What Are The Calendar Months Named After?

Today's calendar is based on the ancient Roman 10-month calendar.
Today's calendar is based on the ancient Roman 10-month calendar.

Have you ever wondered where the names of calendar months came from? Interestingly, the ancient Romans year had only ten months with their year beginning in March and ending in December. The months of January and February were added by Numa Pompilius around 700 BCE. At this time, he also changed the beginning of the year to January. This article focuses on the naming of the months and the meaning of their names.

12. March

March was always the beginning of the year in ancient Rome due to its association with the Spring season. At this time, the wars ceased and the celebration between the old and the New Year began. The celebration was referred to as the Festival of Mars. March was named Martius after Mars, the god of war.

11. April

There are three theories based on the origin of the name “April.” Some sources say that April originated from a Latin word for “second” since it was the second month in the 10-month ancient Roman calendar. Other sources claim that the word originated from Latin word “aperire” which translates to “open” since buds and flowers opened around this time. Still, others believe that the name originated from the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite.

10. May

Although may is a commonly used verb, it is not related to the month of May. The month is associated with goddess Maia. Maia is not as prominent as other gods and godesses with months named in their honor. In Greek mythology, Maia was the mother of Hermes and the Atlas’ daughter and was considered as one who nurtures and goddess of the earth. She is sometimes referred to as the goddess of growth or the goddess of spring.

9. June

June has been a popular wedding month in the history of Rome. The month is named after the Juno who was ancient Roman goddess and was related to Jupiter. Juno was the queen of the gods of the Roman Pantheon and the goddess of wedding and marriage. Juno was once referred to as mid-summer month and is identified with the Greek goddess of family and childbirth known as Hera.

8. July

July is the first month named after a person who lived at some point in history. Known as Caesar’s month, July was named in honor of Julius Caesar following his death in 44 BCE. Caesar was born in July. Before, the month was referred to as Quintilis which was borrowed from the English word “Quintile” meaning fifth, as it was the 5th month in the 10-month Roman calendar.

7. August

August became the second month to be named after an individual. It was named in honor of Augustus who was the first Roman emperor. Augustus had in the 8 BCE. Previously, August was referred to as “Sixtillia” which is a Latin word for “sixth” as it was the sixth month in the 10-month calendar.

6. September

September follows from Quintilis and Sixtillia months. It was the seventh month of the ancient Roman calendar. September comes from a Latin word “Septem” which translates to seven. It was often referred to as “September mensis” in Latin, meaning the seventh month. September had 30 days but Numa changed the days to 29. Julius restored the months to 30 days.

5. October

October was the eighth month in the 10-month ancient Roman calendar. The month was named after a Latin word “Octo” which means “eight.” A suffix “ber” was added to the added to the adjective “octo” to form the word October. October has always had 31 days, unlike other months that have had their days changed either by Julius or Numa.

4. November

From “Octa,” the eighth month, came the “Novem,” the ninth month to continue the naming of months after numbers. “Novem” is a Latin word for nine. November was considered a frightening month by the ancient Romans. It was characterized by gloominess, disasters, and grayness, especially in the northern hemisphere.

3. December

December is the 12th month of the Gregorian calendar and the 10th in the ancient Roman calendar. In either of the calendars’, it marks the end of the year. The name December comes from the Latin word “decem” which means “ten.” Initially, December had 30 days which were increased to 31 days by Julius. Although December is a festive month in most parts of the world, it was not so in Ancient Rome. March was considered the month of celebration.

2. January

The month of January was added to the 10-month Roman calendar by Numa Pompilius around 700 BCE. At this time, he also changed the beginning of the year to January. January, also referred to as Januari in Middle English and Januarius in Latin, was named after a Roman god called Janus. Janus was the god who was in charge of the doors, gates, and fresh starts which was appropriate for the New Year. The god is often depicted by two faces looking in the opposite direction. One face looks forward and the other backward as is often the case in the New Year when people take time to reflect on the past year as they also plan for the New Year.

1. February

The month of February was added to the 10-month Roman calendar by Numa Pompilius around 700 BCE. February is an old Latin word for Februa, the name of a feast for purification which took place on the 15th of the month. The festival may have had a Sabin origin. February had 28 days until 450 BCE when the days changed to 23 or 24. Later, Julius decided that the month would have 29 days every four years and 28 otherwise.


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