09 Mar Where the Names of the Months Come From
We are born into many things that are already set, accepted, and used by all. The calendar is one of them. Do you sometimes wonder where the names of the months come from? This article explains that.
Where the Names of the Months Come From
by Chinyere Nwosu
The modern Gregorian calendar has its roots in the Roman calendar, specifically the calendar decreed by Julius Caesar. The ancient Roman calendar is believed to be invented by Romulus, who served as the first king of Rome around 753 BC. Julius Caesar reformed this calendar in 45B.C. Later, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced more changes to the Julian calendar. For example, the Julian calendar overestimated the time it took the Earth to orbit the Sun. The Gregorian calendar shortened the calendar year from 365.25 days to 365.2425 days.
The English names of the months, as we know them have Latin roots.
Another interesting fact about the development of the Modern calendar is that the earliest Latin calendar was ten (10) months long. It began in March (winter was a “dead” period when the government and military weren’t active), so they only had names for the time period we currently know as March through December. March, therefore, was the first month, September was the seventh, October was the eighth, November was the ninth, and December was the tenth month.
July was originally called Quintilis – meaning fifth, and August was called Sextilis, meaning sixth. July and August were renamed in honour of the prominent Roman General – Gaius Julius Caesar and the first Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar (also known as Gaius Octavius). Gaius Octavius is the grandnephew of Gaius Julius Caesar.
The facts above explain the focus of this article – Where the Names of the Months Come From
Therefore the months’ names reflect a mix of gods and goddesses, rulers, and numbers.
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Months and where they derive their names
(Latin – Januarius): named after Janus, the god of doors and gates.
Janus is a Roman god. He protects doors and gates. Janus has two faces, one looking into the past, the other into the future. The belief is that this depicts January as a time to reflect on past events and focus on the future. The Romans opened the gate of the temple of Janus in war times and closed it in times of peace.
(Latin – Februarius): named after Februalia, a time period when sacrifices were made to atone for sins
February is derived from the Latin word – februa, which means “to cleanse.” Therefore, the Roman calendar named the month Februarius for Februalia, a festival of purification and atonement that took place during this period of the year.
named after Mars, the god of war.
March is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. At this time of year, military campaigns resume after the long winter period. Winter interrupts wars. Many festivals were also held in March to prepare for the campaign season.
from aperire, Latin for “to open” (buds)
April is derived from the Latin word aperio, which means “to open (bud).” This is because plants begin to grow in this month. It is viewed as spring’s renewal when plants blossom.
named after Maia, the goddess of the growth of plants.
This month is named for the Roman goddess Maia, who oversaw the growth of plants. It is also from the Latin word maiores, which means “elders”. Usually, elders were celebrated during this month. The goddess, Maia, was considered a nurturer and an earth goddess.
from junius, Latin for the goddess Juno
Juno is a Roman goddess, patroness of marriage and the well-being of women. The month also derives from the Latin word juvenis, which translates to “young people” in English.
named after Julius Caesar after his death in 44 B.C.
July is named to honor Roman dictator Julius Caesar (100 B.C.– 44 B.C.) after his death. Julius Caesar made a great contribution to history. One such was in 46 B.C. when with the help of Sosigenes, he developed the Julian calendar. Originally Juy was called Quintilis.
named after Augustus Caesar in 8 B.C.
Just like July, August was named to honor the first Roman emperor (and grandnephew of Julius Caesar), Augustus Caesar (63 B.C.– A.D. 14). The name Augustus comes from the Latin word “augustus,” which means venerable, noble, and majestic. Originally, August was called Sextilis.
from septem, Latin for “seven.”
September was taken from the Latin word for seven – septem. This month was the seventh month in the early Roman calendar.
from octo, Latin for “eight.”
October was the name of the eighth month in the early Roman calendar. Its name comes from the Latin word – octo, meaning “eight.”
In Old England, October was called by other names. These include –
· Winmonath, which means “wine month.” It was the time people made wine.
· Winterfylleth, for “Winter Full Moon.” The full moon was considered the beginning of winter.
from novem, Latin for “nine.”
November is the eleventh month of the year. The name derives from the Latin word novem, meaning “nine.” This is because the month had been the ninth month in the early Roman calendar.
from decem, Latin for “ten.”
December, the last month of the year, got its name from the Latin word decem, meaning “ten.” In the early Roman calendar, December was the tenth month.
- Bikos, K. & Kher, A., Gregorian Calender Reform: Why Are Some Dates Missing, https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/julian-gregorian-switch.html
- Hocken, V, The Julian Calender, https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/julian-calendar.html
- CT State Library, Colonial Records and Topics, https://libguides.ctstatelibrary.org/hg/colonialresearch/calendar