How Sunday, Monday & other days got their names
Names of the Days of the Week
The names of the days of the week are different in different languages yet most of them follow a similar pattern of nomenclature- they are named after the 7 “classical” planets. In Ancient Greek and Roman civilization, the classical planets referred to the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, which could be seen with the naked eye in the sky. Now, these planets were themselves named after deities of their respective cultures. So, in effect the names of the days originated from the names of Gods and Goddesses in local cultures. In this article, we will look at the origin of each day’s name and the similarity across different languages and cultures.
A long, long time ago a week did not comprise of 7 days. Rather, there were 8 days in a week! For reasons not entirely clear, between the 1st and 3rd centuries the Roman Empire replaced the 8-day week with a 7-day week. The earliest evidence for this new system is a Pompeiian graffito from AD 60. Gradually, this system spread throughout the empire and by 4th century, had reached India and China. Since a lot of cultural aspects at the time revolved around religion and deities, it is no surprise that these elements also influenced the names of the days of the week. While the names may differ from one language to another and from culture to culture, the underlying origins of the names remain quite similar as we will find out below. Depending on which culture you hail from, a week may start either with Sunday or Monday. For the sake of this article, we will follow the international standard ISO 8601 and treat Monday as the first day of the week.
Origin & Meaning of the Names of the Days
Monday is derived from Old English and means “Moon’s day”, named after Mani, the Moon God in Germanic mythology. In Latin, it is called dies lunae, (“Day of the Moon”). In Hindi, it is called Somavar, named after Soma, the Moon God in Hindu mythology. In Japanese, it is called getsu youbi (“moon day”), named after tsuki (“the Moon”).
Tuesday is derived from Old English and means “Tiw’s day”. Tiw or Tyr is the Germanic God of War and equated with Mars. In Latin, the name for Tuesday is dies Martis (“Day of Mars”), named after Mars, the Roman God of War. In Hindi, it is called Mangalavar, named after Mangala, the Hindu God of War and the name for the red planet. In Japanese, it is called ka youbi (“fire day”), named after kasei (“fire star”), the Japanese word for the planet Mars.
Wednesday is derived from Old English and means “Wodan’s day”. In Latin, the name for Wednesday is dies Mercurii (“Day of Mercury”). Both Wodan and Mercury were considered the gods who guided souls after death in their respective mythologies. In Hindi, it is called Budhavar, named after Budha, the name for the planet Mercury. In Japanese, it is called sui youbi (“water day”), named after suisei (“water star”), the Japanese word for the planet Mercury.
Thursday is derived from Old English and means “Thor’s day” named after Thor, the Norse God of thunder. In Latin, the name for Thursday is dies Jovis (“Day of Jupiter”). Jupiter is the Roman God of sky and thunder. In Hindi, it is called Guruvar, named after Brihaspati, the guru of the Gods in Hindu mythology and the name for the largest planet- Jupiter. In Japanese, it is called moku youbi (“wood day”), named after mokusei (“wood star”), the Japanese word for the planet Jupiter.
Friday is derived from Old English and means “day of Frige”. Frige is the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of love and fertility and equated with Venus. In Latin, the name for Friday is dies Veneris (“Day of Venus”), named after Venus, the Roman Goddess of love, beauty and fertility. In Hindi, it is called Shukravar, named after Shukra, the teacher of the Asuras (demons) and the name for the planet Venus. In Japanese, it is called kin youbi (“gold day”), named after kinsei (“gold star”), the Japanese word for the planet Venus.
Saturday is the only day of the week that retains its Roman origin in English. In Latin, the name for Saturday is dies Saturni (“Day of Saturn”), named after Saturn, the Roman God of wealth and agriculture. The god is also the origin of the name of the planet with rings. In Hindi, it is called Shanivar, named after Shani, the deity of bad luck and the name for the planet Saturn. In Japanese, it is called do youbi (“soil day”), named after dosei (“soil star”), the Japanese word for the planet Saturn.
Sunday is derived from Old English and means “Sun’s day”. It derived its root from Latin dies solis, (“Day of the Sun”), possibly named after Sol, the Sun goddess. In Hindi, it is called Ravivar, named after Surya, the Sun God in Hindu mythology, who was also referred by other names such as Ravi and Aditya. In Japanese, it is called nichi youbi (“sun day”), named after hi (“the Sun”). In a number of languages such as Italian and French, the name of Sunday has been changed to the equivalent of dies Dominica or “the Lord’s day”