The Germanic peoples had names for the months which varied by region and dialect, which were later replaced with local adaptations of the Roman month names. Our records of Old English and Old High German month names date to the 8th and 9th centuries, respectively. Old Norse month names are attested from the 13th century. Like most pre-modern calendars, the reckoning used in early Germanic culture was likely lunisolar. The Runic calendar developed in medieval Sweden is lunisolar, fixing the beginning of the year at the first full moon after winter solstice.
The month names do not coincide, thus it is not possible to postulate names of a Common Germanic stage, except possibly the name of a spring and a winter month, *austr- and *jehul-. The names of the seasons are also Common Germanic, *sumaraz, *harbistaz, *wintruz, and *wēr- for "spring" in north Germanic, but in west Germanic the term *langatīnaz was used. The Common Germanic terms for day, month and year were *dagaz, *mēnōþs (moon) and *jērą. The latter two continue Proto-Indo-European *me(n)ses-, *iero- while *dagaz is a Germanic innovation from a root meaning "to be hot, to burn".
A number of terms for measuring time can be reconstructed for the proto Germanic period.
|Term||Proto-Germanic||Old English||English||Dutch||Low Saxon||German||Old Norse||Danish||Norwegian||Swedish||Icelandic|
|Day / 24-hour period||*dagaz||dæġ||day||dag||Dag||Tag||dagr||dag||dag||dag||dagur|
|Time, Period, Interval||*tīdiz||tīd||tide||tijd, tij(de)||Tiet||Zeit||tíð||tid||tid||tid||tíð|
|Autumn / Fall||*harbistaz||hærfest||harvest||herfst||Harvst||Herbst||haustr||høst||høst, haust||höst||haust|
|Winter||*wintruz||winter||winter||winter||Winter||Winter||vintr, vetr||vinter||vinter, vetter||vinter||vetur|
Tacitus in his Germania (ch. 11) gives some indication of how the Germanic peoples of the first century reckoned the days. In contrast to Roman usage, they considered the day to begin at sunset, a system that in the Middle Ages came to be known as the "Florentine reckoning". The same system is also recorded for the Gauls in Caesar's Gallic Wars.
- "They assemble, except in the case of a sudden emergency, on certain fixed days, either at new or at full moon; for this they consider the most auspicious season for the transaction of business. Instead of reckoning by days as we do, they reckon by nights, and in this manner fix both their ordinary and their legal appointments. Night they regard as bringing on day."
The concept of the week, on the other hand, was adopted from the Romans, from about the first century, the various Germanic languages having adopted the Greco-Roman system of naming of the days of the week after the classical planets, inserting loan translations for the names of the planets, substituting the names Germanic gods in a process known as interpretatio germanica.
The months were probably lunar; the Old English mōnaþ, Old Saxon mānuth, Old Norse mánaðr, and Old High German mānod, as well as the modern English month, modern Icelandic mánuður, modern Danish and Norwegian måned, modern Swedish månad, modern Dutch maand, German Monat and Gothic 𐌼𐌴𐌽𐍉𐌸𐍃, mēnōþs, are all derivatives of the word for moon. This connection is also found in several other Indo-European languages.
Our main source of reference for Old English month names comes from the Venerable Bede. He recorded the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon month names in his Latin work known as De temporum ratione (De mensibus Anglorum), written in 725.
Charlemagne (r. 768–814) modified the established Julian Calendar to use the agricultural Old High German names of the months in areas under his influence. (See Julian Calendar: Month names for other examples.) They were used until the 15th century, and persisted in popular or dialectal use into the 19th century. They probably influenced Fabre d'Eglantine when he named the months of the French Republican Calendar.
