Months of the Year How Did They Get Their Names?

It’s the start of a new year and your calendar is probably already filling up with things to do, places to go, and schedules that define your time. How did these months that we follow so closely on electronic devices, desktop references, or daily pocket calendars get their names? We spend an inordinate amount of time referring to them, so let’s delve into why we call the first month of the year January and so on.

Well, the first thing I learned is that the ancient Romans, who had a big hand in naming the months, did not start their calendar with January. No, in fact, their new year started in March and ended with February. It was not until 1582 that Pope Gregory adjusted the calendar that western nations now use to start the New Year on January 1. This became known as the Gregorian calendar. It was adopted by Britain and her colonies in 1752.

But back to the months. . .

March was named after Mars, the Roman god of war. Given the sometimes wild swings in the weather during the month, it’s a fitting name.

April got its name, according to research, from three possible options. The first option is the simplest: the month was named from the Latin word for second, being the second month of the Roman calendar. Or, the name was derived from the Latin word ‘aperire’ that means to open in homage to the beginning of spring and the flowers bursting into bloom. Or, it was named after the goddess Aphrodite.

May is named after Maia, the Greek goddess of spring and growth.

June was named after Juno, the queen of the Roman gods and the patron of marriages and weddings. Evidently June has long been a favorite time for wedding celebrations!

July was named in honor of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.; it was his birth month. Prior to this renaming, it was called ‘quintiles’ (Latin for fifth).

August is the second month to be named specifically in honor of a person. In this case, August was renamed in 8 B.C. for Augustus Caesar from its original name ‘sixtillia,’ Latin for sixth.

September was named for ‘septem,’ Latin for seventh.

October was named from ‘octo,’ Latin for eighth.

November was named from ‘novem,’ Latin for ninth.

December was named from ‘decem,’ Latin for tenth.

January was named for the Roman god Janus, who had two heads – one looked back and one looked forward. When considering the tradition of reviewing accomplishments from the past year and making resolutions for the coming New Year, the symbolism fits nicely. Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, added January and February to the calendar.

February was originally a period of time set aside for purification and atonement that around 690 B.C. become a month.

Do you wonder why the months were not renamed when two new months were added? Think about it, August is the eighth month of the year but named based on the Latin number six, September is the ninth month, named after seven, and so on. And while we’re pondering that, wouldn’t it be nice to start the year at the same time as when flowers and trees begin to show themselves again instead of in the middle of winter? Perhaps we appreciate the newness of colors and growth more when it appears a few months into the year instead of at the beginning?

Something to think about! Happy New Year!



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