The Seven-Day Week and the Meanings of the Names of the Days
The Babylonians marked time with lunar months. They proscribed some activities during several days of the month, particularly the
- first — the first visible crecent, which shows at sunset
- seventh — the waxing half moon, which rises approximately at noon
- fourteenth — the full moon, which rises as the sun sets
- nineteenth — dedicated to an offended goddess, Bau or Gula, invoked to curse those who trample upon the rights of rulers or those who do wrong with poisonous potions. special “evil day”, the “day of anger”, because it was roughly the 49th day of the (preceding) month, completing a “week of weeks”
- twenty-first — the waning half moon, whis rises approximately at midnight
- twenty-eigth — the last visible crescent, which shows at sunrise
- twenty-nineth — the invisible moon, and
- thirtieth (possibly) — the invisible moon. These are “dark” moons because the moon rises at the same time as the sun, and therefore, is too pale to be seen, unless there is an eclipse.
The major periods are seven days, 1/4 month, long. This seven-day period was later regularized and disassociated from the lunar month to become our seven-day week.
The Naming of the Days
The Greeks named the days week after the sun, the moon and the five known planets, which were in turn named after the gods Ares, Hermes, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Cronus. The Greeks called the days of the week the Theon hemerai “days of the Gods”. The Romans substituted their equivalent gods for the Greek gods, Mars, Mercury, Jove (Jupiter), Venus, and Saturn. (The two pantheons are very similar.) The Germanic peoples generally substituted roughly similar gods for the Roman gods, Tiu (Twia), Woden, Thor, Freya (Fria), but did not substitute Saturn.
Sunday — Sun’s day
Sunna was the Norse goddess of the sun in her chariot.
Middle English sone(n)day or sun(nen)day
Old English sunnandæg “day of the sun”
Germanic sunnon-dagaz “day of the sun”
Latin dies solis “day of the sun”
Ancient Greek hemera heli(o)u, “day of the sun”
Monday — Moon’s day
Middle English monday or mone(n)day
Old English mon(an)dæg “day of the moon”
Latin dies lunae “day of the moon”
Ancient Greek hemera selenes “day of the moon” Not much is said of Mani, other than his being the Man in the Moon. Other cultures see other images, such as rabbits.
It’s unusual for the Sun to be seen as female and the Moon as male, which may show the relatively strong position that women had in the Norse cultures. Freya was the leader of the Valkyries, for example, and she got her pick of fallen warriors first. Other sun goddesses are Brigid, Aine, Olwen and Saule. Amaeterasu is venerated today as the sun goddess in Japan.
Tuesday — Tiu’s day
Middle English tiwesday or tewesday
Old English tiwesdæg “Tiw’s (Tiu’s) day”
Latin dies Martis “day of Mars”
Ancient Greek hemera Areos “day of Ares”
Tiu (Twia) is the English/Germanic god of war and the sky. He is identified with the Norse god Tyr. He lost a hand to bind the Fenrir Wolf of Chaos.
Mars is the Roman god of war.
Ares is the Greek god of war.
Wednesday — Woden’s day
Middle English wodnesday, wednesday, or wednesdai
Old English wodnesdæg “Woden’s day”
Latin dies Mercurii “day of Mercury”
Ancient Greek hemera Hermu “day of Hermes”
Woden is the chief Anglo-Saxon/Teutonic god. Woden is the leader of the Wild Hunt. Woden is from wod “violently insane” + –en “headship”. He is identified with the Norse Odin.
Mercury is the Roman god of commerce, travel, theivery, eloquence and science. He is the messenger of the other gods.
Hermes is the Greek god of commerce, invention, cunning, and theft. He is the messenger and herald of the other gods. He serves as patron of travelers and rogues, and as the conductor of the dead to Hades.
Thursday — Thor’s day
Middle English thur(e)sday
Old English thursdæg
Old Norse thorsdagr “Thor’s day”
Old English thunresdæg “thunder’s day”
Latin dies Jovis “day of Jupiter”
Ancient Greek hemera Dios “day of Zeus”.
Thor is the Norse god of thunder. He is represented as riding a chariot drawn by goats and wielding the hammer Miölnir. He is the defender of the Aesir, destined to kill and be killed by the Midgard Serpent.
Jupiter (Jove) is the supreme Roman god and patron of the Roman state. He is noted for creating thunder and lightning.
Zeus is Greek god of the heavens and the supreme Greek god.
Friday — Freya’s day
Middle English fridai
Old English frigedæg “Freya’s day”
composed of Frige (genetive singular of Freo) + dæg “day” (most likely)
or composed of Frig “Frigg” + dæg “day” (least likely)
Germanic frije-dagaz “Freya’s (or Frigg’s) day”
Latin dies Veneris “Venus’s day”
Ancient Greek hemera Aphrodites “day of Aphrodite”
Freo is identical with freo, meaning free. It is from the Germanic frijaz meaning “beloved, belonging to the loved ones, not in bondage, free”.
Freya (Fria) is the Teutonic goddess of love, beauty, and fecundity (prolific procreation). She is identified with the Norse god Freya. She is leader of the Valkyries and one of the Vanir. She is confused in Germany with Frigg. her name means “Lady”. She had a magical cloak of falcon feathers that allowed her to fly and she sometimes rode her wild boar Hildisvíni
Frigg (Frigga) is the Teutonic goddess of clouds, the sky, and conjugal (married) love. She is identified with Frigg, the Norse goddess of love and the heavens and the wife of Odin. She is one of the Aesir. She is confused in Germany with Freya.
Venus is the Roman goddess of love and beauty.
Aphrodite (Cytherea) is the Greek goddess of love and beauty.
Saturday — Saturn’s day
I wonder if this day name comes about due to the Roman invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar, since it’s the only non-Germanic day name? We’ll probably never know.
Middle English saterday
Old English sæter(nes)dæg “Saturn’s day”
Latin dies Saturni “day of Saturn”
Ancient Greek hemera Khronu “day of Cronus”
Saturn is the Roman and Italic god of agriculture and the consort of Ops. He is believed to have ruled the earth during an age of happiness and virtue.
- William Morris, editor, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, New College Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1976
- Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Portland House, New York, 1989
- William Matthew O’Neil, Time and the Calendars, Sydney University Press, 1975
- The Royal Greenwich Observatory provides information on time, the calendar, the date of Easter, the equation of time, leap years, and the year 2000 AD.
- The United States Naval Observatory has several systems of time.