- Modern Dutch -
|Old English / Anglo-Saxon||Old Norse||Old High German
(and New High German equivalent)
|Poetic German / Carolingian||Poetic or archaic Dutch||West Frisian|
- januari -
|Æfterra Gēola (After Yule) or
|Mǫrsugur (Suet-sucker) or
Jól (Yule, the first half of the month) and Þorri (Thor, the latter half)
|Harti-mánód (Härtemonat, English: Month of Severe Frost)||Hartung (Severeness),
Eis-mond (Ice Month) or
Schnee-mond (Snow Month)
|louwmaand (Tanning Month - probably because animals' skins tan in January)||Foarmoanne (Fore Month)|
- februari -
|Sol-mōnaþ (Sol Month)||Þorri and Gói (possibly Winter); Kyndilsmessa (candle/kindle-mass)||Hornung (Hornung, Horning, the shedding of antlers)||Hornung (Horning)||sprokkelmaand (Month of Gathering - uncertain, maybe because it was the month when people had to gather wood), schrikkelmaand (Bisextile Month)||Sellemoanne (Month of Sales)|
- maart -
|Hrēþ-mōnaþ (Month of the Goddess Hrēþ or Month of Wildness)||Gói and Ein-mánuðr||Lenzin-mānod (Lenzmonat, Spring Month)||Lenzing (Springing) or Lenz-mond (Springtime Month)||lentemaand (Month of Spring)||Foarjiersmoanne (Spring Month)|
- april -
|Easter-mōnaþ ("Easter Month", "Spring month"; month named after the Goddess Ēostre)||Ein-mánuðr and Harpa||Ōstar-mānod (Ostermonat, Easter month; see also Oster)||Oster-mond (see also: Goddess Ēostre)||grasmaand (Grass Month)||Gersmoanne (Grass Month)|
- mei -
|Þrimilce-mōnaþ (Month of Three Milkings)||Harpa and Skerpla||Drímilki (no common NHG equivalent), Winni-mánód (Wonne monat)||Wonne-mond (Graze Month, a later interpretation reads Blissfulness Month)||wonnemaand (Month of Blissfulness/Victory - May was often called "de mooiste maand van het jaar", "the most beautiful month of the year"), bloeimaand (Blowing Month), Mariamaand (Maria's Month)||Blommemoanne (Flowers Month)|
- juni -
|Ærra Līþa (Before Midsummer) or
Midsumor-mōnaþ (Midsummer Month) or
Sēre-mōnaþ (Sear Month)
|Skerpla and Sól-mánuðr (Sol month)||Brāh-mānod (Brachmonat)||Brachet or Brach-mond (Fallow Month)||zomermaand (Summer Month), braammaand (Blackberry Month), wedemaand (Woad Month), wiedemaand (Weed Month)||Simmermoanne (Summer Month)|
|(None; leap month)||Þrilīþa (Third Midsummer)||(none)||(none)||(none)||(none)||(none)|
- juli -
|Mædmōnaþ (meadow month) and
Æftera Līþa (After Midsummer)
|Sól-mánuðr and Heyannir (Sol's month, Haying)||Hewi-mānod or Hou-mānod (both Heumonat, hay month)||Heuert or Heu-mond (Hay Month)||vennemaand (Month of Pasture/Graze), hooimaand (Hay Month)||Heamoanne (Border Month)|
- augustus -
|Weod-mōnaþ (Plant month)||Heyannir (Hay month) and Tvímánuðr (Double month)||Aran-mānod (Erntemonat, Month of Harvest)||Ernting or Ernte-mond (Harvesting, Crop or Harvest Month)||oogstmaand (Month of Harvest - the word oogst itself comes from Latin Augustus), koornmaand (Corn Month)||Rispmoanne (Month of Harvest)|
- september -
|Hālig-mōnaþ (Holy Month) or
Hærfest-mōnaþ (Harvest Month)
|Tví-mánuðr and Haust-mánuðr (Harvest/autumn month)||Witu-mānod (Holzmonat, Month of Wood); or
Herbist-mānod (Herbstmonat, Leaves month, Month of Harvest)
|Scheiding (Separating) or
Herbst-mond (Autumn Month)
|herfstmaand (Autumn Month), gerstmaand (Barley Month), evenemaand (Oats Month)||Hjerstmoanne (Autumn Month)|
- oktober -
|Winterfylleth (Winterfilled)||Haust-manuðr and Gor-mánuðr||Wīndume-mānod (Weinlesemonat, Month of Vintage)||Gilbhart or Gilbhard (Forest Yellowing) or
Wein-mond (Wine Month)
