January 07, 2008

#01-058: May to August: Our Second Four Months

painting of a plump nude woman with lustful-looking man fondling her

Note: The name of each month has its own story. While the last four months are basically numbers (seven, eight, nine, and ten), some of the middle months' names have more "august" origins!

Get Ready: When you think of May, June, July, and August in the northern hemisphere, what sort of weather do you think of? What's happening in nature?

There are two more articles about the names of the months: January through April are covered in Lesson #01-057, and the "numbered months" (September through December) were discussed in Lesson #01-016.

Here's a recap:

  • January: from Janus, God of Doorways
  • February: from Februa, the name of a festival
  • March: from Mars, God of War
  • April: from aperire, meaning "to open"

  • September: Seventh month
  • October: Eighth month
  • November: Ninth month
  • December: Tenth month

(These are last four are simply numbers, assigned back when the Roman year had only ten months.)

Moving on:

  • May: This month was named for the Roman goddess Maia. She was a goddess of fertility, and May was in ancient times filled with fertility festivals.
  • June: This was named for Juno, wife of Jupiter, the king of the gods. (These two were called Hera and Zeus by the Greeks.)

July and August were both named for emperors who became gods.

  • July: My birth month was named for the most famous Roman leader, Julius Caesar. Previously, it had been called "Quintilis," the fifth month (two months before September, the seventh, right?) After Julius Caesar's death in 44 B.C., it was renamed for him, since he was born in July of the year 100 B.C.
  • August: This was named for Julius Caesar's successor, Augustus. It had originally been "Sextilis" (sixth month). After the death of Augustus, it was renamed in honor of several incidents in his life. He was elected consul on August 19, 43 B.C.; won the battle of Alexandria on August 1, 30 B.C.; and died on August 19, 14 A.D.

So of these four months, two were named for Roman Emperors, and one for the Queen of teh Gods. An "august" assemblage indeed!


Now that we know the origins of all the months' names, we can re-examine why some people doubt that April was named for the verb "open." Looking again at the sources of the months' names:

  • named for gods and goddesses: January, March, May, and June
  • named for emperors who became gods: July and August 
  • named for a holy festival: February
  • named for numbers: September through December

April alone is named directly for the weather, being when the flowers open. (A case can be made, though, for the weather affecting the names of March and May, too, but not directly.) This has led some scholars to speculate that the name of the month must also come from the name of a god. As it happens, April is sacred to Venus, the goddess of love. Her Greek name was Aphrodite. So a minority of scholars believes that April comes from Aphrilis, a form of Aphrodite's name.

So there you have the origins of the names of the months. But what about the word "month" itself? That's easy: It comes from the word "moon," as one moonth is approximately one lunar cycle.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_calendar

Practice: Which of the four months named above:

  1. was once named "Quintilis"?
  2. is named for the queen of the gods?
  3. is associated with fertility?
  4. is named for an emperor who was born in that month?
  5. is named for the successor to Julius Caesar?
  6. is named for someone who is also named Hera?
  7. is named for a month that was filled with festivals?
  8. is named for an emperor who died in that month?

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 7, 2008

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. July; 2. June; 3. May; 4. July; 5. August; 6. June; 7. May; 8. August