How the Days of the Week got their Names

Miloš Matović 5 years ago Comment

These words hide the exciting story of their origin, stretching back to the days of Ancient Greece and Rome, and include layers of religion, astrology, mathematics, and astronomy

Hermes-Merkur
Hermes / Merkur

When we start learning any foreign language, the names of the days of the week are among the first things we learn. They belong to the most basic group of words required by almost every action or agreement. And yet, ordinary as they are, these words hide the exciting story of their origin, stretching back to the days of Ancient Greece and Rome, and include layers of religion, astrology, mathematics, and astronomy.

When the Julian calendar was adopted in 45 BC, the Romans began using the seven-day week, naming each of the days after one of their gods similar to the Ancient Greeks. The Greco-Roman gods were perceived as personifications of the seven classical planets, so the days of the week in Latin and in Ancient Greek were named in the same fashion and after the same deities / planets:

Dies Lunae / Ἡμέρα Σελήνης (Monday), Dies Martis / Ἡμέρα Ἄρεως (Tuesday), Dies Mercurii / Ἡμέρα Ἑρμοῦ (Wednesday), Dies Iovis / Ἡμέρα Διός (Thursday), Dies Veneris / Ἡμέρα Ἀφροδίτης (Friday), Dies Saturni / Ἡμέρα Κρόνου (Saturday) and Dies Solis / Ἡμέρα Ἡλίου (Sunday).

In the Germanic languages, the Greco-Roman deities (or planets) were identified with the gods of the Germanic pantheon and the names of the days of the week were coined following the same model:

Luna / Selena is the Moon – Monday, Mars / Ares is Týr – Tuesday, Mercury / Hermes is Odin – Wednesday, Jupiter / Zeus is Thor – Thursday, Venus / Aphrodite is Frige – Friday, Saturn / Chronos was adapted directly as Saturday and Sol / Helios is, of course, the Sun – Sunday.

This pattern is still evident in virtually all Germanic languages, as well as in the Romance languages, excluding Portuguese.

When the Julian calendar was adopted in 45 BC, the Romans began using the seven-day week, naming each of the days after one of their gods.

As Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the clergy became reluctant to use the names of the pagan gods, particularly in the Greek-speaking East.

They named Sunday “the Lord’s day” or Κυριακή (Domenica in Latin) and the rest of the days simply by numbering, counting from Sunday as the first day: Δευτέρα (The Second) – Monday, Τρίτη (The Third) – Tuesday, Τετάρτη (The Fourth) – Wednesday, Πέμπτη (The Fifth) – Thursday, while Friday – Παρασκευή (The Day of Preparation) and Saturday – Σάββατο (Sabbath) also reflected religious significance.

As part of the cultural and linguistic influences of the Byzantine Empire on the Slavic-speaking peoples, this pattern was adopted in many Slavic languages. In the South-Slavic languages the word for Sunday is nedelja / nedjelja (literally, the day without work), Monday is ponedeljak / ponedjeljak (the day after Sunday), Tuesday is utorak (the second), Wednesday is sreda /srijeda (day in the middle), Thursday is četvrtak (the fourth), Friday is petak (the fifth), and Saturday is subota (Sabbath).

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