How we got the names of the days of the week

It never quite hit me, entirely, how each day of the week got its name – not fully – until I was watching the movie “Thor” last night (I’m not sure how, but I hadn’t heard about it when it came out), and they mentioned that Thursday is “Thor’s Day.”

I didn’t know that.  So I googled the names of the week, and found something else I never fully appreciated.  The romance languages in Europe literally have different names – a different concept – of each day of the week than we do.  And I don’t mean that to sound naive – of course each language has a different word.  But we also have different concepts of the meaning of the day, the origin of the meaning at least.

Meaning, for English-speakers, Thursday is Thor’s Day.  But for romance speakers, Thursday is Jeudi (French), Jueves (Spanish), and Giovedi (Italian).  All of those are based on Jove, aka Jupiter, Zeus, the king of the Greco-Roman gods.  So we don’t just use a different word, the day is devoted to an entirely other concept.

Days of the week, via Shutterstock

Days of the week, via Shutterstock

I went through Wikipedia and checked out the other days:

Same thing happens with Sunday.  For us, it’s the Sun’s Day.  For romance people, it’s the Lord’s day: dimanche, domingo, domenica.

Monday, we all share.  Moon’s Day is the same in French (lundi), Spanish (lunes) and Italian (lunedi).  All based on the moon.

Tuesday is similar, but not entirely shared.  In English, it’s apparently the day of the Norse god Tiw, a god of combat.  In Romance, it’s Mars, the Roman god of war – mardi, martes, martedi.

Wednesday is interesting.  It’s based on a god named Wodan – Wodan’s Day.  And what do they call Wodan further north?  Odin.  The king of Norse mythology.  So Wednesday is actually Odin’s Day for we English people.  For the romance folks, it’s Mercury’s Day, which I never really realized, even though I speak the languages: mercredi, miércoles, mercoledi – all Mercury.

Thursday, as noted, is Thor’s Day.  But it’s Juno’s or Jupiter’s Day for the romance people.

Friday is Frige’s Day – a Norse goddess associated with Venus in that the planet Venus is named Friggjarstjarna, or Frigg’s star.  Which corresponds with romance vendredi, viernes, and venerdi – all of which are based on Venus.

Saturday is obviously Saturn’s Day.  In French, Spanish and Italian – samedi, sabado, and sabato – it’s from the word Sabbath.

I suppose I knew a lot of this already, but I had never fully appreciated that the origins of the days were so different for English-speakers than they were for romance speakers.  Now we know.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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