Tuntud Eesti inimesed

Famous Estonians whom the world knows, too

Who of well-known Estonians have earned global recognition? Even though only 1.3 million people live in Estonia, there are plenty of talented and remarkable figures among us. Let me introduce some of them.

Arvo Pärt – a living legend

The most famous Estonian out there is probably composer Arvo Pärt (born on 11 September 1935), whose works – classical and sacred music – people listen to all over the world. his work is unique and distinctive, and the history of music cannot exactly name plenty of composers whose style would be instantly recognisable from the very first notes. It also should be noted that Arvo Pärt has been the most played living composer in the world for years.

Kelly Sildaru – a famous youth athlete

Having started to ski at the age of two, Kelly Sildaru (born on 17 February 2002) is the first Estonian and the youngest athlete to have become a world champion in freestyle and a two-time winner of the X Games. She has received many awards, for instance, the title of the Youth Athlete of the Year (2016–2019), Annual Sports Award of the Republic of Estonia, and the title of the Female Athlete of the Year.

Kerli Kõiv – a distinctive singer and songwriter

Kerli Kõiv (born on 7 February 1987), who uses the stage name Kerli, is a globally known Estonian singer outstanding due to the fairy-tale nature of her music and its mythology as well as fabulous costumes and fantastic stage shows. Kerli’s album “Love Is Dead” was included in the US Billboard 200 record chart. It is also interesting to know that it was Kerli who wrote the lyrics for the “Skyscraper” song by US singer Demi Lovato.

Top model Karmen Pedaru

The stellar career of Karmen Pedaru (born on 10 May 1990), a girl from Kehra, started in 2008 during the New York Fashion Week, where 43 fashion designers, including Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, Givenchy and Dries Van Noten, displayed their work. Karmen has been working with Michael Kors for a long time. She comes from a family of athletes. The most famous brands to have employed Karmen for their shows are Prada, Gucci, Stella McCartney, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Chanel.

Baruto (Kaido Höövelson) – the Estonian known in Japan

Kaido Höövelson (wrestler name Baruto Kaito) was born on 5 November 1984. He is a former sumo wrestler. More than that, Kaido is the first Estonian who became a professional sumo wrestler in Japan. His career in sumo in Japan was rather varied, and many Japanese would recognise the athlete before Estonians would.

Paavo Järvi – internationally known conductor

Maestro Paavo Järvi (born on 30 December 1962) is one of the most prolific conductors in the world. The internationally known Estonian conducts world’s best orchestras, be it in Berlin, Moscow, Cleveland or Tokyo. Paavo Järvi is a Grammy winner, and in 2010 he was entrusted with Orchestre de Paris, which made Paavo one of the ten best conductors in the world.


Ilon Wikland – a well-known artist

Ilon Wikland (date of birth 5 February 1930) is an artist and book illustrator, who was born in Estonia and spent his childhood here but has now been living in Sweden for decades. He is mainly known as an illustrator of popular books by Astrid Lindgren. Ilon grew up in Haapsalu, a beautiful Estonian seaside town. This is why Haapsalu is where you find Ilon’s Wonderland, the place where a large part of the artist’s original book illustrations are exhibited.

Anett Kontaveit – a talented top tennis player

Estonia’s no. 1 in tennis, Anett Kontaveit (born on  24 December 1995) has achieved a lot by now, and it can be safely said that she is the best female tennis player in Estonia. Interesting fact: Kontaveit first won the Estonian Championship when she was 13 years old. The talented young tennis player has been quickly and steadily rising in world rankings. Her best singles ranking in the WTA as at the moment this article is written is 14 (achieved on 1 April 2019).

Kalev Mark Kostabi – an American artist of Estonian descent

Kalev Mark Kostabi (born in Los Angeles on 27 November 1960) is an American artist and composer. His parents come from Estonia, but they brought up their children in California. He studied drawing and painting at California State University. What deserves special attention is the fact that Kalev Mark Kostabi has designed record covers for albums of Guns N’ Roses, Ramones, Jimmy Scott and Glint.

This list is, of course, by no means exhaustive. There are many more famous people who have Estonian roots although they are nationals of other countries. One example is actress Mena Suvari, whose father’s background is Estonian. Other well-known personas whose origins are connected with Estonia in one way or another are Ornella MutiJames MurdochLouis Kahn and Annie Leibovitz.

Photo: Kaarel Mikkin, Brand Estonia