US and Finnish flags

Finn-tastic! 13 celebrities you didn’t know are Finnish Americans

US and Finnish flags

Finnish Americans make up just a tiny slice of the American pie, at only 0.2% of the population. And yet, there are tons of talented celebrities and influential Americans who can claim Finnish heritage. We’ve dug deep into the past and rounded up a list of famous Finnish Americans—do you think you know who we found?

Test your knowledge about famous Finnish Americans with this quick quiz, and read on to learn more about them.

John Morton

JohnMorton

Politician and signer of the Declaration of Independence John Morton was one of the United States’ first famous Finns. His grandfather was Martti Marttinen (anglicized to Morton), an immigrant from Rautalampi, Finland. Marttinen was one of the settlers of New Sweden, the Swedish colony that brought the very first Finns to the US.

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer, the president and CEO of Yahoo, was born in Wisconsin and has Finnish ancestry on her mother’s side. According to Mayer, she grew up surrounded by her mother’s colorful Marikmekko pieces, which influenced her design of Google’s interface during her career with the company.

Eero Saarinen

Eero_Saarinen

Did you know that one of the most recognizable American landmarks was designed by a Finn? Eero Saarinen was born in Kirkkonummi, Finland and immigrated to Michigan during his early teens. Known for his neofuturistic style, he became one of the United States’ most iconic architects. His works include the famous Gateway Arch of St. Louis, Missouri, Dulles Airport in Washington D.C., and the redesign of the Swedish Theater in Helsinki.




Pamela Anderson

Pamela_Anderson

Actress and activist Pamela Anderson, a dual citizen of Canada and the US, is one of Hollywood’s most well-known Finns. Her great-grandfather Juho Hyytiäinen was from Saarijärvi and changed his surname to Anderson after immigrating to Canada in the early 1900s.

Matt Damon

Matt_Damon_TIFF_2015

Academy Award-winning actor Matt Damon’s mother, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, has both Finnish and Swedish ancestry. Her family surname Paige was originally Pajari.

Jessica Lange

jessica lange

These days Jessica Lange is best known for her work on American Horror Story, but she has long been considered one of Hollywood’s best actresses (and she has the awards to prove it). Her grandfather George Ilmar Sahlman was originally from Finland.

David Lynch

David Lynch

America’s favorite surrealist David Lynch, who gave us Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive, has Finnish ancestry from his great-grandmother. She had the surname Sundholm, and was Swedish-Finnish, immigrating first to Finland and then to the United States.

Vanessa Williams

Vanessa Williams

Vanessa Williams, actress and the first African American winner of Miss America, didn’t know she was part Finnish until she took a DNA test. Williams took part in the TV series “Who Do You Think You Are”, which traces the genealogy of celebrities, and discovered that she is 12% Finnish. Afterwards, she said “The biggest surprise was Finland. How did that happen? Who is Finnish? That is definitely going to be one of my trips coming up.”




Vampira

Vampira

Vampira, TV’s first horror hostess, was a character created in the early 1950s by Finland-born Maila Nurmi. She was born in Petsamo and moved to Ohio with her family when she was two years old. Nurmi faced plenty of controversy during her acting careers, such as claiming to be the niece of “Flying Finn” Paavo Nurmi, claiming she could speak to James Dean from beyond the grave, and legal controversy with the equally macabre hostess Cassandra Peterson (better known as Elvira).

Dave Mustaine

Dave Mustaine

Dave Mustaine is well-known for being the singer of Megadeth and getting fired from Metallica. Love him or hate him, but he still has Finnish roots.

Leslie Mann

Leslie Mann

Actress and comedian Leslie Mann, who has entertained movie-goers in films such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Rio, has Finnish roots. Her grandmother Sadie Viola Heljä Räsänen was born to Finnish immigrants.

Mark Hoppus

Mark Hoppus

Mark Hoppus, the bassist, and vocalist for Blink-182, has said that most of his family on his mother’s side were from Finland. Fans were wondering why he had a sticker of the Finnish flag on his bass guitar.

Jean M. Auel

Jean Auel is an American writer best known for her Earth’s Children series, which kicked off with the much-loved The Clan of the Cave Bear in 1980. She was born in Illinois as Jean Untinen, and all of her grandparents were from Finland.

Buffalo Bill…maybe?

Buffalo Bill

“Buffalo Bill”, or William Fredrick Cody, is one the Wild West’s most legendary characters. The American folk hero was a buffalo hunter, Pony Express rider, and creator of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, a touring show that featured the likes of sharpshooter Annie Oakley.




But was he Finnish-American? According to some sources, he was. The story goes that his paternal grandfather, Viljami Kotilainen, was from Liminka, Finland. After arriving in America, Kotilainen was shortened to Cody.

The majority of evidence, however, indicates that Buffalo Bill’s Finnish roots were a fabrication. According to sources such as the Buffalo Bill Museum, his ancestors were actually Huguenots who immigrated to Massachusetts from the Channel Islands. The original family surname was Le Caude, and was anglicized to Cody.

