The name Sunday makes sense. It’s obviously a joining of “sun” and “day.” But what about the other six days? Where did the names come from anyway? Gloria Munday brings us a day by day overview.
The idea of the seven day week came from either the Babylonians or ancient Egyptians, depending on which source you believe. Regardless, the Greeks also adopted it, and named each of the days after the five known planets, and the sun and moon. When the Greek civilization declined, the Roman Empire took much from the Greeks, including naming rights for the days of the week, substituting their own names for the planets.
As the Romans conquered Europe, they spread their names for the week’s days. Today in France and Italy, for instance, the names of the days are pretty much the same as they were in ancient Roman times. England, though, had many more influences than Latin. In about A.D. 500, for instance, the Germanic tribes – the Norse, Saxons, Anglos, collectively – conquered Britain and substituted their own names in place of the Roman days of week, and until the next conquering army, this is where we are now.
Latin: Solis dies Germanic: Sonntag
The Greeks came up with “the day of the sun,” and the Romans and Germanic tribes like it so much, they kept it. The Romans honored the god Apollo, who flew his fiery chariot through the sky each day. The Saxons changed the Roman “solis” to sunne, and the day to “Sonntag.”
Latin: Lunae dies Germanic: Monandaeg
The Romans dedicated this day to the goddess of the hunt, Diana, who was the twin sister of Apollo. Diana loved hunters, but only to a point. She once turned a hunter into a deer when she caught him spying on her, so she’s often depicted with a stag.
The Saxons believed that the sun was a girl and the moon (or mona) a boy, and each drove chariots through the sky as wolves chased them. The legend had it that if the wolves caught them, day and night would disappear. It’s no surprise, then, that eclipses caused a lot of anxiety for these early Germanic peoples.
Latin: Martis dies Germanic: Tiwesdaeg
The Romans named this day for the planet Mars, and the Roman god of war – Martius. In France, Spain and Italy, the name for Tuesday is directly descended from the Latin: Mardi, Martes, and Martedi, respectively. (Marti Gras, literally means “Fat Tuesday” in French.) In Roman mythology, the god Mars was the father of Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome, who were raised by a wolf.
Years later, when the Germanic tribes rode into Britain, they gave this day to their own god of war, Tiw, hence “Tuesday.” Evidence suggests that Tiw was the oldest of all the Norse gods and was long their head god. However, Odin eventually replaced him as head god, and Tiw was demoted to war god only. He’s depicted dressed for battle with sword and shield.
Latin: Mercurii dies Germanic: Wodnesdaeg
Mercury was the ancient roman god of messages, and Wednesday (Mercurii dies) was named after him. Mercury sported a winged hat and shoes that helped him fly. He was known in mythology for being a thief. As the story goes, he stole Apollo’s cows by placing shoes on their feet and having them walk backward so no one could track them. Mercury used the gut from the cows to string the first lyre, which so impressed Apollo that he forgave Mercury.
Supplanting Mercury, the Saxons decided their chief god Odin (or Woden), deserved his own day. Odin was believed to have invented writing. He was often depicted riding on an eight-legged horse, with two ravens who served as his messengers.
Latin: Jovis dies Germanic: Thorsdaeg
Jove, god of thunder, was the Roman honoree of the day. His better-known name, Jupiter, means “Father Jove” (the Latin pater means “father”) – a sign of respect. Jupiter was the guardian of Rome and the head of all the gods.
The Saxon’s god Thor is also the god of thunder, and he lends his name to this day. Thor is usually seen depicted with a huge hammer that produces loud thunder. He was Odin’s son, and is often drawn riding around on a wagon, led by two goats. He battled giants, and used his hammer to smash their heads. His sworn enemy was the hated World Snake – a snake so bug and nasty, it wraps itself around the world and bites its own tail.
Latin: Veneris dies Germanic: Frigedaeg
In ancient Rome, there was the belief in a beautiful goddess named Venus who rose from the sea on a half-shell. Her legend is about competition for male attention. A man named Paris had an apple with “For the Fairest” written on it. The goddess Venus, Minerva, and Juno offered Paris various qualities in exchange for the apple. Minerva promised Paris wisdom; Juno, power. But Venus offered him another beautiful woman – Helen. He took Venus up on her offer, and paid dearly for it with his life, the lives of his family, and his hometown of Troy. Helen, as it turned out, was a married woman. Still, the Romans were suckers for a pretty face, and Venus’s day was born.
The Saxons liked the idea of a day in honor of a pretty gal, so they named this day after Frigga. She is believed to be Odin’s wife, but Frigga also had affairs with his brothers. She is the goddess of marriage and fertility.
Latin: Saturni dies Germanic: Saterdaeg
The Roman god Saturn was known as Father Time, and is depicted with a sickle. A winter festival called Saturnalia was celebrated in his honor every year in ancient Rome. Schools and businesses closed; families made and ate huge banquets, and the adults showered the children with gifts. All of these traditions – including the time of year – were adopted by the early Christians to celebrate their own Christmas. They continue on today.
The Germanic tribes didn’t really have a god that corresponded to Saturn, so they ended up adopting the ancient Roman Saturni day as is.