Those 12 months that make up each and every year on our calendars are very familiar. Even most children by the time they are enrolled in kindergarten or first grade can name the 12 months of the year. There are even cute little poems and rhymes designed to help us keep track of each month. Yet, at one time there were no names for these calendar periods, only the seasons themselves were marked by those living on earth.
This brings us to the question of how the months of the year were given their present day names. Where did these names come from, and why were they chosen to designate certain periods on the calendars? It seems that we owe this honor to the Romans and Greeks who lived so many years ago.
The 12 months of the year were given numbers, and for a few of these months this number is also their name. However some of the months have a history that is a little more interesting. Let’s take a look at these names and their origins, shall we?
The beginning of our modern calendar year is January. This month received its name from Janus, a Roman god who represented all beginnings and was considered to be the god of ‘doors’. In fact you can find statues of Janus now in museums. These statues have 2 faces that are representative of Janus’s ability to see all things past and future. How fitting that the name of this god would be given to the month of January.
Februa (or Februatio) was an ancient purification festival held early in the springtime. This was the time when houses and buildings were cleansed and purged; and life for people was also seen as becoming cleansed and renewed. There was a god was named Februus by the Romans, but the calendar month (as well as this god) was named for the ceremonial, cleansing festival. Thus, in this instance, the name of February is due to the Februatio celebration and not directly to the Roman god.
The stormy and windy month of March was named in honor of ‘Mars’, the god of war. This is also part of the reason that many people consider the coming of March to be similar to the ferocious invasion of a windy, blustery lion (war god).
April is the time when spring is bursting forth in full bloom across much of the world. The name of this month is from a Latin word (aperit) which means ‘to open’. You might consider April to be the opening of the growing season, or an open door to a new growing period.
Maia was a Roman goddess; the mother of Mercury and the daughter of the god, Atlas. The goddess Maia was in charge of the newly growing plants that appeared each year in the springtime. Today the month of May retains the name that still honors this Roman goddess.
Juno is the goddess for whom the month of June was named. Some people may not realize that Juno was especially important because she was married to the most important Roman god, Jupiter. The month of June is a time when many celebrations take place, and this was even true in ancient times as well.
July & August
The months of July and Augustus were named for Roman rulers. These men were Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar.
The months of September through December do not have such noteworthy legends and stories surrounding their names. These months have more modest histories pertaining to how they were named.
September, October, November and December have Latin names designating their numerical occurrence on the calendar. These months were named during a time when the calendar year began with March. Our modern calendar still reflects these numerical names even though the number is no longer accurate.
Originally the months of the year had a different arrangement on the calendar. This is why September is named the (septem) 7th month; October is called (octem), the8th month; November is designated as (novem), the 9th month; and December gets its name from the word (decem), which meant it was once the 10th month on the calendar.
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