, but didn’t ever bother to check it up anywhere. Not even the phone book.

I got the wakeup call about ten years ago, in the middle of the night when somebody made a drunken call to me – thinking I was a Risto Pakarinen living in Suomenlinna, an island just off the coast of Helsinki.

The first call was a shock, but I managed to convince myself that it was probably a big mistake on another, even bigger, level. Of course there weren’t any other Risto Pakarinens. That’s why the the second call a few nights later was a even bigger blow.

Then the calling stopped, and I forgot about the whole thing.

I’ve been self-googling, egosurfing, enough to know that the first couple of pages of Google search of “Risto Pakarinen” are all about me. My stories, my Facebook pages, my Twitter, this website.

Looking at that page, you could almost think that I was the only Risto Pakarinen in the world.

“Mission accomplished”.

Not quite, it seems.

Today, I took off on a quick trip to Finland, and for once, I flew the Finnish national airline, Finnair. There’s not a big difference between SAS and Finnair, except that on the Finnair flights, they hand out Finnish newspapers, and on SAS flights, the newspapers are Swedish.

I had just read my two papers, and Blue Wings, the Finnair in-flight magazine, and had finished eating my sandwich, when the person sitting next to me, in the middle seat, turned a page in his Helsingin Sanomat.

Now, Helsingin Sanomat is still a good old broadsheet, so turning a page while sitting in an airplane seat is not something you do discreetly, and the page happened to touch my arm enough for me to notice. I instinctively turned to look and saw a small announcement in the paper.

Risto Pakarinen, administrative director, was celebrating his 60th birthday today. (No reception).


Oh well, here’s hoping Risto had a good one.

Had he been living in Helsinki in his 20s – and had a telephone – you’d be reading this blog at

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