The Names of The Days of The Week – Origin

The names of the days of the week and their connection to the

Greek-Roman and Norse-German Mythology

The week is the division of the year in equal periods of seven days – a time measure system that has been issued and applied by the Babylonians and the Egyptians and later adopted bythe Jews, the Greeks, the Romans and the western and northern European people.   Each day of the week had been named by the Romans, during the Hellenistic period, after the Greek planetary names, each day was dedicated to a specific deity, and through the Romans those names passed to other Latin languages and further adapted from most of the northern and Western European peoples, who named the days of the week using their equivalent to Greek and Roman gods (with the exception of Saturday) and through them to the Anglophone languages, as follows:

Sunday – the day of the Sun

Sunday was named after the worship of the life-giver sun, a bright deity which is feminine in the Norse and German mythology and masculine in Greek and Roman.

In Norse and German mythologies, Sol or Sunna, the goddess of the sun, is the sister of Mani, god of the moon, and daughter of Mundilfari (celestial deity) and Glaur.  The goddess of the sun is always chased by a great wolf seeking to devour her (solar eclipses indicate that he almost gets her).  According to the myths is foretold that wolf will eventually kill the goddess of the sun during Ragnarok (the twilight of the gods – the time were the gods will die and the world as we know it will end through water, only to emerge afterwards anew), but not before she has the chance to give birth to a daughter that will continue her mother’s journey in the sky.

In Roman mythology Sol (the Sun) is a masculine deity, brother of Luna, goddess of the moon.  Sol is the equivalent of the Greek Helios (sun), son of the Titans Hyperion and Theia, brother of Selene, goddess of the moon (Helios’ day).

Monday – the day of the moon

Monday was named after the god Mani, god of the moon in Norse and Germanic mythology, as opposed to other mythologies, such as the Greek and Roman, where the moon is a feminine deity called Selene and Luna, respectively.  Mani was the brother of Sol or Sunna, the goddess of the sun, and son of Mundilfari and Glaur.  He, like his sister, was also chased every night by a wolf, also responsible for the lunar eclipses that were happening when Hati was coming too close to catch the god of the moon.

In Roman mythology goddess Luna (from the Latin lucere = shine) was the moon personified.  Luna’s myth was borrowed by the Greek myth of the goddess Selene (moon), sister of Helios (sun) and Eos (dawn) and daughter of the Titans Hyperion and Theia.  She was represented with the crescent moon on her forehead.  Monday was named after Luna in most Latin origin languages [Lunedi (it), Lundi (fr.), Lunes (sp.) etc].

Tuesday – the day of the gods of war

Tuesday was named after the god Tyr (Old Norse), Tiw (old English), Tiwaz (proto-Germanic) or Ziu (Old High German), son of the gods Odin (Woden) and Frigg, the god of honored conduct of war, justice and keeper of the oaths.  His name means “god”.  Tyr was much respected, known for his great wisdom and courage and he is represented as a one-hand god, after his right hand was bitten by the wolf Fenrir.

In Latin origin languages, Tuesday was Mars’ Day [Martedi (it.), Mardi (fr.), Martes (sp.) ect], the god of war, but also of vegetation and growth, a characteristic that doesn’t appear in the Greek god Ares and it is probably given to him by his connection to the god Quirinus, ancient war god of the Savini.  Mars is the equivalent of the Greek god of war, Ares, son of Zeus and Hera.  However the Greek Ares as opposed to Mars, had a violent and aggressive nature that never made him likeable or respected among gods and men.  He had various sons, all fierce and wild (Kyknos, Lycaon, Oenomaus etc) but his nature came in balance by his union with Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, who gave him a daughter, Harmony, and a son, Cupid (Eros).

Wednesday – the day of Odin and Mercury (Hermes)

Wednesday was named after Odinn (north Germanic) the Chief of the gods and ruler of Asgard. Odin, son of Bor and Bestla was a god of wisdom, war, death and magic. He appears as a grey-bearded man with one eye, after giving the other as an exchange for wisdom. He is accompanied by his two wolves, carring a spear that never misses and it is foretold that during Ragnarok he will be killed by the wolf Fenrir.

In Latin origin languages Wednesday is Mercury’s day, the Greek Hermes, god of trade and transactions [Mercoledi (it.), Mercredi (fr.), Miercoles (sp.) etc.].  Hermes was the son of Zeus, king of the Greek gods, and Maia, daughter of the Titan Atlas.  He was also the messenger of the gods and creator of lyre, which he made using a turtle’s shell as base adding chords and gave it as a gift to his brother Apollo, god of sun and music.  He is represented wearing his winged sandals carring the ‘Kerykeion’, a stick carried by the messengers, made by olive tree or daphne with two small wings and two snakes wrapped around (a symbol of concord and cessation of hostilities). The connection between Odin and Hermes (Mercury) probably lies to their status as “psychopomps”, meaning the ones that carried the souls of the dead into to the Land of the Dead [Valhalla (=slain hall) and Hades (Greek Underworld) respectively].

Thursday – the day of the thunder gods

Thursday took its name by Thor (Old Norse), the hammer-wielding god of thunder, storm, strength and also fertility.  He was the son of Odin and the goddess Jord, father of Thrud, by his wife, the golden-haired Sif, of Magni by the giantess Jarnsaxa and of Modi.  He is represented as a strong man with red hair and beard, wearing his iron gloves and carring his hammer.  Thor is one of the most powerful but also beloved northern gods and he was considered as protector of mankind.  According to the prophecies, Thor will die through Ragnarok by Jormungandr’s poison, but not before he has slain the great Serpent, and he will be inherited by his sons.

