Days and Months – Origins

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the names of the days and months?

Well, if you are a nerd/geek/dork like me or genuinely curious, then you must have.

All learned people know about Sunday, July and August. But what about the remaining?

How did they come into being?

Well, wonder no more.

These names have been there for hundreds, but their origins are often thousands of years old.

And in most, if not all cases, the naming follows celestial bodies and deities.

Let’s look at the European naming conventions.

We have two groups of languages (never mind Cyrillic) – the Germanic ones in the north and the Latin/Roman ones in the South.

The Italian days of the week  are lunedi, martedi, mercoledi, giovedi, venerdi, sabato, and domenica.

  • Lunedi (Monday) honors the moon
  • Martedi honors Mars, the God of War
  • Mercoledi tributes Mercury, the son of Jupiter and Maia and one of the Pleiades
  • Giovedi (Thursday) is from the Latin term Iovis Dies and pays homage to Jupiter, the King of the Gods
  • Venerdi (Friday) honors Venus, the goddess of love
  • Sabbato (Saturday) is from the Hebrew word Sabbath (day of rest)
  • Domenica (Sunday) is from the Latin “dies dominica” (Day of the Lord)

Its the same with the Spanish (lunes, martes, miercoles, jueves, viernes, sabado, and domingo) and all other romance languages.

And its kinda similar (though with different gods) for days of the week in English and other Germanic languages:

Monday: Day of the moon

Tuesday: Day of Tyr (Tiu)

Wednesday: Day of Odin (Wodin)

Thursday: Day of Thor (Donar)

Friday: Day of Freya (Freyja)

Saturday: Day of Saturn

Sunday: Day of the Sun

Monday is the day of the Moon, which in German is Mond and was Mona in Old English.  In Old Norse it was Mani, the divine lunar personification.

Tuesday honors the deity Tyr, who was called Tiu (Tiw) in Old English.  During the Viking Age, he was an Aesir god, but he was one of the most important Norse deities, along with Odin and Thor.  According to legends, the wolf Fenrir ripped off his hand, and this missing hand defines him. It is symbolic of skill in war, justice, and oaths.  Sometimes, worshippers referred to him as a military deity.

However, this god is an ancient one.  Tyr is the more modern name for an extremely ancient Proto-Germanic god called Tiwaz, which was known as Dyeus in Proto-Indo-European languages.  The word Dyeus is the origin of the English word “day.”  Hence, the very word “day” acknowledges Tyr, so Tuesday is a double celebration of this important god!

Fenrir bites off the hand of a sword-wielding Týr in an illustration on an 18th-century Icelandic manuscript

Wednesday celebrates Odin, known as Wodin in Old Saxon and Wotan or Wodan in German.  The word replaced the name Wodanaz (Master of Ecstasy), which was applied to an ancient god.  In Norse, he was originally called Odinn, a name composed of the noun “odr” (joy, anger, and inspiration) and “–inn” (exemplar of, master of).

 

An 18th century Icelandic depiction of Odin (Wodin)

When depicted, Odin has only one eye and a long beard.  He often carries a symbolic spear called Gungnir and has a wizard-like cloak and hat.  In other words, he looks like Gandalf from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Generally accompanying him are two wolves (Geri and Freki) and a pair of ravens (Huginn and Muninn). He rides the eight-legged horse Sleipnir through the sky and into the realm of the dead.

Odin is credited with humankind’s creation because he allegedly formed the first human beings Embla and Ask, and he taught humans how to understand mystical runes and how to write poetry.  Odin is associated with the Yuletide celebration, and (attesting to its importance), many modern families who celebrate Christmas (celebration of the anointed one) still display a Yule log, which is burned in the hearth.

Thursday honors Thor.  His name, which is pronounced with a “D” sound in many languages (e.g. Dunar and Donar), comes from the Proto-Germanic word for thunder, dunraz.  Birthed from Odin and the Earth itself, he abides in Thrudvang with his wife, daughter, and two sons in a huge mansion called Bilskimir, which has 640 rooms. He was originally the god of thunder, and he is most known for his depictions with a giant hammer called Miolnir.  This device has supernatural qualities and wields great power, but it cannot be used without an unusual pair of iron gloves. In addition to this weapon and the gloves needed to brandish it, he wears a belt that increases his strength.

According to legend, he uses these divine weapons to protect Asgard from giants, which is why he is called the god of war.  In countries in which Old English was spoken, Thor was particularly worshipped on his day, Thunresdaeg (Thunar’s Day).  In German it is called Donnerstag (Donar’s Day), and in modern English it is still Thor’s Day (Thursday).

Friday is the Day of Freya, also known as Gefn, Vanadis, Syr, and Mardoll.  The Norse goddess of love, she is associated with sex, fertility and beauty, and more remotely connected to gold, shamanic sorcery, death and war.

She owns a special necklace called Brisingamen, which is known as a shining torc. “Men” means “neck-ring” in Old Norse, and “brisingr” signifies “amber” or “fire.”  It is assumed that this necklace has otherworldly qualities. She rides a chariot pulled by two cats, and is often depicted with the symbolic boar Hildisvini, which was also the name of a boar-helmet used in war. She wears a falcon-feather cloak, and she is married to Oor, a deity similar to Odin in many aspects. Together they have two daughters: Hnoss and Gersemi.  She is part of the Vanir: the holy group of deities associated with magic, nature, wisdom, fertility, and prognostication.