|wijnmaand (Wine Month), zaaimaand (Sowing Month - Winter wheat was sown)||Wynmoanne (Wine Month)|
- november -
|Blōt-mōnaþ (Blót Month, Month of Sacrifice)||Gor-mánuðr and Frer-mánuðr (Frost month)||Wintar-mānod (Wintermonat)||Nebelung (Fogging), Nebel-mond (Fog Month) or
Winter-mond (Winter Month)
|slachtmaand (Slaughter Month - a pork was always killed in November), bloedmaand (Blood Month), nevelmaand (Fogging Month), smeermaand (Month of Pork Feeding)||Slachtmoanne (Slaughter Month)|
- december -
|Ærra Gēola (Before Yule) or
|Frer-mánuðr and Morsugr; or Jól (Yule month)||(Jul monat)||Jul-mond (Yule Month),
Heil-mond (Holy Month) or
Christ-mond (Christ Month)
|wintermaand (Winter Month), midwintermaand (Midwinter Month), sneeuwmaand (Snow Month), Kerstmismaand (Christmas Month), Joelmaand (Month of Yule), wolfsmaand (Wolves' Month), donkere maand (Dark Month)||Wintermoanne (Winter Month)|
The old Icelandic calendar is not in official use any more, but some Icelandic holidays and annual feasts are still calculated from it. It has 12 months, broken down into two groups of six often termed "winter months" and "summer months". The calendar is peculiar in that the months always start on the same day of week rather than on the same date. Hence Þorri always started on a Friday sometime between 9 and 15 January of the Julian calendar, Góa always starts on a Sunday between 8 and 14 February of the Julian calendar.
- Skammdegi ("Short days")
- Gormánuður (mid October – mid November, "slaughter month" or "Gór's month")
- Ýlir (mid November – mid December, "Yule month")
- Mörsugur (mid December – mid January, "fat sucking month")
- Þorri (mid January – mid February, "frozen snow month")
- Góa (mid February – mid March, "Góa's month", see Nór)
- Einmánuður (mid March – mid April, "lone" or "single month")
- Náttleysi ("Nightless days")
- Harpa (mid April – mid May) Harpa is a female name, probably a forgotten goddess. The first day of Harpa is celebrated as Sumardagurinn fyrsti, the First Day of Summer
- Skerpla (mid May – mid June, another forgotten goddess)
- Sólmánuður (mid June – mid July, "sun month")
- Heyannir (mid July – mid August, "hay business month")
- Tvímánuður (mid August – mid September, "two" or "second month")
- Haustmánuður (mid September – mid October, "autumn month")
Notes and citations
- Coeunt, nisi quid fortuitum et subitum inciderit, certis diebus, cum aut inchoatur luna aut impletur: nam agendis rebus hoc auspicatissimum initium credunt. Nec dierum numerum, ut nos, sed noctium computant. Sic constituunt, sic condicunt: nox ducere diem videtur.
- Gerhard Köbler. Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch: M [Old High German Dictionary: M] (PDF).
- Month, Online Etymology Dictionary
- Beda Venerabilis, De Temporum Ratione, Chapter 15, "De mensibus Anglorum"
- Gerhard Köbler. Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch: H [Old High German Dictionary: H] (PDF).
- Gerhard Köbler. Altenglisches Wörterbuch: H [Old English Dictionary: H] (PDF).
- Gerhard Köbler. Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch: D [Old High German Dictionary: D] (PDF).
- Northvegr article on dating
- Facts and Figures: The Norse Way General information on old Germanic culture, including time.
- (German) Old High German dictionary, including month names
- (German) Old Norse dictionary, including month names
- (German) Old English dictionary, including month names
- Anglo-Saxon month names
- The Anglo-Saxon Calendar