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?

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


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.



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


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, 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.


97 replies

  1. 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.

    • BUT…. Did they live a life like Pam Anderson???
      Probably not… Good, or Bad, is your own opinion…..
      As someone who is 100% Finn… I have nothing but
      KUDO’s for Pam Anderson… She’s still got it goin on….

      My Uncles sister dressed like Pam from her Baywatch days .. did her whole life… Bleached Blond hair, red nails, tight pants/skirts/sweaters, low cut /lots of Cleavage… etc…. and she still does at 90.. Compared to my conservative “Old Fashioned” parents and aunts/uncles.. she was considered “Scandalous”. She’s always been the STAR in our family to ME !!!

  2. 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.

    • LMAO!! Finnish people are NOT known for having big eyes. Quite the opposite. Have you not seen or heard all the memes about Finns having “Asian eyes”? It’s really a widespread stereotype online now. Google “Finngolian” (yes) and you will find countless memes and videos. Clearly people associate slanted eyes/epicanthic fold with Finns…not big eyes.

  3. 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 🙂

  4. 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!

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

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

    • Me, too! I should only be 1/4 Finnish from my Grandfather (Hakkinen) who was Finland, but I got all my mom’s Finnish jeans as my DNA test said I was 47% Finnish. My mom always put the Finnish pride in us and sisu!

  8. 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…..

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

    • Swedish speaking Finn equals Swedish ancestry in most cases as the majority of Swedo-Finns are Swedes who stayed behind after the end of the Swedish occupation of Finland. There are very few with Finnish blood (of Finnish ethnicity).

      • Well its not so simple. If were talking about rural people from coastal area sure they have swedish origin. But in upper classes and educated classes include plenty of Finn families that changed their language to swedish during Swedish era – I’d say the’re about 70 % finniah but like previous commenter not likely to admit it, because it is in conflict with their identity.

      • Not so. Finns had been Swedish since middle ages and the language of the state was Swedish anyone with learning was Swedish speaking. Modern day country borders are arbitrarily draw during the Napoleonic wars by Russia and France. The population on “Swedish” side of teh border was forcibly taught Swedish as mother tongue in the spirit of nation state nationalism of 19th century. And population on the “Finnish” part was encouraged not to speak swedish to differentiate from the old country. Finnish language was adopted and pushed by progressive part of the educated class, regardless of original ethnic back ground, in order to engage majority of the population in a nation state building project in what became Finland.

        • Finland has never been occupied by Sweden. The eastern part of the Swedish homeland, which later became Finland, was a integrated part of Sweden since the middle ages and the people here had the same rights and obligations as any other people in Sweden. The eastern part of Sweden (at that time the duchy of Finland) was lost to Russia in the war in 1809. After the bolshevik uprising in Russia in 1917 Finland became an independent country. The extreme rightwing elements in Finland are currently trying to re-write history to suite their political agenda of opressing any minorities.

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

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

    • Larry Thorne, or Lauri Törni, belongs to this list. There’s even a movie telling his story “The Green Berets”. Thorne’s part was played by no other than John Wayne himself.

  13. 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.

  14. A distant cousin of mine, Danny Moder is/was husband of the famous actress, Julia Roberts. His mother and grandmother were Finnish. The grandmother was born in Michigan…..her father came from Finland.

    • Makela was my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. Mummu was from Loima and the cemetery behind the church was loaded with Makelas.

    • I agree, my Finnish family was from northern Michigan. I could not believe Matt Damon or Vanessa Williams. The only way Vanessa Williams knew she was 12 percent Finnish, was through a DNA test… in sure there are a lot more Finns if people did DNA testing. Most people only go by their surnames, I’m proud to be a Finn ( on mymother’s side) she was so proud to be a Finn… she spoke, wrote and read Finnish. She had 2 signs in her hous, one was “Sisu”, the other was “You can tell a Finn, but you can’t tell him much”. Stubborn to the nth degree, but strong, kind and stoic.

  15. I was born in Finland and now live in Australia, but had NO IDEA how many famous people have Finnish ancestry. I think its wonderful! I wish people didn’t feel the need to change their surnames, but I understand…. Lol mine is hard to pronounce in Australia. Pamela Anderson?? Maybe, but only a little bit….

  16. these celebrities might be having Finnish roots but believe me Finnish women have much more natural beauty than these artificial designer faces

  17. My Grand Father on my fathers side lived in US in the 1890:s to 1901 and my Grand Father on my mothers side had two trips to the US in the late 1890:s and early 1900:s
    What I know they worked in Michigan. One of them in Crystal Falls. More I don´t know about their journies to the US!

  18. Taina Elg, a Finnish Hollywood and Broadway dancer/actress.

    Then there is a legend that Cyd Charisse, the famous dancer/actress partner of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, had Finnish roots. She was born as Tula Ellice Finklea. Tuula is a common woman’s name in Finland.

