Monthly Origins


512px-Cäsar

Caesar: One of several Roman leaders to have months named after themselves.

We’re approaching the end of summer now, September is almost upon us. It is the ninth month of the year, but did you know, in historical terms, this was not the case until relatively recently? To find out why, you have to go a lot further back in time…

The word “September” comes from the Latin word septem, meaning “seven.” That may seem strange, but when Britain was under Roman rule, it fell under the ancient Roman calendar, which consisted of ten months rather than twelve. The year began with March (Martius) rather than January, and this remained the status quo until 153BC. During the New Year period, the Romans insisted that all wars cease during the time of celebration between the old and new years.

January became the first month of the year when King Pompilius added it in front of March, naming it January after Janus, the God of beginnings and endings. Then, in approximately 690BC, February was slotted between January and March by Pompilius. He wanted this new month to be one of celebration, and so he named it after the festival of Februa, which was one of cleaning and purification.

Once January and February had been added in front of March, September became the ninth month and not the seventh.

Like September, April got its name from its place in the order of the ancient calendar. Its name comes from the Latin word meaning ‘second’, since April was originally the second month of the year.

May was named after Maia, an earth goddess of growing plants. The Romans named June after Juno, the queen of the gods and the patroness of weddings. July was named after Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. Previously, however, July had been called Quintilis, which is Latin for ‘fifth,’ again reflecting its original position in the ancient Roman calendar. The same rule applied for August, which was originally called Sextillia, the Latin for ‘sixth,’ but was renamed in honour of Augustus Caesar in 8 B.C.

October, November and December also adhered to the ‘numbering’ naming system, but unlike July and August, their names remained unchanged. October’s name comes from octo, Latin for ‘eight.’ November is from novem, the Latin for ‘nine.’ And December comes from decem, the Latin for ‘ten.’

It wasn’t until 1582, when Pope Gregory adjusted the calendar to the Gregorian calendar, that most western nations began celebrating the start of the year in January. England and the American colonies still continued to celebrate the New Year in March, though, until 1752, when they finally adopted the Gregorian calendar and adopted January 1st as New Year’s Day.

 

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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