From what I understand, the Germanic tribes borrowed their calendar and names for days of the week from the Romans. But they decided to localize the gods - Thor's day, Frey's day, etc. How come the months didn't get the same treatment, and are still named after Octavius, Augustus, Julius, etc?

  • 3
    This is not a linguistic question - I know where all the names originate from. I am interested in the historical causes of one set, but not the other set, changing.
    – SPavel
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 19:49
  • OK, comment removed. Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 19:56
  • ...because "being on the same page" with month names is more important for communication than weekday names (when the day of the month is given numerically anyway)? ("We will meet... uhm... July the 5th. Deal?") Because using the name of some random, long-dead Roman emperor as basis for a month name doesn't feel as "alien" as using Roman gods as basis for a weekday name? ("Augustus? Yea, whatever. Mars? Nah, we got Thor.") Because replacing Roman gods with Germanic counterparts was easier, and less arbitrary, than replacing emperors with... yes, what? (Totally speculating here.)
    – DevSolar
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 9:42
  • Pretty sure October isn't named after Octavius, just as November isn't named after Novemvius, but I could be wrong
    – Unrelated
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 7:02
  • This belongs on english.sx. Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 9:45

1 Answer 1


Bede mentioned the month-names the Old English used for their lunisolar calendar, and they are indeed quite different. For instance, December and January were basically called "Before Yule" and "After Yule", while June and July were "before midsummer" and "after midsummer". Old English also had a name for the leap month occasionally required to realign the lunar calendar with the solar cycle.

I can (and at one point did) give a lot of speculative reasons for why those names were abandoned. All we can say for sure is that the two calendar systems are a bit different (due to the use of leap-month rather than leap days), and when the English shifted to using the Julian one instead they decided to use its names as well, rather than try to map them to onto their old calendar names.

However, this didn't happen everywhere. Charlemagne came up with his own month names, that survived in some places on the continent until the 15th century. Either the (likely Norman) rulers of England didn't do the same thing, or whatever they tried didn't stick.

Why didn't the same thing happen with the days of the week? The only factual info I can give is that the borrowing of the concept of numbering/naming the days of the week came much earlier; around the first century.

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    I am afraid that you are theorizing. There is no evidence of the liturgic significance of months' names. For example, Orthodox Russians use Latin months since AD 1000, while Catholic Poles and Croats as well as Orthodox Ukrainians and Macedonians use Slavic months all the way till now. It is also worth noticing that days (especially the Easter cycle) have greater significance - and still not unified.
    – user58697
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 5:34
  • A 100% legit complaint. I'm not sure we're going to find anything written down that says "This is why we as a society all agreed to use the Roman names for the Julian calendar". Still, the speculation isn't particularly informative, so I've removed it.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 15:34
  • Apart from the names were the calendars identical? Just wondering if the old English came up with their calendar themselves or used the Ptolemaic calendar that Caesar implemented
    – turinsbane
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 4:59

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