The gods of old lent their names to several, but not all, days of the week and months of the year. Let’s ramble through the calendar and see what gods are hiding there.
Our first month, January, originates in the Roman januarius, which comes from the name of the god of doorways and passages — Janus — making January an excellent label for the month that serves as the “doorway” to a new year.
February, not the namesake of any god, is from februarius mensis (month of expiation). The Romans observed a festival of purification each February 15, and this day was known as februa (plural of the Latin word for purification).
Before the Julian calendar was adopted in 45 BC, the Romans already kept track of days and years. We generally call this old system, the Ancient, or Early,
Roman calendar. The calendar we use today is the Gregorian calendar.
April’s name is likely derived from Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty. Many people suppose April comes from the Latin aperire (to open), because this is the month when plants bloom and trees burst into bud. But this explanation is only wishful thinking.
May is named for the Roman goddess of spring Maia and June is most likely taken from Juno, wife of Jupiter and Roman goddess of marriage.
July, the fifth month of the ancient Roman year, was originally known as Quintilis for the month’s number. “Five” is quinque in Latin. Following Julius Caesar’s death in 44 BC, the month was rechristened to honour him. Subsequently, it became the seventh calendar month.
August got its name from the title assumed by
Roman Emperor Augustus (consecrated) Caesar. Its original name was Sixtilis (sixth) since it was the sixth month of the Roman year.
September, October, November and December all take their names from their numerical order on the
Ancient Roman calendar. Thus, September (now the ninth month) comes from septem for seven. October is from octo (eight), November from novem (nine); and December from decem (10).
And what about those days of the week?
Sunday means “day of the sun.” It’s from the Latin dies soles and came to us through Old English. Some countries make a religious connection to this first day of the week, e.g., the French, Dimanche is from dies
dominicus (day of the Lord).
Monday, dedicated to the moon, is a translation of the Late Latin lunae dies (day of the moon).
Tuesday takes its name from Tiu, the Germanic god of war and sky.
Wednesday is derived from the name of the Norse god Woden (Odin) and corresponds to the Roman god Mercury, as we can see in the French name for this weekday — Mercredi.
Friday comes from Frigg, the Norse goddess of love.
Saturday, arriving through Old English, is a semi-translation of Saturn dies (Day of Saturn). Although Saturday is also the Jewish Sabbath, scholars insist that the similarity between the sounds of sabbath and
Saturn is merely coincidence.