Origins And Meanings Of The Days Of The Week
The study of the origin of the day names, from different ciltures, where the days got their names.
There are thousands of things that every child in America grows up with, things they learn from very young, that they never question, that they never even think about, yet it many ways, they don’t make any sense. I enjoy these things. One of these things is the names we use, in this case, the days of the week. We all learn them from very early on, and the name of a day has a deep meaning to every person. Friday is the last day of school or work, Monday is the first day of work, Saturday is the day to kick back and relax.
In a couple of these cases, the name of the day is obvious, but in the others, there is no connection between the word Friday, and the day itself. These names are direct descendants from old cultures, where the gods controlled the daily lives, and the people honored the heavenly beings.
Let’s start with the Romans, the early conquerors from Rome who founded most of the little details that modern Western society thrive on. Originally, the Romans named the days of the week after their gods, with the first two days of the week being the sun and the moon, and the next five being five of their principle gods. Sunday was devoted to the sun, and Monday to the moon. Tuesday belonged to Mars, the god of War, and Wednesday belonged to Mercury, the messenger god. Jupiter (Jove) was the king of the gods, and he got Thursday, then came Venus, goddess of love, on Friday, and the week ended with Saturn, Jupiter’s father, on Saturday (Saturn’s Day).
Following the Roman culture, several cultures got their root language from Latin, English being one of these. However, the Romance languages, as they are called, more closely resemble the Latin, and these are French, Italian, Spanish, and a couple of others. English is close, but has too many influences from other languages to really resemble Latin anymore.
The three Romance languages mentioned, French, Spanish, and Italian, all still have variations of the original Roman names for the days. In Spanish, the days are Domingo (Sunday), Lunes, Martes, Miercoles, Jueves, Viernes, and Sabado. In French, they are Dimanche (Sunday), Lundi, Mardi, Mercredi, Jeudi, Vendredi, and Samedi. In Italian, they are Domenica (Sunday), Lunedi, Martedi, Mercoledi, Giovedi, Venerdi, and Sabato. All of these follow the original Roman names, translated into their individual languages.
Following these others, the seven days of the English week should be Sunday, Monday, Marsday, Mercurday, Jovesday, Venusday, and Saturday. Where did English go astray? Well, three of the seven names remained the same, but the other four, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, all changed to completely different names. Why?
There’s the big change. Unlike the other Romance languages, English has a very strong German influence in it. Much of our vocabulary and sentence structures come from German, as well as those little cultural details. And those four days. But the Germanic influence followed the same pattern as the Roman, and those four days are still names for gods.
Tuesday is from the Norse god Tyr, god of battle, similar to the Mars, the Roman god of battle, so they share the same day. Likewise, Venus is very similar to the Norse goddess of love, Frigg, who is the namesake of Friday. Jupiter, in Roman mythology, is the king of gods, but rules directly over thunder and lightning, so it’ natural that he’s replaced with the Norse god of thunder and lightning, Thor, turning Jovesday into Thursday. As for Mercury, he was replaced by the Norse god of all gods, the mighty Odin, (or Woden), turning Mercurday in Wednesday.
Now, for a completely different view, let’s see what eastern culture did, starting from their own basics. The Japanese didn’t name their days after their gods, but rather associated them with their elements, plus the sun and the moon. In Japan, there are five basic elements, not four, and these are fire, water, earth, metal, and wood. Their sun day, Nichiyohbi, corresponds with our Sunday, just as their moon day, Getsuyohbi, corresponds with our Monday. The next five are Kayohbi, Suiyohbi, Mokuyohbi, Kinyohbi, and Doyohbi, which are, in order, fire, water, wood (tree), metal (gold), and earth (land).
Here’s the interesting part. The Japanese also associated the first five planets with these elements, so that water was Mercury, fire was Mars, wood was Jupiter, metal was Venus, and earth was Earth. Matching these up with Western days, water day is Mercurday, or Wednesday. Fire day is Marsday, or Tuesday. Wood day is Jovesday, or Thursday, and metal day is Venusday, or Friday.
Having the first five elements match the first five planets was all well and good, but earth was also a planet and an element, and they weren’t going to change their arrangement to match heaven or gods. So Saturday, instead of the Western association with the god Saturn, was instead associated with the element of earth, which was connected to their own home planet.
It seems unlikely that either Roman or Japanese culture would have changed their calendars to accommodate the other, since both were well established long before either culture knew about the other. Although it is possible the Japanese associated certain elements with certain planets to match the Western gods. Either taken individually or as a group, we can see the evolution of day names over the centuries. Who knows what would have ended up what if different cultures had intervened, or if they hadn’t.
Thank gods it’s Venusday.