Our Days of the Week are named for Norse Gods
For centuries, the days of the week have been named after gods and goddesses from different cultures. From the Babylonians to the Romans, various cultures have had their own naming conventions for days of the week. But it was the Norse who gave us the names for the days that we use today.
Ancient humans would track the rising and setting of the sun, the waxing and waning of the moon, and they could tell when winter was approaching by when the days would grow longer or shorter. They would know when to plant crops; when to look for particular animals; when their own animals were likely to give birth, and when to give thanks to the gods.
A Brief History
The calendar we currently use has gone through numerous changes over the centuries. Although there are several stone monuments that track the sun and moon, the written calendar that we recognize really began with the Babylonians around 1896 BC.
After many reiterations, the Roman calendar was adopted by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, known as the Julian calendar. The months of the year were also named by the Romans, and specifically Julius Caesar. We also have the Romans to thank for a 12-month solar calendar, as it was a 10-month calendar prior to the Roman Empire.
Later in 1582 CE the Gregorian calendar, our current calendar, was adopted from the Julian calendar as a modification to better accommodate the correct number of days in the year.
Both the Julian and the Gregorian calendar, for the annual count and the months are based on a solar time period, tracking the movement of the sun as it relates to the earth.
Days of the Week
The seven-day week however, is based on the moon cycle. We go back in time again to the ancient Babylonians who created the 7 day cycle based on the phases of the moon. Seven days for the New Moon to reach the quarter moon phase, seven days for the quarter moon to reach the half-moon phase, and etc. Because the moon cycle is 29.53 days long, the last week of each month had 8 or 9 days. Those extra days were “market days” where people would go to the markets in town and purchase food and goods for the following month.
Between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE, the Greco-Roman tradition was adopted from the Babylonian system and the days of the week were named after their gods, which were named after the five known planets at the time, plus the sun and the moon.
Utilizing Hellenistic astrology, they were named in the order from slowest to fastest moving as they appeared in the night sky: Roman (Greek) Sunday, Sun (Helios); Monday, Moon (Selene); Tuesday, Mars (Ares); Wednesday, Mercury (Hermes); Thursday, Jupiter (Zeus); Friday, Venus (Aphrodite); and Saturday, Saturn (Cronos).
The Norse Gods
Although the Latin based languages like Spanish, French and Italian use the Roman naming system, the Germanic and Norse people adopted the 7 day system but named the days of the week after their own gods, keeping on theme with the Greek and Roman naming system.
Monday – Mánadagr in Old Norse, or Mōnandæg in Old English. Monday was named after Mani, the Norse personification of the Moon.
Tuesday – Tysdagr in Old Norse, or Tīwesdæg in Old English. Tuesday was named after Tyr (Tiw) the Norse god known as a great warrior and for being the best swordsman, similar to the Roman god Mars who was known as the god of war.
Wednesday – Óðinsdagr in Old Norse, or Wōdensdæg in Old English. Wednesday was named after Odin (Woden) the Norse god known for wisdom, the runes, and magik. Wednesday was named for Odin because he was known to travel to Hel, similar to the Roman god Mercury who was know for guiding souls after death.
Thursday – Þórsdagr in Old Norse, or Þūnresdæg in Old English. Thursday was named after Thor the Norse god associated with lightning and thunder, similar to the Roman god Jupiter who was known as the god of sky and thunder. (The Old Norse letter Þ makes a hard “th” sound.)
Friday – Frjádagr in Old Norse, or Frīgedæg in Old English. Friday was named after the Norse god Freyja or Frigga, depending on location and source. The Roman goddess Venus was known for beauty, love, and fertility as is the Norse goddess Freyja; the Norse goddess Frigga is Odin’s wife and known as the goddess of marriage.
Saturday – Laugardagr in Old Norse, or Sæturnesdæg in Old English. In Old Norse, Saturday was named as “bath day” or “hot water day”. 'Laug' means bath or hot water, and 'dagr' means day. The Norse may have chosen this day as their rest and bathing day because the Roman god Saturn was associated with rest, peace and abundance. And we know from history that the Norse people bathed once every week and always travelled with a change of clean clothes. (The Nordic people were very clean, especially at the time.) In current English though, we use the Roman iteration of Saturn’s Day.
Sunday – Sunnudagr in Old Norse, or Sunnandæg in Old English. Sunday was named after Sol, the personification of the Sun. Over time, the day became known as “Sun Day”.
The Norse gods had a great influence on early northern European cultures and their pantheon is still well-known in many parts of Europe today. The names for each day were derived from these gods and goddesses, which is why we still refer to them today.
In conclusion, our calendar has come a long way since its beginnings in Mesopotamia, but it was the Norse who gave us our current names for each day of the week. Knowing this can help us appreciate how much influence they had on our culture and language.
- Calendar.com: The History of the Calendar
- The Farmer’s Almanac: How Did the Months Get Their Names
- Live Science: Origins of the Days of the Week
- Wikipedia: Names of the Days of the Week
- Wikipedia: Hellenistic Astrology
- Viking Ship Museum: The names of the days of the week
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