Our calendar has changed a lot over the years, but in early Roman times there were only ten months. It was not until 700 BC that the last two months were added by Nuna Pompilus, Rome’s second king, and the calendar got a further shake up in 46 BC when Julius Caesar reformed it, changing the number of days in many months. Here’s one explanation for the origins of the names of the current months of the year.
January comes from the Latin Januarius, meaning ‘of Janus’. Janus, who is often shown with two faces pointed in opposite directions (hence Janus-faced) is the Roman god of gates and doorways. This month did not exist in the original Roman calendar.
That also applies to February, from the Latin Februarius, meaning ‘of Februa’. Februa, the Roman festival of purification, believed to be of Sabine origin, was held on February 15th.
March was where the Roman year started and it was a time when any ongoing battles would be resumed. It seems appropriate that the month was named after Mars, the Roman god of war. The Latin form was Martius, meaning ‘of Mars’.
The Latin Aprilis gives little hint of the reason for the name of our current fourth month, April. A better clue exists in the Greek version, Aphro, short for Aphrodite, the goddess of love. May derives from the Latin Maius, meaning ‘of Maia’. Maia was the goddess of spring.
June derives from the Latin Junius, meaning ‘of Juno’. Juno was one of the most important figures in the Roman pantheon of gods. The sister of Jupiter, Juno is the goddess of marriage.
July reveals a bit of hubris on the part of Julius Caesar, who named this month after himself when he reformed the Roman calendar. The Latin form is Julius. Julius Caesar was not the only emperor to feel this way. Augustus did the same thing when he completed the calendar reform, giving us the name of the eighth month, August.
The last four months of our current calendar were also the last four of the Roman calendar, and that’s how they get their names. September, October, November and December have descriptive Latin names. They derive from the Latin words for seven (septem), eight (octo), nine (novem) and ten (decem).
4 thoughts on “Months: A History Of Time”
I’ve always wondered why September, October, November, and December had those Latin roots when they’re actually the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth months. Thanks for posting this, ’cause now I know. 🙂
It seems odd, but once you know the history, it’s entirely understandable. 🙂
MG, it’ “Numa Pompilius” in the first paragraph.
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