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. 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. As an example, the Runic calendar developed in medieval Sweden is lunisolar, fixing the beginning of the year at the first full moon after winter solstice.
As in all ancient calendars, the Germanic calendar before the adoption of the Julian one would have been lunisolar, the months corresponding to lunations. Tacitus in his Germania (ch. 11) writes that the Germanic peoples observed the lunar months.
The lunisolar calendar is reflected in the Germanic term *mēnōþ- "month" (Old English mōnaþ, Old Saxon mānuth, Old Norse mánaðr, and Old High German mānod, Gothic mēnōþs), being a derivation of the word for "moon", mēnô — which shares its ancestry with the Greek mene "moon", men "month", and Latin mensis "month".
Days and weeks
Tacitus 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 of Germanic gods in a process known as interpretatio germanica.
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 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 *mḗh₁n̥s, *yeh₁r-, while *dagaz is a Germanic innovation from a root *dʰegʷʰ- meaning "to be hot, to burn".
A number of terms for measuring time can be reconstructed for the proto Germanic period.
|Time, Period, Interval||*tīdiz||tīd||tide||tiid||tijd||Tiet||Zeit||tíð||tíð||tid||tid||tid||tid|
|Time, Period, Hour||*tīmô||tīma||time||tími||tími||timme||time||time||time|
The 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. This is the only testimony of a Germanic lunisolar system, with explicit mention of empirical intercalation, the intercalary month being inserted around midsummer.
Charlemagne (r. 768–814) recorded agricultural Old High German names for the Julian months. These remained in use, with regional variants and innovations, until the end of the medieval period in German-speaking Europe and they persisted in popular or dialectal use into the 19th century. They probably also influenced Fabre d'Eglantine when he named the months of the French Republican Calendar.
The only agreement between the Old English and the Old High German (Carolingian) month names is the naming of April as "Easter month". Both traditions have a "holy month", the name of September in the Old English system and of December in the Old High German one.
A separate tradition of month names developed in 10th-century Iceland, see below.
|Julian month||Old English||Old High German|
|January||Æfterra Gēola "After Yule", or "Second Yule"||Wintar-mánód|
|February||Sol-mōnaþ ('mud month,' Bede: "the month of cakes, which they offered in it to their gods." Either the cakes looked like they were made of mud due to their color and texture, or literally it was the month of mud due to wet English weather)||Hornung|
|March||Hrēþ-mōnaþ "Month of the Goddess Hrēþ" or "Month of Wildness"||Lenzin-mānod "spring month"|
|April||Easter-mōnaþ "Easter Month", "Month of the Goddess Ēostre"||Ōstar-mānod "Easter month"; see also Ostara|
|May||Þrimilce-mōnaþ "Month of Three Milkings"||Winni-mánód "pasture month"|
|June||Ærra Līþa "Before Midsummer", or "First Summer"||Brāh-mānod|
|—||Þrilīþa "Third (Mid)summer" (leap month)||—|
|July||Æftera Līþa "After Midsummer", "Second Summer"||Hewi-mānod "hay(making) month"|
|August||Weod-mōnaþ "Plant month"||Aran-mānod "harvest month"|
|September||Hālig-mōnaþ "Holy Month"||Witu-mānod "wood month"|
|October||Winterfylleth "Winter full moon", according to Bede "because winter began on the first full moon of that month [of October]."||Wīndume-mānod "vintage month"|
|November||Blōt-mōnaþ "Blót Month", "Month of Sacrifice"||Herbist-mānod "autumn month"|
|December||Ærra Gēola "Before Yule", or "First Yule"||Hailag-mānod "holy month"|
The Old High German month names introduced by Charlemagne persisted in regional usage and survive in German dialectal usage. The Latin month names were in predominant use throughout the medieval period, although the Summarium Heinrici, an 11th-century pedagogical compendium, in chapter II.15 (De temporibus et mensibus et annis) advocates the use of the German month names rather than the more widespread Latin ones.
In the late medieval to early modern period, dialectal or regional month names were adopted for the use in almanachs, and a number of variants or innovations developed in this context, comparable to the tradition of "Indian month names" which developed in American Farmers' Almanacs in the early 20th century. Some of the Farmers' Almanacs' "Indian month names" are in fact derived from continental tradition. The Old English month names fell out of use entirely, being revived only in a fictional context in the Shire calendar constructed by J. R. R. Tolkien for use in his The Lord of the Rings.
