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How Did the Calendar Months Get Their Names?

The gregorian calendar has been a staple of timekeeping in the western world for a long time, even before its namesake Pope Gregory XIII. That begs the question, where did we get our months' names?

To get to the story behind the names, we must go back in time before Pope Gregory promulgated the reform on the Julian calendar.

Our story begins with the great and perhaps mythical king Romulus, yes that Romulus, the founder of Rome. The roman tradition claims that Romulus has created a ten months calendar that spanned 304 days plus 51 days of winter. Most of the month's names in that calendar survived the time and still being used in our modern-day calendar.

Changes to the calendar came afterwards with the changing of the Quintilis to July in honour of the Roman dictator Julius Caeser; and Sextilis to August in honour of Augustus, the first Roman emperor.

How Did the Calendar Months Get Their Names?

January

The first month of the Julian and gregorian calender was supposedly added to the Roman calendar by the Romulus successor King Numa around 713 BC but was not recognised as the first month of the year until 450BC. The name January comes from the roman dual-faced deity Janus, the god of beginnings and doorways.

February

The second month of the year, also the shortest month in the calendar was added by King Numa. The name was derived from dies Februatus also known as Lupercalia, a Roman festival for purification and casting away the evil spirits.

March

The third month of the year and formerly the first in the old Roman calendar was named after Mars, the Roman god of war. Mars was according to roman folklore, the father of Romulus and Remus.

April

The fourth month of the year had only 29 days at the start and gained the extra day in the calendar reforms introduced by Julius Caeser. The name of the month is linked to the Roman goddess of beauty, love and desire Venus through her greek name Aphros.

May

Named after Maya, the goddess of the earth and fertility. Some scholars claim that the month was named after maiores, Latin for elders.

June

The month was named after goddess Juno, the wife of the Roman god Jupiter, and the goddess of marriage. Others claim that the name is derived from iuniores, Latin for youth in contrast with the month of May. while some scholars argue that the name comes from Lucius Junius Brutus, the first roman consul and the leader of the rebellion against the monarchy in 509BC.

July

Originally, Quintilis, meaning the fifth month of the year, and later after the addition of January and February, it was shifted to be the seventh month. After the assassination of Julius Caeser in 44 BC, the Roman senate named the month in his honour as it was his birth month.

August

The former name of August was Sixtilis, Latin for sixth, as it was the sixth month of the year. The name changed later after the roman senate issued a decree naming the month after Augustus Caeser because his great victories came in August.

September

The word is derived from Latin Septem, meaning seven. The month was originally the seventh month in the Roman year before the additions of January and February by King Numa.

October

In Latin, octo means eight, and October was the eighth month of the year before the reforms of King Numa.

November

Before the addition of January and February, November was the ninth month of the year, which goes with its Latin meaning nine.

December

Latin for tenth. The month successfully retained its name though it is now the twelveth month in Julian and Gregorian calendar.