Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Where do the days of the week get their names from?

As is so often the case in English, even the most frequently used words or words that seem to be the most generic have interesting stories behind them. The days of the week are no exception, so I am going to look at where they come from. Incidentally, ‘week’ comes from Old English ‘wice’ meaning ‘to move, turn or change’ in reference to the ending of one period and moving onto the next.

Monday used to be called ‘Monandaeg’ (‘day of the moon’) by Anglo-Saxons, and the Romans called it ‘dies lunae’.

Tuesday has been known as the ‘day of Mars’ for millennia after the Roman God of war in a variety of languages. For example, ‘mardi’ in French and ‘martes’ in Spanish. But it was the Anglo-Saxons who called it ‘Tiw’s day’ in honour of the god Tiw – the Norse god of war and law.

Wednesday also has a strong Norse connection. It was known as ‘Wodensdaeg’ by the Anglo-Saxons as the middle day of the week celebrated the chief of the Norse gods, Odin (Wodan in Old High German). In other languages, Wednesday was associated with Mercury, hence ‘mercredi’ in French and the Spanish ‘miercoles’.

Thursday was originally called ‘Thunresdag’ or ‘Thunor’s day’ in honour of the Norse god of thunder, lighning and storms Thor. Interestingly, the name developed to what we know it as today via ‘Thunderday’ to ‘Thuresday’ to ‘Thursday’. In other countries, which weren’t inspired by Norse, the day was named after Thor’s Roman counterpart Jove, hence ‘jeudi’ in French and ‘jueves’ in Spanish.

Friday was known to Romans as the ‘day of Venus’, goddess of love, and it still is to European countries – ‘vendredi’ in France and ‘viernes’ in Spain. Venus’s Norse equivalent was Frige, hence our name Friday and ‘Freitag’ in Germany.

Saturday was known as the ‘day of Saturn’ in honour of what the Romans thought was the planet that controlled the first hour of what was then the last day of the week. To Anglo-Saxons, Saturday was known as ‘Saeturnsdaeg’.


Sunday used to be the first day of the week for centuries.  Many countries renamed the day after God, such as ‘dimanche’ in French, ‘domingo’ in Spanish and ‘domenica’ in Italian after ‘dies Dominica' (God) in Latin. Meanwhile other countries kept the connection with the sun: ‘dydd Sul’ in Welsh, ‘zondag’ in Dutch, while Scandinavia has ‘sontag’ or ‘sondag’. Meanwhile, Anglo-Saxons had ‘Sunnandaeg’, which developed into our modern name Sunday. 

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