Jan
21
2009

Where do the names of the months come from?

A modern interpretation of Janus

A modern interpretation of Janus, the god who would look forward and backward and after whom January was named. Spud photo. CC-BY.

Although there have been significant changes, the calendar as we know it dates to the Roman times. So it shouldn’t be surprising that many of the names of the months have names similar to what the Romans used.

January is named after Janus. Appropriately for the first month of the year, Janus was Roman god of gates and doorways, and of endings and beginnings. He is often portrayed as having a head with two faces, one looking forward and one looking back.

February comes from the word februa, meaning expiatory offerings. In Roman times, a feast of purification was held on Feb. 15.

March was named after Mars, the Roman god of war. At one time, March was the first month of the year, a fact that becomes significant when we look at the names of some of the later months.

April probably comes from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, and the equivalent of the Roman goddess Venus.

May is identified with spring, so it’s appropriately named after Maia, the Greek goddess of spring.

The queen of the gods, the top female of the Roman Pantheon, was Juno, after whom June was named.

When Julius Caesar reformed the calendar, he named a month after himself. It became July in English.

Caesar Augustus also made changes in the calendar and named a month after himself. It became August.

If you’re familiar with prefixes that came to us from Latin, you may know that sept- is a prefix meaning seven, oct- means eight, no- means nine and dec- means ten. So back in the days when the year started in March, the seventh through tenth months had names similar to September, October, November and December.

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