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Months


Have you ever wondered where the months got their names from?

In the Western world, the most widely used calendar is the Gregorian calendar, but some of the names of the months come from the calendars used by the ancient Romans. The calendar of Romulus had ten months, beginning with the spring equinox in March and ending in December. After many calendar reforms since Romulus’s calendar, the following mnemonic rhyme sums up the features of the calendar we use today:

“Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November.
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting February alone,
And that has twenty-eight days clear,
And twenty-nine in each leap year.”

We love a good mnemonic here at Spellzone – why not check out this video for another way of remembering how long each month is?

Now let’s take a look at the actual names…

  • January and February were added to the calendar by Numa Pompilius, the second King of Rome, around 700 BC.

    January takes its name from Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions (and so it is appropriate that January became the month that marked the transition into the New Year). Janus is usually depicted with two heads – one looking back into the past, and the other looking forward to the future.

    In the original Roman calendar, the ten ‘official’ months were followed by a period of winter which had no assigned name. Numa Pompilius turned this end-of-the-year period into ‘January’ and ‘February’, and February was the last month of the calendar until around 450 BC when January and February became the first two months of the year. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word comes from ‘februarius mensis’ which means ‘month of purification’, which in turn comes from ‘februa’ which means ‘purifications, expiatory rites’. February may have been named after the Roman purification ritual which took place around this time – possibly where the modern day idea of ‘spring cleaning’ comes from!

  • March is named after the Roman god of war: Mars. It comes from the Latin ‘Martius’ which means ‘Month of Mars’ and it was the first month of the Roman calendar.

  • April comes from the Roman month ‘Aprilis’, but it is uncertain where this name derives from. Some historians have suggested it’s from ‘aperire’, which means ‘to open’, implying that ‘Aprilis’ refers to springtime when buds begin to open and new life is born.

  • May is named for Maia, who in classical mythology was the goddess of springtime and growth.

  • June comes from the Latin ‘Iunius’ and the month is probably named after the Roman goddess of marriage Juno, wife (and sister!) of Jupiter and queen of the gods. Perhaps June weddings were as popular in Roman times as they are now!

  • July and August were named to honour the general Julius Caesar and the first Roman emperor Augustus Caesar. Before they were changed, they were called ‘Quintilis’ and ‘Sextillia’ meaning ‘fifth’ and ‘sixth’ and referring to their place in the calendar before January and February were added.

  • September, October, November, and December are also named for their position in the ten-month calendar. ‘Septem’, ‘octo’, ‘novem’, and ‘decem’ are Latin for seven, eight, nine, and ten, but though these names are in still in use, they are no longer correspond with the number of the month they refer to.

So…what do you think? If you could rename the months, what new names would you choose? Tweet us your ideas!

Avani Shah


12 Nov 2013
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