Names of the Months and of the Days of the Week

From the practice of the Jews before the Babylonian Captivity, it seems probable that at first the months were simply numbered, not named. This is a clear and rational procedure and is found in the early Scriptures, so the Society of Friends felt called upon to use the Scriptural names of the days of the week and of the months instead of those names which are in common use and which are, for the most part, derived from the names of pagan gods.

Other religions (Christians, Jews and Muslims) as well as Friends have similar views on this subject. Richard Baxter, the English non-conformist of the Seventeenth Century, said: “It were to be wished that the custom were changed of using the names of week-days which idolators honored their idols with — as Saturday, Monday, and the rest. So for the months.”

Friends did not object to the names “September,” “October,” “November,” and “December,” but objected to their use since the months they name are no longer the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months.

January was named for Janus, an old Roman god.

February was named from the Februa, the expiatory ceremonies which the Romans held in honor of their dead in this month.

March was named for the Roman god Mars, who, at the time of the naming of the month, was primarily a god of agriculture, the symbol of spring-time and youth. It was only after the artificial identification of Roman gods with Greek gods that Mars became the god of war, the counterpart of Ares.

April is derived from the same root as the Latin aperire, which means “to open”. Thus April is the month of opening buds and flowers.

May is of uncertain origin, perhaps from the Roman goddess Maia, or from maiores (the older).

June may have been named for the Roman goddess Juno, or from iuniores (the younger).

July, originally Quinctilis, was renamed for Julius Caesar, who was born in that month.

August, originally Sextilis, was chosen by the Roman emperor Augustus to be renamed in his honor because of the many fortunate events in his life that had occurred in that month.

The practice of naming the days of the week is derived from Egyptian astronomy. It did not become firmly established in our civilization until the time of Theodosius at the end of the Fourth Century C.E. Curiously enough, it was the Roman custom of lettering the successive days of a nundinum (a period of eight days, in addition to the current day) which gave rise to the modern custom in some Christian groups whereby the dominical letter is determined. The days of the week are lettered from A to G, just as the Romans lettered the days of a nundinum from A to H.

According to the Egyptian astronomers the sun and moon were planets and the order of the planets in terms of their distance from the earth was as follows: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, sun, Venus, Mercury, moon. One hour of each day, beginning with the first, was consecrated to each of these “planets”. The whole day was consecrated to the planet to which belonged the first hour. If the first day be consecrated to the sun, to which belongs the first hour, then the first hour of the next day will belong to the moon and the day will be the moon’s day (Monday) and so on. After the cycle has been completed, the first hour of the eighth day will belong to the sun again, and it will again be the sun’s day (Sunday).

Our names of the days of the week are derived from Anglo-Saxon names and these in turn are named for the Saxon gods who approximate to the Roman gods for whom the days were named. The Roman names have survived, to an extent, in Spanish, French, Italian and other languages derived from or greatly influenced by Latin.

The day of Mars was called the day of Tiw, the god of war (Tuesday).

The day of Mercury was called the day of Woden, chief of the gods, whose attributes corresponded more nearly to those of the Roman Mercury than to those of Jupiter, chief of the Roman gods (Wednesday).

The day of Jupiter, who was believed to hurl thunderbolts, was called the day of Thor, the god of thunder (Thursday).

The day of Venus was called the day of Frigg, queen of the gods, who was sometimes confused or identified with Freyia the goddess of love (Friday).

The seventh day was still called the day of Saturn, the sower of seed (Saturday).

No doubt most Christians unthinkingly use these names, or else they use them merely in conformity to the general custom. Although general custom can, in the long run, determine the correctness of language and vocabulary, it cannot pass upon right and wrong. And so, some Christians still feel that the use of these names for months and days, derived as they are from non-Christian sources, is inconsistent with the tenets of the Christian faith.