Historical references relating to Europe's north are scarce and relating to the naming of its peoples are obscure, and so the etymologies of the names of these peoples and geographic regions remain rather sketchy. Such names as Fenni, Phinnoi, Finnum, and Skrithfinni / Scridefinnum were used in a few written texts for almost two millennia in association with a people located in a northern part of Europe, but the real meaning of these terms is debatable. The earliest mentions of this kind are usually interpreted to have meant Fennoscandian hunter-gatherers whose closest successors in modern terms would be the Sami people. It has been suggested that this non-Uralic ethnonym is of Germanic language origin and related to such words as finthan (Old High German) 'find', 'notice'; fanthian (Old High German) 'check', 'try'; and fendo (Old High German) and vende (Old Middle German) 'pedestrian', 'wanderer'.. Another etymological interpretation associates this ethnonym with fen in a more toponymical approach. Yet another theory postulates that the words finn and kven are cognates. In the Icelandic Eddas and Norse sagas (dating about from the 11th to 14th centuries), some of the oldest written sources probably originating from the closest proximity, words like finnr and finnas are not used consistently. Most of the time, however, they seem to mean northern dwellers with a mobile life style, i.e. the Sami.
Interestingly, an etymological link between the Sami and the Finns exists also in modern Finno-Ugric languages. It has been proposed that e.g. the toponyms Sapmi (Sami for Lapland), Suomi (Finnish for Finland), and Häme (Finnish for Tavastia) are of the same origin, the source of which might be related to the proto-Baltic word *zeme meaning 'land'. How, why, and when these designations started to mean specifically people in Southwestern Finland (Finland Proper, Varsinais-Suomi) and later the whole area of modern Finland is unknown.
Among the first written documents possibly designating western Finland as the land of Finns are two rune stones. One of these is in Söderby, Sweden, with the inscription finlont (U 582 †), and the other is in Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea, with the inscription finlandi (G 319 M) dating from the 11th century.