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|Julian month||Old High German||German||Dutch||West Frisian|
|January||Wintar-mánód ("winter month")||Wintermonat||louwmaand ("tanning month")||Foarmoanne ("fore month")|
|Hornung||sprokkelmaand ("month of gathering"), schrikkelmaand ("bisextile month")||Sellemoanne ("filthy, unclean month")|
|Lenzmonat ("spring month"), Dörrmonat ("dry month")||lentemaand ("spring month")||Foarjiersmoanne ("spring month")|
|April||Ōstar-mānod ("Easter month")||Ostermonat ("Easter month")||grasmaand ("grass month" = French Republican Prairial)||Gersmoanne ("grass month")|
|May||Winni-mānod ("pasture month")||Wonnemonat ("month of joy")||wonnemaand ("month of joy"), bloeimaand ("flower month" = French Republican Floréal), Mariamaand ("Mary's month")||Blommemoanne ("flower month")|
|June||Brāh-mānod ("fallow month")||Brachmonat ("fallow month")||zomermaand ("summer month"), braammaand, wedemaand ("woad month"), wiedemaand ("weed month")||Simmermoanne ("summer month")|
|July||Hewi-mānod ("hay [making] month")||Heumonat ("hay [making] month")||vennemaand ("pasture month"), hooimaand ("hay month")||Heamoanne, haaimoanne ("hay [making] month")|
|August||Aran-mānod, MHG arn-mânôt
|Erntemonat ("harvest month")||oogstmaand ("harvest month" = French Republican Messidor; the word oogst "harvest" itself comes from Latin Augustus), koornmaand ("corn month")||Rispmoanne ("harvest month"), flieëmoanne ("flea month")|
|Herbstmonat ("autumn month")||herfstmaand ("autumn month"), gerstmaand ("barley month"), evenemaand ("oats month")||Hjerstmoanne ("autumn month")|
|Weinmonat, Weinmond ("vintage month"), Herbstmonat, Gilbhart ("yellowing")||wijnmaand ("wine month"), Wijnoogstmaand ("vintage month" = French Republican Vendémiaire), zaaimaand ("sowing month")||Wynmoanne ("wine month"), bitemoanne ("sugar beet month")|
|November||Herbist-mānod ("autumn month")||Wintermonat ("winter month"), Herbstmonat||slachtmaand ("slaughter month"), bloedmaand ("blood month"), nevelmaand, mistmaand ("fog month" = French Republican Brumaire), smeermaand ("month of pork feeding")||Slachtmoanne ("slaughter month")|
|December||Hailag-mānod ("holy month"), MHG heilmânôt||Christmonat ("Christ month"), Heiligmonat ("holy month")||wintermaand ("winter month"), midwintermaand ("Midwinter month"), sneeuwmaand ("snow month" = French Republican Nivôse), Kerstmismaand ("Christmas month"), Joelmaand ("Yule month"), wolfsmaand ("wolves' month"), donkere maand ("dark month")||Wintermoanne ("winter month"), Joelmoanne ("Yule month")|
A special case is the Icelandic calendar developed in the 10th century which, inspired by the Julian calendar, introduced a purely solar reckoning with a year having a fixed number of weeks (52 weeks or 364 days). This necessitated the introduction of "leap weeks" instead of Julian leap days.
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, of 30 days broken down into two groups of six often termed "winter months" and "summer months". The calendar is peculiar in that each month always start on the same day of week. This was achieved by having 4 epagomenal days to bring the number of days up to 364 and then adding a sumarauki week in the middle of summer of some years. This was eventually done so as to ensure that the "summer season" begins on the Thursday between 9 and 15 April in the Julian calendar Hence Þorri always starts on a Friday sometime between 8 and 15 January of the Julian calendar, Góa always starts on a Sunday between 7 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")
- 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")
Many of the months have also been used in Scandinavia, the Norwegian linguist Ivar Aasen wrote down the following months in his dictionary, coming in this order: Jolemåne-Torre-Gjø-Kvina, of which two are identical to Iceland, and one is similar. They have developed differently in different regions. Þorri is pronounced tærri, torre and similar, and can mean both the moon after Yule-month, or be a name for January or February.
Notes and citations
- Gerhard Köbler. Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch: M [Old High German Dictionary: M] (PDF).
- Month Online Etymology Dictionary
- 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.
- Beda Venerabilis, De Temporum Ratione, Chapter 15, "De mensibus Anglorum"
- Vita Karoli Magni, ch. 29: Mensibus etiam iuxta propriam linguam vocabula imposuit, cum ante id temporis apud Francos partim latine partim barbaris nominibus pronunciarentur. See also Julian Calendar: Month names
- Frank Merry Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford University Press, 1971, 97f.; M. P. Nilsson, Primitive Time-Reckoning. A Study in the Origins and Development of the Art of Counting Time among the Primitive and Early Culture Peoples, Lund, 1920; c.f. Stephanie Hollis, Michael Wright, Old English Prose of Secular Learning, Annotated Bibliographies of Old and Middle English literature vol. 4, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1992, p. 194.
