The Names for the Days of the Week - Sarah Woodbury

The Names for the Days of the Week

*updated for today because my 7-year old son was asking about ‘Thursday’ 🙂

People have named the days of the week since ancient times. We tend to take them for granted, even the bizarre spelling of ‘Wednesday’.

The Greeks had a seven day week associated with heavenly bodies. Vettius Valens, an astrologer writing around 170 CE in his Anthologiarum, gave their order as: Sun, Moon, Ares, Hermes, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Cronos.

Following the Greeks, the Romans named the days according to their gods (modified, of course, from the Greeks), and then spread them throughout the world as they conquered Europe. The Roman days were: Lunae, Martis, Mercurii, Jovis, Veneris, Saturni, and Solis. From this come the Spanish (for example), Lunes, Martes, Miercoles, Jueves, Viernes, Sabado, and Domingo (which is the only one that doesn’t fit–see below).

In English, the Roman names were converted into old English, and some were lost entirely in favor of the pagan names:

Monday: Comes from the old English word, Monandæg, meaning ‘Moon’s Day’, a direct translation of the Latin, Lunae. In Germanic mythology, the god Mani personifies the moon.

Tuesday: Old English, Tiwesdæg, meaning Tiw’s Day, a one-handed god associated with single combat. Thus, the translation from ‘Mars’, the Roman god of war.

Wednesday: Old English, Wodnesdæg , or Woden’s Day. There isn’t a real association between the Roman god, Mercury, and Woden, a chief god of the Anglo-Saxons, other than that they are both associated with music and poetry.

Thursday: Old English, Þonresdæg, which is completely unpronounceably, but is effectively ‘Thor’s Day’. Thor, the god of thunder, is the perfect twin of Jupiter (or Zeus, to the Greeks), who maintained his power with a thunderbolt.

Friday: Old English, Frigedæg , the first and only goddess of the week ‘Frige Day’. She is not, however, the Aphrodite of the Greeks and Venus, of the Romans, the goddess of beauty, love, and sex. Revealing an interesting twist in the Anglo-Saxon mind, Frige was the goddess of married women (more akin to Hera) and married to Woden.

Saturday: Old English, Sæturnesdæg or ‘Saturn’s Day’, the only day of the week to retain its Roman origin.

Sunday: Old English, Sunnandæg, meaning ‘Sun’s Day’. English is the one language which has kept the pagan connotation–the Romance languages (see Spanish, above), converted it to ‘the lord’s day’. Thus: Domingo, Dimanche (French), Domenica (Italian).

11 Replies to “The Names for the Days of the Week”

  1. Although most cultural systems of astrology share common roots in ancient philosophies that influenced each other, many have unique methodologies which differ from those developed in the West. These include Hindu astrology (also known as “Indian astrology” and in modern times referred to as “Vedic astrology”) and Chinese astrology, both of w:

    Newest post on our personal internet site have influenced the world’s cultural history.

  2. I think this is a fascinating topic because so many civilizations named their days of the week after the visible heavenly bodies- and many had deities to match as well. An interesting insight into the things we share and how we differently interpret them. I’d quibble about Zeus as being a better match for Odin than Thor, but you’re obviously in good company 🙂

    1. I found this very interesting as well, and in this case, I just tried to relate what seems to be most generally accepted. Thanks for sharing and commenting!

    2. It was usually planets that ended up with the names of deities, because only planets have an observable retrograde motion. Therefore, planets seemed more “powerful” to ancient astronomers, because they were obviously moving wherever they pleased (instead of according to someone else’s grand plan).

  3. Thor was originally a Germanic god named Donar. The German word for Thursday (“Thor’s Day”) is “Donnerstag” (“Donar’s Day”).

    I believe those legends referred only to Wotan, and that the Germanic tribes never used the name “Odin”. They did refer to a “land of men” (i.e., their homeland), bordered on the northern side (up, on maps) by a land of ice, inhabited by fierce “giants” (i.e., Vikings, who behaved aggressively and tended to be taller than they.)

    When the Vikings took on the myths, they took the mythic map of the universe, except they of course made Scandinavia the central “land of men”. They referred to a land to the south (down, on maps) inhabited by dwarves — hardy, hard-working folk who built mighty fortresses, but greedy and humorless.

    Of course this is an oversimplification — national identities as we now know them, didn’t exist at the time.

    1. My German and knowledge of that region of the world is less than adequate, so thanks for posting!

  4. Tiw’s story is a nicely gory romantic one. When the gods wanted to bind the Fenris wolf [which was as big as a whale and eating everything] they had to trick it, firstly into telling them what kind of chain would bind it and then into ‘showing them how it would work assuming they had such a chain’. They had dashed around and got the sound of the footfall of a cat, roots of a mountain, woman’s beard etc to make the chain and the wolf was cooperative up to a point but then demanded that one of the gods put his hand in the wolf’s jaws as a safeguard. Tiw was the only one with the cojones to do it.

    Þonresdæg – Thunor is another name for Thor. Funny, I was reading the first chapter of a story about the Anglo-Saxon pantheon last night.

  5. An enlightening post. 🙂 One of my favorite things about writing is the research. It’s amazing just how much of English comes from Old Norse, which I’d never really thought about until I started researching Norse gods for one of my WIPs.

    1. Thank you! Glad you liked it. I agree about the research. Why else write historical fiction 🙂

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