Which of these famous Finnish Americans surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments! And if you want to see how their Finnish immigrant ancestors fared when they arrived in the New World, be sure to read China Swedes, Forest Finns and The Great Migration: How Finnish immigrants helped build America 

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Kathleen Harris Helsinki 2Originally from the United States, Kathleen Harris is a Digital Content Producer at Ink Tank Media in Helsinki, Finland. When she’s not researching and writing the articles that you read here, she enjoys reading, binge-watching TV series, and gaming. You can follow her on Twitter.

 




24 replies
  1. Cheryl Viuhkola-Pelletier
    Cheryl Viuhkola-Pelletier says:

    I had heard about most of these, but Pam Anderson surprised me…too much Sun and plastic ruined her natural Finnish beauty…too bad…I know Finnish women in their 80’s who look younger than her without any “work” or pounds of make-up.

    Reply
  2. Kalle G
    Kalle G says:

    I didn’t know these, but should have seen it! Even Vanessa Williams has those big eyes Finnish beauties are famed for. Shows you that mixing gene pools works a treat, too.

    Reply
  3. cpennington
    cpennington says:

    Had no idea about David Lynch. That’s kinda awesome and thinking about it his style has something of the Kaurismaki about it….with more dialogue of course 🙂

    Reply
  4. Paavo Laurikainen
    Paavo Laurikainen says:

    John Morton, alias Jaakko Marttinen, has been and is a well known finn in Finland. He was the representative of the state Pennsylvania. Among others there were nine men: ROBERT MORRIS, BENJAMIN RUSH, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, GEORGE CLYMER, JAMES SMITH, GEORGE TAYLOR, JAMES WILSON, GEORGE ROSS and JOHN MORTON.
    The last named signed The Declaration of Independence 02.07.1776 then building up and representing by his signature the majority of Pennsylvanian representatives. So actually he founded The United States of America with his signature as the last vote!

    Reply
  5. One of us
    One of us says:

    But U forgot Aileen Wuornos, or what the hell she was called..The first female serial killer of all times @USA back in the -90`s?

    Reply
  6. William Lahti
    William Lahti says:

    My son Carl, a Naval Academy graduate, now a captain, just recently served as Commanding Officer of Sub Base New London, Groton, CT. Not as recognized as the people mentioned above, but in a quiet way, he has dedicated his career and contributed much to the safety and security of our Nation in the submarine service. His father and paternal grandparents are of Finnish ancestry. His grandmother was born in Finland.

    Reply
  7. Tiina Peltola
    Tiina Peltola says:

    You forgot to mention Albert Salmi. He passed away in the 90, but was in many movies and tv shows. Mostly playing cowboys.

    Reply
  8. Arthur H. Nicander
    Arthur H. Nicander says:

    I’m not famous but my father’s parents came from Parkano, Finland. And while working on my mothers side she is mostly UK people, but got far enough back on one branch and it had Finns, Swedes, Danes, Norweigens, Russians, Spanish, Portugese, French, Germans, Austrians and some ancient Slavs. A very interesting tree to say the least. Most of the Tremain branch has Kings, Queens, Princes, Princesses, Earls, Dukes, Counts, Viscounts, Barons, Baronets and other nobility. But England being such a small country they did end up marrying commoners and 2nd and 3rd and 4th sons did the same. I’m just a Michigan Ridgerunner nothing special but I sure do have some special ancestors. Still having troubles with my Spencer family tree though…..

    Reply
  9. Kaj Granlund
    Kaj Granlund says:

    About David Lynch. Wasn’t his great grandmother a Swede-Finn (Swedish speaking Finn) and not a Swede that first immigrated to Finland?

    Reply
  10. Sammy
    Sammy says:

    Here’s two legendary.
    George Gaynes (f.e. Police Academy – Commandant Lassard)
    Bonnie Pietila (Pietilä) (the casting director and producer for The Simpsons)

    Reply
  11. Also them
    Also them says:

    Renée Zellweger, Renée’s mother’s ancestors were from Sodankylä in northern Finland
    Mike Patton, Mike’s maternal grandparents are Paul Raymond Jarvela (the son of William Andrew Jarvela and Senia Saari) and Barbara J. Henderson. Paul’s parents were Finnish.

    Reply
  12. Jouni Korhonen
    Jouni Korhonen says:

    I dunno about famous, but a military character named Larry Thorne of US army was a finn, fought in Finland, with germany SS, and finally was a captain in US army, MIA in Vietnam, presumed dead.

    Reply
  13. Sandra Grabman
    Sandra Grabman says:

    Another was character actor Albert Salmi, who was very proud of his Finnish heritage. With input from his friends, family, and co-stars, I wrote his biography, entitled “Spotlights & Shadows: The Albert Salmi Story,” published by BearManor Media.

    Reply

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