by Larry on 06/01/11 at 2:35 pm
We have a little boy who is very curious, and one of the best things I get to do is answer his questions. He’s learning the days of the week now, and has sorted them into “school days” and “Mommy and Daddy days.” So he told me that Sunday was named after the sun, and Monday was named after the moon. I had already told him Thursday was named after Thor, because he’s pretty well-versed in the pantheon of Marvel heroes and DC Super Friends already, but he wanted to know about Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. And I hadn’t really thought about that for forty years, I’m guessing. I’m sure at one time I had looked it up in the Funk and Wagnall’s, because I had a thought that Wednesday was named after Odin, but I blanked on the rest.
Now, this kind of thing concerns me a little for his future, because he’s growing up in a world where he’s not going to need to know how to do research, because even clunky old Dad had the origins of the names of all the days of the week and all the months researched in around twenty minutes on Google. But because I know the underlying tenets, my Google-fu is unstoppable. I can uncover straightforward stuff like this in seconds and even obscure lore doesn’t elude me for long. But all he’s going to have to do is stare into the middle distance and say to the air, “Computer; access all data volumes on American English word origins, subset history, subset days of the week, subset definition,” and the server farm in the closet that runs the house will just speak the information to him. He won’t need to know how to type, much less know how to research something.
But I suppose I can tell the kids to get off my virtual lawn when the time comes, and I’ll just let you in on the fruits of my “research.”
Sunday, is, of course, named after the sun, and Monday after the moon. Those two are pretty straightforward. But surprising me, the Norse and Olde English guys named the rest of the week after Tiw, the god of war; Woden, the father of the gods; Thor, his son and god of thunder; and Freya, his wife. That was pretty cool. Saturday is named after Saturn, the planet that rules the early morning, and there’s some debate as to whether the pagans were just naming the days after the known planets or whether Olde English’s usage of “Sonnabend” (the day before Sunday), was pressed into service. But since Walker knows his planets already and Saturn is his favorite (Why not? When God made the heavens and the Earth, he loved Saturn so much he put a ring on it!), it was less complicated to just tell him it was named after the planet. One assumes we’ll address the “when God made the heavens and the Earth” part a little later.
But that made him ask about the months, and I was interested to learn that as much as the Olde English and the Celts and the Norse and the pagans had something to say about the days of the week, it was the Romans who divvied up the months. January was named after Janus, the god of the doorway, as it’s January that opens up to the New Year. February is named after the “Februum,” a purification and cleansing rite of the time, no doubt started by people who took advantage of a thaw to wash out their long Roman union suits.
March is named after the Greek god of war. Because the march spring is the traditional start of the military campaign season, even the Romans let the Greeks have this one. Soldiers had been going on “marches” for a long time, and it’s really hard to come up with a similarly-strong sounding month name from “Ares,” with all those soft consonants and not even a diphthong to truncate the sound. So March it is and will remain when Caesar starts moving things around, calendar-wise.
April is after the Latin “apiere,” which means “to open,” as flowers, and May is named after the Greek goddess of fertility, Maia. Jupiter’s wife Juno gets June, and here’s where it gets fun to talk to a three-and-a-half year old, because now we have to bring in that the winter months of January and most of Frebruary weren’t counted on a calendar; they were just something to endure. So the spring thaw sends the soldiers off in March to deal with their pent-up rage and March starts the calendar. Making July “Quintillis,” August “Sextillis,” September “Septimus” and Octo, Novo, and December-illis, one assumes. But with the re-jiggering of the calendar, Julius and Augustus Caesar get two balmy summer months named after them and the thanks of a grateful nation.
And the thanks of all the calendar-makers who now have something to put in the January and February winter months besides two big month-sized blank spots that say “here there be dragons” in small print.