How Did the Months Get Their Names?

Recently, I started getting emails from Word Genius, which gives a word-of-the-day and other tidbits. I thought you might find the origins of month names enlightening. This is what the Word Genius sent me:


January is Roman in origin, and it begins the calendar year because the Roman god Janus is the god of beginnings and endings. This makes perfect sense for a month that people see as an ending of the previous year and the troubles it may have brought, plus the beginning as people look forward to a fresh start to a whole new year. Visually, Janus is a perfect representation of the past and the future, because he has two faces. One looks backwards into the past and what was, while the other looks forward into the future and what it has to bring.


February is also from the Romans and it denotes that this month is when the Roman purification festival of Februa is held. Februa is on the 15th of the month, and it is all about cleansing. Maybe this is why it is the shortest month, because undertaking a cleanse of any type is hard to keep up with.


March does sound like Mars the planet, and that is why the month is so named. Festivals in Rome often took place in March because it was the soonest that it was warm enough to begin a war, and Mars is the Roman god of war. But Romans also messed with the calendar a few times before the Roman empire fell, because March was the first month in the calendar, initially, before it got stuck being the third month.


April also was a victim of calendar shifting by the Romans. April was supposed to be the second month on the calendar after March, because after all, Aprillis is a derivative of the Latin base word apero- which means second. April was celebrated as the second month of the year, whereas now it’s the fourth month and is seen as the real beginning of spring in the United States.


May is a very nurturing month, with mild temperatures that encourage people to enjoy the outdoors. The month name comes from a Greek goddess this time, Maia, the daughter of famous Greek god and goddess Atlas and Hermes.


June takes its name from Roman origins. Juno, the wife of Jupiter, is the ancient Roman goddess that reigns over marriage and childbirth, which may explain why June is such a popular wedding month.


July is the birth month of Julius Caesar, and that’s why the month was named after him. July is also the first month on the traditional calendar that isn’t named after a god or goddess of Roman or Greek origins, but is named after a real person.


August is also named after another real person — Augustus, who was the first emperor of Rome and also the nephew of Julius Caesar. The month was originally supposed to be the sixth month, not the eighth, and was called Sextillis to reflect that.

September, October, November and December

September, October, November and December are where the names that derive from gods and people end and numeric-naming conventions begin. Thanks to the Roman rearranging, the numeric names don’t correspond when the actual month appears on the calendar. Septem is Latin (septum) for seven, and it follows that Octo is eight, Novem is the ninth, and Decem the tenth month.

But in 46 B.C., the beginning of the Julian calendar bumped each of those months backward to create the calendar we all know and use today. Good thing the Roman empire fell so they could stop moving months around.

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Filed under All things having to do with the English language

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