It is possible that she and the goddess Frigg (Odin’s wife) were originally the same deity, and different cultures simply applied diverse myths and nomenclature to describe her, eventually leading to the appearance of two distinct deities. As for the name itself, Freyja means “lady,” and it stems from the Proto-German “Frawion.”  The Old Saxon term is “Frua,” and Old High German’s is “Frouwa.”

Saturday’s etymology is different from its European counterparts, as the word does not derive from the Hebrew word Sabbath.  In Old English, it was Saeterdaeg: the day (daeg) of Saturn (Saetern).  Saturn was invoked for success in agricultural harvests, but his origins are unknown.

Some claim that his name comes from the verb “satum” (to sow) due to his agricultural connections, but it is also possible that it came from Satre, the Etruscan god.  In time, he became almost synonymous to the Greek god Cronus, the leader of the Titans, who were Uranus’s and Gaia’s descendants.  He supposedly taught Latium’s inhabitants how to plant seeds and harvest grains, and he is often depicted with a sickle.  Saturn is also associated with the progression of time and therefore seasons, and his most famous temple was located in the Roman Forum.  It was called Templum Saturni and it was a popular pilgrimage site during Saturnalia, the festival honoring Saturn.

Sunday is obviously the Day of the Sun, originating from the Old English Sunnandaeg, which has similar nomenclature in other languages, such as the Frisian Sunnandei and the Old Saxon Sunnundag.

Hell, just for the heckof it, lets look at Russian also

понедельник – Monday
comes from неделя – week

вторник – Tuesday
второй – second

среда – Wednesday
середина – middle

четверг – Thursday
четвёртый – fourth

пятница – Friday
пятый – fifth

суббота – Saturday
from Shabbat

воскресенье – Sunday
воскресенье/воскресение/воскрешение – resurrection

 

The months likewise have meanings.

Even the word “calendar” has a meaning that is generally unknown.  It stems from the Latin calendae, which means “the first day of every month.”  From this word “calendarium” was derived, which was a book used for keeping track of the interest money-borrowers owed.

January honors Janus (Ianuarius): the god of initiations, transitions, gates, time and portals.  He has two faces in depictions, which seek the future and the past.  His temple gates were open when war was ongoing, and they were closed when peace took hold once again.

February pays homage to the Roman purification god Februus. The Etruscans also worshipped him, but they equated him with death and the underworld in addition to ablution (cleansing). February was selected to honor him due to a celebration praising the deity that occurred on the 15th of the month, which included sacrifice and ablutions.

March revers Mars, the god of war and protector of agriculture.  His power was only surpassed by Jupiter and he was the most important military god among the Romans.  Most festivals honoring him were held during March (Martius), and we have maintained his monthly appellation through modern times.

The origins of April are technically unknown, but it is likely that it stemmed from the Vulgar Latin and Italian word “aprire” (to open), calling attention to the budding flowers and trees that come alive in spring.

The genesis of May is known, however; it refers to a god venerated in Umbria called Maius or Maia.  The daughter of Atlas and Pleione and Hermes’s mother, she was adopted by the Greeks and honored using the same name.

June idolizes Juno, the Roman goddess who was considered the state’s protector.  She was thought to be either Saturn’s daughter or sister and Jupiter’s wife, mother of both Mars and Vulcan.  In Greece, she was called Hera, and she might have stemmed from the Etruscan goddess Uni.  In depictions, she wears a goatskin cloak and appears with a peacock.

July is the month of Iulius (Julius Caesar) and August is named after Augustus Caesar.

The rest of the months are self-evident.  September (seventh month), October (eighth month), November (ninth month) and December (tenth month) come from the Latin numbers septem, octo, novem, and decem, and they were put into place before the calendar was updated.

Finally, we come to Bengali.

Here, the names are after celestial bodies.

In Bong, we have Robi, Shom, Mongol, Budh, Brihoshpoti, Shukro, Shoni

Robi is named after the Sun

Shom is named after the Moon

Mongol is named after Mars

Budh is named after Mercury

Brihoshpoti is named after Jupiter

Shukro is named after Venus

Shoni is named after Saturn

 

The name of the months of Bengali calendar is based on the names of the nokkhotro (lunar mansions) – locations of the moon with respect to particular stars during the lunar cycle. It is presumed that these names were derived from the Shakabda, another calendar of this region which was introduced in the Shaka Dynasty. The naming of the months is as follows:

বৈশাখ Boishakh after the star, বিশাখা Bishakha (Librae)
জ্যৈষ্ঠ Joishţho after the star, জ্যেষ্ঠ Jeshţho (Scorpionis)
আষাঢ় Ashaŗh after the star, অষাঢ়া Ôshaŗha (Sagittarii)
শ্রাবণ Srabon after the star, শ্রাবণ Srabon (Aquilae)
ভাদ্র Bhadro after the star, ভাদ্রপদা Bhadropôda (Pegasi and Andromedae)
আশ্বিন Ashshin after the star, অশ্বিনী Ôshshini (Arietis)
কার্তিক Kartik after the star, কৃত্তিকা Krittika (Pleiades)
অগ্রহায়ন Ôgrohaeon after the star, অগ্রাইহন Agraihon
পৌষ Poush after the star, পুশ্য Pushsho (Cancri)
মাঘ Magh after the star মঘা Môgha (Regulus)
ফাল্গুন Falgun after the star, ফাল্গুনী Falguni (Leonis and Denebola), and
চৈত্র Choitro after the star, চিত্রা Chitra (Spica)

There, you have it.

Feel free to add names in other languages in the comments.

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