This week, as the year draws to a close, I’m thinking about the origin of the month names. I recently posted about the days of the week and it seems only logical to move on up to the months. Again, I’m doing so with thanks to Encyclopedia Mythica.
January – named for Janus the Roman god of beginnings and endings. He’s an easy one to spot in Roman carvings – he’s depicted as being two-faced. One face presumably reviewing this year and another looking for a new beginning.
February – some debate here – either named for the Etruscan god of the underworld, Februus, or for Februa the Roman festival of purification celebrated in this month.
March – named for Mars, the Roman god of war.
April – named for the goddess of love and fertility – Aphrodite (Greek) or Venus (Roman) – approriate enough for the month when Spring gets underway in the northern hemisphere.
May – probably named for Maiesta, the Roman goddess of honor and reverence.
June – named for Juno, queen of the Roman gods, much like Hera was in Greece.
July – named for Julius Caesar.
August – named for Augustus, the first Roman Emperor.
September – by this stage in the year inspiration was failing the Romans, so this one is named for septem (seven in Latin). You will point out that September is the ninth month but the Roman year began in March.
October – named for octo (eight in Latin).
November – named for novem (nine in Latin).
December – named for decem (ten in Latin).
So, unlike the days of the week which are torn between Norse gods and Roman ones, the months were fully named by the ancient Italians and in what seems a rather unfair move, Mars gets to have March as well as Tuesday named in his honour. But given that September to December were only named for numbers I think there’s still a chance we’ll confound calendar-makers worldwide and rename those for some extraordinary individual – perhaps a peacemaker, just to balance Mars influence?
Until next time, happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,