Where Did the Names for the Days of the Week Come From?

by Neal Litherland 7 months ago in religion

Old Gods Hiding in a New World

Where Did the Names for the Days of the Week Come From?

Have you ever wondered where the names for our days came from? What meaning the creators of our calendars intended when they created the structure that governed their lives, and those of millions of other people on down the centuries? Maybe not... but if you suddenly find yourself overcome with curiosity, there answer is a fairly simple one.

We named the days of our weeks after the gods.

Not just any gods, though. Because language is a constantly changing, ever-evolving thing that is as organic as it is academic, which gods govern your days of the week will vary based on what language you speak. Because those of us who speak English have days that have been influenced by the ancient peoples of Northern Europe, while those in countries where romance languages were adopted find the gods of Rome had their names assigned to the days on their calendars.

Which Days Are Named For Which Gods?

Tracing the origin of the mythic figures that influenced the days is fairly simple, according to both Zippy Facts, and Crowl.

Sunday and Monday are maybe the two easiest days to figure out, as they're named for the two biggest influences in the heavens; the sun and the moon respectively. These celestial bodies have been revered by cultures and religions all over the world, and their proximity to the beginning of the week might be a sign that they were both considered to be extremely important.

Tuesday is dedicated to gods of war. In English it's the one-handed god Tyr, who sacrificed his hand to the great wolf Fenrir. In countries where romance languages are spoken it's the god Mars, son of Zeus and and decider of bloody battles who governs Tuesday.

Wednesday is a day that is given to gods of cleverness and wisdom. In English Wednesday is given to the All-Father Odin, the patriarch of the Norse gods. In the more romantic countries the day was given to Mercury, the messenger of the gods who was considered the cleverest, and among the wisest of gods despite his penchant for practical jokes.

Thursday is named for gods of thunder and storm. In English the day is named for Thor, the Norse god of thunder and lightning who wielded the mighty warhammer Mjolnir (he also has a successful series of films and comic books, for those who don't know). In the countries that succeeded the Roman Empire though, Thursday was given to Jove (or Zeus if you prefer) who wielded his thunderbolts against the titans.

Friday is dedicated to goddesses of beauty, and it's the only purely feminine day excluding the moon and its connections to women. In English, the day comes either from Freya (the queen of the valkyries who rode on the Wild Hunt with Odin; you can find out more about her in her Goddesses of Badassdom entry) or from Frigga (the first among Odin's wives). Both were considered beautiful and stately, as well as goddesses of fertility. In the traditions of Rome Venus (or Aphrodite if you'd rather) was the patron of Fridays.

Saturday is unique in that only the romance languages have a name for the god the day was dedicated to. Saturn, the titan who was the father of Zeus, is the god of time who is honored with Saturday. There isn't a similar such god in the Northern European pagan tradition, yet the term Saturday has been adopted onto the calendar anyway.

Would You Like To Know More?

To check out more odd historical facts, like The Varangian Guard: The Vikings Who Protected The Eastern Roman Emperors, or perhaps The Vikings, Not Columbus, Were The First Europeans in The Americas, all you need to do head over to my complete Vocal archive!

Neal Litherland
Neal Litherland
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Neal Litherland

Neal Litherland is an author, freelance blogger, and RPG designer. A regular on the Chicago convention circuit, he works in a variety of genres.

See all posts by Neal Litherland