    • I always heard she was of Russian origin… BUT as she was born in 1922, her Finnish parents and grandparents would have been born in a Finland under Russian domination.

  19. In the book The Green Berets by Robin Moore, the “Sven Kornie” main character in the first chapter was based on Larry Thorne. The book was later made into a movie by the same name starring John Wayne.

    • There is a famous book entitled Under Three Flags about Larry Thorne. He fought for Finland, Germany and the US Army. I understood he was killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam. ne more tough Finn.

  20. Could swear producer/director Scott Lautanen has Finnish roots :p (most probably have seen his name with CSI Miami and NY)

  21. My generation, sis and I, are the last of the 100 % finns in our family tree. My grand parents on both sides were from Finland, having their families born in the upper peninsula of Michigan, where my sis and I were also born. My maiden name was Juntunen, and my mother’s maiden name was Kemppainen. I have a son that is 75% Finn – 25% Swedish. Another son 50% Finn – 50% Latino. I do know that Finnish women seem to defy their age somehow. My mother was carded at 38 yrs old and I was at 32, which at the time was hilarious to me. I never realized how beautiful our skin was until later in life. I would always feel embarrassed when someone fussed or paid compliments. Our generation were not told about their beauty. Our parents were stoic, but very loving.

  22. You forgot Paul Kangas the American newsreader/ journalist and Christine Lahti an actor. They both have Finnish ancestory.

  23. Alfred Lunt, famed stage actor of 30-60’s had close ties to Finland. His mother’s 2nd husband was from Finland, and I suspect that his mother was of Finnish-Swedish origin.
    Their home has Finland crest and Finnish saying across beam, from play :There Shall Be No Night”, which was about Valkonen family during war. He received award from Finland for helping them at war time. Early days went around area, reciting from Kalevala. Commissioned artist to do 2 paintings from Kalevala.
    (google Hildreth Meiere to see pictures of the paintings)

  24. I don’t know about Mustaine, as the claim is that the surname comes from Finnish Mustonen. However, the roots of Dave’s surname are in France. Mustaine is a corruption of d’Estaing. So, his cousins include some of the kings of France and the ex-president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Not bad heritage still, even though not Finnish 🙂
    Maila Nurmi was actually born in Gloucester, MA, and that’s also marked on her birth certificate. She did not have any plausible connection to Petsamo, as her father was from Haapajärvi. Still, very Finnish lady.
    One more person with Finnish roots was the sculptor of the original Mustang logo Waino Kangas.

  25. Who can forget Ray Dolby??? Without him we would not enjoy the lovely digital and surround sound. Roots in Kaustinen Finland.

  26. William Aalto, the deadliest sniper in the Abraham Lincoln International Brigade fighting Franco’s rebellion in the Spanish Civil War. He was also gay and was subjected to occasional homophobic prejudice by some of his own comrades in the ALB. Left-wing enlightenment had not yet advanced into the realm of sexual orientation.

  27. Albert Salmi
    In 1955, Salmi starred as Bo Decker in the play Bus Stop on Broadway, and also performed in the touring production of the play. His performance was praised by critics and Salmi was offered the chance to reprise the role in the 1956 film Bus Stop starring Marilyn Monroe.

  28. Founder of Hoover electric company, was also American finnish. He’s name was Väino( Vaino) Alexander Hoover, former Huovinen.

  29. Richard Davalos, actor. His mother was Finnish. Richard was my second cousin.

    Davalos is also the father of actress Elyssa Davalos and musician Dominique Davalos, and grandfather of actress Alexa Davalos (The Chronicles of Riddick).

  30. Matt Damon looks so much like one of my sons! We are Finns from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the village of Reisjarvi in Finland! My family names are Kukkola and Paavola.

  31. Like Pamela Anderson, my great grandpa changed his name to Anderson. My other great grandpa changed his name to Nurmi. I am 47% finnish all from my mothers side. All Finnish relatives immigrated to upper Michigan, then lived around Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The celebrities that surprised me the most were Matt Damon, Leslie Mann and Venessa Williams.

  32. Renee Zellweger. Not sure if she was mentioned. My mother came to the US in 1948. Married my father (Anerican GI) after the war.
    She was originally from Ouloo (sp?).

  33. Emil Hurja.
    was an American newspaper editor and political consultant. Hurja was a pioneer of political opinion polling and played an advisory role during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt

  34. This is beyond stupid, people with 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 or even 3/4 finnish ancestry are not finnish. African finnish? What?

  35. Albert Salmi. My parents sold their Finnish, Co-operative apartment in Brooklyn to him late 1940’s. He bought it for his mother and my Dad showed him around.

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