- This name of February, the only name in the list without the "month" suffix, is explained by König, Festschrift Bergmann (1997), pp. 425 ff. as a collective of horn, taken to refer to the antlers shed by red deer during this time. Older explanations compare the name with Old Frisian horning (Anglo-Saxon hornung-sunu, Old Norse hornungr) meaning "bastard, illegitimate son", taken to imply a meaning of "disinherited" in reference to February being the shortest of months. 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).
- Rolf Bergmann, Stefanie Stricker, Die althochdeutsche und altsächsische Glossographie: Ein Handbuch, Walter de Gruyter, 2009, p. 667.
- Mysteries of the Moon by Patricia Haddock ("Great Mysteries Series", Greenhaven Press, 1992) gave an extensive list of "Indian month names" along with the individual tribal groups they were supposedly associated with (repeated in The Moon Book by Kim Long, 1998, 102ff.). Haddock supposes that certain "Colonial American" moon names were adopted from Algonquian languages (which were formerly spoken in the territory of New England), while others are based in European tradition (e.g. the Colonial American names for the May moon, "Milk Moon", "Mother's Moon", "Hare Moon" have no parallels in the supposed native names, while the name of November, "Beaver Moon" is supposedly based in the Algonquin).
- These archaic or poetic Dutch names are recorded in the 18th century and were used in almanachs during the 19th century. Neue und volständige Hoogteutsche Grammatik of nieuwe en volmaakte onderwyzer in de hoogduitsche Spraak-Konst (1768), 173f.
- "Woordenboek der Friese taal". De Geïntegreerde Taalbank. Instituut voor Nederlandse Lexicologie. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
- In MHG, any of the months November, December, January and (more rarely) February was also given the name hartmân, hartmânot "hard month". Lexer, Mittelhochdeutsches Handwörterbuch s.v. "hart-mân".
- Hornung survived in southern German dialects, and in the 19th century was also used officially in Switzerland as a synonym of February. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Hornung".
- Middle High German lenzemânot, survived in modern German usage only in poetic or archaizing language, e.g. Schiller in a dedication: Mannheim den 14. des lenzmonats 1785. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Lenzmonat", "Dörrmonat".
- Middle High German ôstermânôt; occasional modern use in poetic language, Herder in dem blühnden ostermonat, da die erde neu sich kleidet. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Ostermonat".
- OHG winnimanoth "pasture month", from an old word winni "pasture". The name does not seem to survive into MHG, but is revived in the 16th century (from the Carolingian month list), but etymologized as wunnemânôt "month of joy" (Bas. Faber 1587: maius, der may, a frondibus Carolus Magnus den wonnemonat, id est mensem amoenitatis olim nuncupavit). This reinterpreted revived form becomes a popular poetic name of May in modern German. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Wonnemonat".
- Remains in 15th to 16th century use, brachmonat, brachmon. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Brachmonat".
- Remains in 16th century use (Luther: am zehenten tage des heumonds). Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Heumonat".
- MHG herbestmânôt. Herbstmonat "autumn month" remains a productive compound which may refer to any month in autumn (September, October or November). Occasionally numbered as erster, anderer, dritter Herbstmonat. Herbstmond is revived as a name of September in 18th-century almanachs. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Herbstmonat", "Herbstmond".
- MGH winman, wynmanot MLG wijnmaand, survived into early modern use only in very rare Westphalian wynmaent. Weinlesemonat specifically as the translation of the Vendémiaire of the French Republican Calendar. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Weinmonat".
- A pseudo-archaic innovation of the early 20th century. O. Behaghel Zs. f. dt. Bildung 10 (1934) 76.
- A name of January in Alemannic and Frisian; in MHG more generally any month in winter. As a name of November (the first month of winter) in 12th-century glossaries, and more widely during the 14th to 18th centuries. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Wintermonat".
- MGH wolfmânôt for November or (more rarely) December. Benecke, Mittelhochdeutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "wolfmânôt".
- Mapping Time by E.G. Richards
- Aasen (1873). Norsk Ordbog (Elektronisk utgåve ed.). Christiania. p. 513.
- Karlsen, Vikør and Wesås. "Ordbok over det norske folkemålet og det nynorske skriftmålet". Norsk Ordbok 2014. Retrieved 08.01.17. Check date values in:
- Northvegr article on dating
- Facts and Figures: The Norse Way General information on old Germanic culture, including time.
- (in German) Old High German dictionary, including month names
- (in German) Old Norse dictionary, including month names
- (in German) Old English dictionary, including month names
- Anglo-Saxon month names