In Latin languages Thursday was named after Jupiter (Jove) [Giovedi (it.), Jeudi (fr.), Jeuves (sp.) etc], also god of thunder, equivalent to the Greek Zeus, the king of the Gods.  Zeus was the strongest “first among the gods”, youngest son of the Titans Cronos and Rea, who has dethroned his father and became king of the gods and ruler of the Earth and Heavens. According to the myth, it was foretold that Cronos would be dethroned by one of his children, as he had done with his own father Uranus.  In order to avoid that, Cronos was devouring his children at their birth and only Zeus was saved by his mother Rea, who hid him in the mountains of Crete and gave her husband a wrapped rock instead of their child.  When Zeus came of age, he forced his father, by giving him a herb to eat, to throw up his brothers and sisters (Hades, Poseidon, Demeter, Hestia and Hera) and then dethroned him, defeated the Titans in Titanomachy (battle of the Titans) and the Giants during Gigantomachy (battle of the Giants) and became king of the gods, restoring order and justice in the world.  Zeus’ emblems were the thunder that the Cyclops made for him as a weapon in the battle against the Titans, the eagle and the winged Victory (Nike).

Friday – the day the goddesses of love and fertility

Friday was named after the goddess Frigg (love or beloved), wife of Odin, mother of Baldr and queen of Asgard.  Frigg was a wise and powerful goddess, she had the power of prophecy – although she was not usually revealing what she knew – and only she was permitted to sit on Odin’s high sit and look over the universe.   She was a goddess of love and fertility, protectress of marriage and motherhood.

In the Latin origin languages the name derived from goddess Venus [Venerdi (it.), Vendredi (fr.), Viernes (sp.) etc], the Roman equivalent to Greek Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, but also of fertility, harmony in marital relations and protectress of birth.  Aphrodite was born through the foams when the blood of castrated Uranus fell in the sea.  She fell in love with a mortal man, Anchises, by whom she gave birth to the hero Aeneas – said to be the ancestor of Romulus, the founder of Rome – who was fighting on the side of the Trojans.  During the fall of Troy, Aeneas tried to leave the burning city, not alone or fighting but carring his father on his shoulders and holding his son, Ascanius (or Julius), by his hand to save them – due to this action the Danaeans spared the brave Aeneas and allowed him to leave the city unharmed.  The worship of Venus was established in the Roman Empire mainly at the time of Julius Caesar, who was supporting that his family, the lineage of the Julii, derived directly from Aeneas, son of Venus.  But the Greek Aphrodite has also another side that doesn’t appear in the Roman Venus.  Besides love, fertility and harmony, Aphrodite also symbolizes uncontrollable passion, she is known for her numerous infidelities – although she was married to Hephaestus (the Roman Volcanus) she had affairs with Ares, god of war, by whom she gave birth to Harmony and Eros,  Anchises, father of Aeneas, Adonis and many others.  She is the one that promised Paris to give him the most beautiful woman in Greece and inspired passion in Helen’s heart, giving the motive for the Trojan War.

Saturday – the day of Saturn

Saturday was named after Saturn (Saturnus), the Roman equivalent of Titan Cronus, youngest son of Gaia (earth – Roman Terra) and Uranus (Sky – Roman Caelus), father of six of the Greek gods, Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hestia and Hera, who governed the world after Uranus and before Zeus and the Olympian gods.  Uranus, one of the oldest primeval deities of Greek mythology was so afraid that one of his children would dethrone him that was throwing them at their birth in Tartars, at the depths of the earth.  Cronus, urged by his mother Gaia, used a diamond sickle to castrate his father Uranus, who was since pulled far away from the earth and dethroned him, becoming ruler of the world.  However Cronus, being afraid of having the same fate as his father, he was devouring his children at their birth, until Zeus rebelled against him (as above).  In Roman mythology Saturn was associated with Cronus but, by the influence of the Orphics, he was transformed from a vicious Titan to a just ruler of a golden era of the world (Cronus’ Golden Era).  Saturn’s day (dies Saturni) was retained in most Anglophone languages, whereas in most Latin origin languages and in Greek, after the establishment of Christianity, Saturday is the day of Sabbath (dies Sabbati), a day of “rest” [Sabato (it.), Samedi (fr.), Sabado (sp.) etc].  The name derives from the Babylonian Shabatu of the Babylonian (lunar) calendar and it was the day for “the rest of the heart”, it was adapted as Shappattu by the Hittites and Schabbath by the Jewish tribes.

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Author: Tessy Parker

6 thoughts on “The Names of The Days of The Week – Origin

  1. Very well written article explaining all the mythological deities associated and each ones significance with each day of the week. Also the pictures are so very nice.

  2. Hi Pete. This is an excellent post on the origin of the day of the week. It was fascinating. I was confused by the distinction between Tor (Thor) and Tyr.

    side note, I saw the word “caring’ a couple of times, I think you meant to write carrying.

  3. Hi Pete and Tessy!

    Now that was interesting. Just shows you how much I’ve paid attention to any of that. I had no clue how the days of the week were named much less what was behind their meanings.

    Very interesting post so thanks for this education. Very well done.

    ~Adrienne

  4. hello Tessy
    One thing i realized after reading your article. There are many things in this planet we do not know, we deal with them everyday, sometimes we use the but we don’t know everything about them (not even their origin). Great to know this! The history behind the names of the days of the week. Thanks a lot Tessy!

  5. I once loved to read Mythology when I was still in school, but after that, I quite forgotten about the characters. I guess they’re too many, LOL!
    Great to know about the origins of the days of the week. I sure would like to know more about the rest of the days (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) as it wasn’t featured in this post.
    Anyways, thanks for sharing!

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